NEW ULM - The New Ulm Brewers saw an early 4-0 lead dry up against the Searles Grizzlies on Tuesday night, but one swing of the bat by Zack Hoffmann saved the day for the home team.
Hoffmann's two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth gave New Ulm a 7-6 lead that held up as the final score in Tomahawk East amateur baseball action at Mueller Park.
With the Brewers trailing 6-5 entering the home half of the eighth, Taylor Rolloff led off the inning by reaching on an error. Rolloff reached second on a sacrifice bunt by Aaron Pfaff before Hoffmann deposited a curve ball from Searles starter Aaron Wenninger over the left field fence.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm Brewers base runner Brady Ranweiler slides into second as Searles second baseman Kyle Fischer makes a relay throw to first to complete a double play Tuesday at Mueller Park in New Ulm.
"I knew I had a couple of terrible at bats before and I was just trying to drive [Rolloff] in, and do whatever I could to get him in and make up for a couple of my previous at bats," Hoffmann said. "I kind of put a good swing on it and it worked out."
New Ulm benefitted from an early error to score four unearned runs in the bottom of the first and race out to its early lead. Wade French had an RBI double in the inning, Chris Peters hit a sacrifice fly and Adam Loose came up with a clutch two-out, two-run single.
Loose drove in Brock Sieve with an RBI single in the fifth in increase New Ulm's lead to 5-0.
Brewers starter Chris Cariveau (seven innings pitched, nine hits, five runs, five strikeouts, one walk) cruised through his first five innings, but he ran into trouble in the sixth as Searles loaded the bases on a single and two hit batsmen.
Dan Drexler drove home the Grizzlies' first run in the inning with a single and Kyle Fischer followed with a bases-clearing double to cut the Brewers' lead to 5-4.
The Grizzlies loaded the bases again in the seventh, with Wenninger driving in a run with a single to tie the game at 5-5 before any outs were recorded, but Cariveau escaped the inning without allowing any further damage.
Drew Pfaff (win, one inning pitched, no hits, four walks) relieved Cariveau in the eighth, with Wenninger forcing home the go-ahead run for Searles with a two-out, bases-loaded walk.
"I think we hit the ball and we were patient at the plate," Searles head coach Frank Forstner said. "We got some guys on and got a couple key hits, and that's what it takes."
After Hoffmann's home run gave the Brewers back the lead, French took the mound in the ninth. Drexler and Forstner recorded singles in the inning, but French struck out Dave Hatle with Drexler on third base to finish off the Grizzlies and pick up the save.
"It was a good game, a good way to battle back," Hoffmann said. "We never die, and that's a good thing with our team. It clinches first place in our division, which is also big."
Wenninger pitched a complete game in taking the loss, allowing seven runs - only two earned - and 12 hits while striking out four and issuing four walks.
"He threw really well," Forstner said. "After that first inning, once we got through that he held them down - he gave up a few hits, but he didn't let any cross the plate."
Sieve (double, two runs) led New Ulm at the plate with three hits. Loose (three RBI, stolen base), Brady Ranweiler (run) and French (double, RBI) added two hits apiece for the Brewers.
Leading Searles on offense with two hits each were Fischer (double, run, three RBI), Hatle (triple, run), Wenninger (run, two RBI) and Drexler (run, RBI).
New Ulm and Searles will meet again tonight at 8 p.m. in Searles.
The Grizzlies will play another important game 7:30 p.m. Sunday night in Leavenworth as they fight for home-field advantage in the upcoming playoffs.
"We're still fighting for home-field advantage against Essig, we've got to win at least one, and maybe two," Forstner said.
The Brewers will enter the playoffs encouraged by their recent play and with increased confidence after clinching first place in the American Division.
"We're just trying to get better and get better for the playoffs, and every game try to improve," Hoffmann said. "I think we're on the right track, we're starting to play good ball again and I think we're starting to peak at the right time."