Cossacks hold off late Mustangs rally

MAX – Perhaps the only number greater than the amount of baseball games canceled due to a prolonged winter was the number of runners the Surrey-Our Redeemer’s Christian School team left on base Thursday.

The strength of Garrison-Max’s pitching staff and the defense behind it led to the Mustangs stranding 11 runners on base, including three in the top of the seventh in a 5-4 Cossacks victory in both teams’ season opener.

G-M junior Reid Groninger struck out Surrey-ORCS freshman Seth Aberle looking on a 1-2 pitch to preserve the win. Groninger entered the game with one out in the top of the seventh inning in relief of starting pitcher Luke Gehring.

“(Gehring) did a great job,” G-M coach Jade Larson said. “He was right around the zone all day. He threw a lot of strikes, did what he needed to do to get the guys behind him to make plays. That’s all you can ask from him.”

The 5-foot-10 junior allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits, striking out six in 6 1/3 innings of work.

“I tried throwing a couple breaking pitches,” Gehring said. “I haven’t thrown that many pitches since last summer. I thought I did all right.”

The Cossacks (1-0 overall, 1-0 Region 6) entered the final inning with a 5-1 lead and appeared in control after Gehring struck out Mustangs senior Chris Olson to start the frame. But a walk to Bridger Urban and a double by Brendan Larson down the left-field line put runners on second and third with one out.

“We had a great top half inning in the seventh, but we had all kinds of opportunities to score and give ourselves a cushion,” Surrey-ORCS coach Bruce Mack said. “We just couldn’t get anything accomplished and that’s frustrating.”

After the ensuing pitching change, sophomore Trever Ringoen hit a two-RBI single through the right side of the infield to cut G-M’s lead to two. Groninger got freshman John Reiten to ground into a fielder’s choice, but the next three batters reached base safely with Reiten coming around to score on sophomore Jacob Burckhard’s RBI single. A walk to junior Cole Zaderaka loaded the bases before Groninger recorded the final out.

“I had confidence in Reid at the end there,” Gehring said. “I knew he could come in and get the outs.”

The Mustangs (0-1, 0-1) left at least one runner on base in every inning. The Cossacks stranded just two runners.

“We didn’t panic when (Surrey-ORCS) got guys on base,” Jade Larson said. “We made plays. Our guys came through with some big hits and that was the difference.”

G-M’s bats took a few innings to warm up as the first seven batters failed to get on base. Senior Haden Cargo recorded the first hit for the Mustangs in the bottom of the third, but was caught stealing when he prematurely made his way to second, thinking sophomore Gabe Lassila had drawn a walk.

The Cossacks tied the game 1-1 on eighth-grader Noah Sloka’s sacrifice fly to deep right field and took the lead on a hit-and-run with two outs in the fifth. Sloka plated two in the sixth with a single up the middle and came around to score on a fielding error by Olson in center field.

“We came to win and we just didn’t play very well,” Mack said. “I expect us to compete and if we don’t compete, our region is good enough that if we don’t compete we’re going to be in trouble. That’s a game we let slip through our fingers.”

G-M senior Andrew Haugen led the offense with two hits and two runs scored. He had one of two extra-base hits for the Mustangs.

Ringoen and Burckhard both finished with two RBIs for the Mustangs.

The Cossacks play at Velva-Drake-Anamoose on Monday at 4 p.m. and the Mustangs host Bishop Ryan on Tuesday at 4 p.m.