Winona State baseball: Warriors split twin bill with Southwest Minnesota State
Winona State hung 10 runs in the sixth inning as it won the first leg of an NSIC baseball doubleheader against Southwest Minnesota State 11-3, but the Mustangs struck back in the second game, winning 6-4 to split on Saturday at Loughrey Field.
Despite only Mustering two hits with one unearned run through five innings of Game 1, Winona State baseball coach Kyle Poock and company were confident the Warriors were going to eventually get the bats going against Southwest Minnesota State starter Justin Clark on Saturday.
The Warriors knew Clark wasn’t doing anything special. He was just throwing strikes with his curveball and fastball. It was simple but effective. Poock and company knew the key was to continue to attack Clark early and often before eventually chasing him to get to a struggling Mustangs’ bullpen. The Warriors were able to do just that in the sixth, scoring 10 runs in the inning to notch their eighth win their past nine games defeating the Mustangs 11-3.
Perhaps it took the Warriors a while to get going due to rust. Due to inclement weather, they had only played two games in the past two weeks and hadn’t played since April 12.
“Yeah it’s been a long time since we played,” first baseman Sam Kohnle said. “We are used to consistency, playing six games a week and now with the weather on and off it’s been tough. It was key to knock off that rust.”
With that rust, the Warriors (13-14, 12-8) knew it was only a matter of time, before their offense that had been scoring over eight runs a game in their past eight, would find its footing. Before the sixth inning, the Warriors had a pretty good feeling they were going to string some hits together.
“It’s funny cause Taylor (Field) our catcher when we came in before the inning, said, ’come on let’s go, after this inning we will be up 6-1,” Poock said. “I think it was a matter of us just getting back into our comfort zone and getting some good at-bats and having the ball fall and getting some success with that.”
Before that Clark was cruising against the Warriors’ offense only allowed an unearned run in the first due to an error by the rightfielder, while allowing two hits and striking out six.
“We just told the guys, that he’s not walking anybody and he’s throwing fastball, curveballs,” Poock said. “He’s not going to throw the fastball by you and you shouldn’t be fooled by the curveball anymore. So get a good pitch and hit it.”
The sixth inning started with a couple of breaks, first an error by SMSU second baseman Jayden Fleck before Andrew Pliner followed with a bunt single. Redshirt sophomore Kohnle then started the onslaught lacing a double to right-center to give Winona a 3-1 lead. From there they never looked back. In all, the Warriors sent 15 men to the plate, scoring 10 runs on six hits which included two doubles.
“I felt we were putting some good at-bats together, hitting the ball at people,” said Kohnle, who leads the Winona State offense with a .371 average after he finished 2-for-3 with four RBI during game one. “We were finally able to find some holes that inning and it kind of exploded from there. It’s a good feeling definitely to get the bats going again.”
Aaron Mutter earned the win allowing three runs (one earned) on eight hits while striking out nine in seven innings. He didn’t have his best stuff at times, but he was effective keeping the pressure off of the Winona offense by holding the Mustangs in check.
“A couple of innings he struggled a little bit, but he was able to get through them,” Poock said. “He’s our ace and he showed why. Your ace has got to do that when he doesn’t have his best stuff or struggling he has to be able to come back, refocus and do the job.”
GAME 2: The Mustangs bounced back in the second leg of the doubleheader, scoring two runs each in the second, fourth and eighth innings.
The Warriors outhit the Mustangs 10-9, but only pushed four runs across — all in the third inning.
Derek Martin went 3-for-4 for the Warriors with two doubles and a run, and Taylor Field was 2-for-5 with a double, a pair of RBIs and a run.
Connor Johnson accounted for half of SMSU’s runs as he went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBIs. Jayden Fleck also homered for the Mustangs as he went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs.
After starting the season 5-12, Winona State has now won eight of their past 10. Poock feels his young team is finally starting to find themselves.
“We are really young and I knew that. If you look eight of our 10 guys are freshmen or sophomores, so beginning of the year they were a little bit awe-struck at times,” Poock said. “But lately they have realized, hey we can play if we stay within ourselves, execute our gameplan, and just play baseball. I think they are finding that out what we can become and they keep getting better.”