SPRINGFIELD - With less than a handful of games left in the regular season, the Springfield and Sleepy Eye St. Mary's baseball teams have their eyes on the Tomahawk Conference title.
On Tuesday in a big conference doubleheader against rival Sleepy Eye St.?Mary's, Springfield won the first game 9-0 before St. Mary's prevailed 5-1 in the second game.
The split keeps the three-way race atop the Tomahawk Conference standings tight. The Knights (12-3, 11-3) and the Tigers (14-2, 13-2) sit at the top of the standings with New Ulm Cathedral (12-2, 11-2).
In the Game 1 victory, Springfield's Dylan Wersal earned the win. He went the distance, allowing four hits to go along with four strikeouts.
"He had a great tempo on the mound, he's a strike-thrower and he's a fierce competitor," Springfield coach Bob Fink said.?"We wanted the ball for Game 1, he sure delivered."
Not to be outdone, Mike Zinniel shut down the Springfield bats the same way Wersal did to his team's in the second game. Zinniel went seven innings and allowed a run. He struck out four and pitched great when his team needed him most.
"Mike did a great job, we lost that first one 9-0 and Mike came in and threw strikes," St. Mary's coach Bruce Woitas said. "They got out to a 1-0 lead in the second but we came back and scored four in the fifth inning and one more in the sixth, so I thought we responded real well after that first tough game."
In the first game, everything seemed to go Springfield's way. Even though St. Mary's did hit the ball hard, Springfield was able to make the plays.
Springfield's Carter Erickson was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBIs and Jevan Richert had another big day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with four RBI and a run scored. Sam Baier also helped the offense by going 2-for-3 with three runs scored.
The Tigers made things much easier for Wersal by scoring four times off St. Mary's starter David Surprenant in the bottom of the first. That early run support was more than enough for Wersal, who needed 102 pitches in the complete-game effort.
"I guess that's what we've been trying to do the whole year, is get out and jump on people," Erickson said. "We want to get on top and get in their minds right away."
Clearly, the Tigers did just that with Cooper Scheffler, Baier, Richert and Erickson all scored in the inning as the Tigers pounced early.
While the early run support helped Wersal, the defense did its share too as the Tigers played an error-free first-game.
"At the beginning of the year, we were a little shaky, but after we've been practicing, we've been improving and trying to perfect that," Erickson said.?
Springfield added a run in the third before scoring two more runs in both the fifth and the sixth innings. Springfield finished the game with nine hits.
Surprenant went all six innings for the Knights. He struck out four and walked five.
Things were different in the second game, however. The Tigers scored the first run in the top of the first inning, but the Knights scored four times in the bottom of fifth and one more in the bottom of the sixth to split the series.
Zinniel led the way for the Knights in the second game, going 3-for-3 with an RBI. Jon Kopacek had two hits and two RBIs as St.?Mary's finished the game with eight hits.
Scheffler took the loss for Springfield. He went five innings and gave up four runs and five walks. He struck out two.
It took a while for the Knights to score (12 innings before they scored their first run in the doubleheader), but they were able to push some runs across in fifth inning.
"We had a lot of good at-bats, even in that first game, they just weren't falling for hits," Woitas said.?"Our guys just kept at it, and finally the middle of the order got things going for us."
The Knights are at Martin County West on Thursday and the Tigers are at Wabasso on Monday.