Small steps: Lions look to bounce back from sweep

HANCOCK — Going into their first games in WIAC play against the team picked to finish second in the conference’s preseason poll was going to be tough for the Finlandia Lions baseball team, even under the best of circumstances. To make matters worse for the Lions, they were off 17 days before facing the Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans.

The Lions opened conference play Saturday and Sunday by losing all four games by a combined score of 49-9.

The Titans returned 19 players from last season including three starting pitchers and five positional players. Lions manager Evan Brandt knew going in, the weekend was going to be a challenge.

“That was a tough weekend,” he said. “Oshkosh has a high-powered offense, so I think that we knew they were going to score runs. I think that we didn’t expect to not score runs ourselves.”

Sophomore Sawyer Murrell took the mound for the weekend opener and impressed Brandt with his ability to keep the Titans’ hitters at bay, for the most part. He struck out two over 3 2/3 innings with three walks.

Brandt likes Murrell’s versatility and feels that the youngster proved Saturday that he will find success in WIAC play, both on the mound and at the plate.

“The kid is killing it for us right now,” said Brandt. “We have to find a spot to put him to be effective.

“We have a lot of confidence in Sawyer. We love the way he throws. The kid’s a gamer.”

In the nightcap, junior Patrick Coles struggled on the mound, surrendering 10 runs over the course of 12 batters faced, prompting Brandt to go to his bullpen before the first inning concluded.

While the numbers do not bear it out, Brandt was not surprised by the experience, and expects that Coles will bounce back once he regains his pitching form.

At the plate, junior Austin Green went 2-for-2 in relief of senior Joey Krug at third base. Senior right fielder Daniel Logan also had strong night, going 2-for-3. Coles helped the Lions recover two of the runs he surrendered by knocking in two runs before the night was over.

On Sunday, the Titans’ Chris Atwood held the Lions at bay throughout all nine innings in a no-hitter, the 10th in UW-Oshkosh history.

Junior Ashton Knutson did his best to keep up with Atwood, but was only able to go 6 2/3 innings with five strikeouts. Knutson did manage to get 12 Titans hitters to fly out, something that Brandt was very happy to see.

Sophomore Nathan Johnson stepped in to relieve Knutson and threw very well, striking out two and walking one in 1 1/3 innings of play.

Brandt likes what he is seeing out of his closer.

“He did exactly what we wanted him to do,” said Brandt. “He went in and got us outs. That is what he does.”

In the final tilt of the weekend, the Lions matched the Titans with eight hits, but the Titans turned theirs into 10 runs, while the Lions managed to find just two. While the hit total is something the Lions’ coaching staff is happy to see, the types of hits were not.

“I think it is just not having timely hits and many hits together in one inning,” Brandt said. “What that tells me about our offense is that we weren’t hitting doubles. We weren’t having a lot of guys on second base, in general, with less than two outs. When those things happen, we score runs every time, but when those things don’t happen, it is tough to score runs if you don’t have guys in scoring position.”

Krug also struggled on the mound, which did not help things. However, despite his giving up five runs over two innings, Brandt was optimistic about where Krug’s game is at.

The Lions return to action Wednesday, facing Wisconsin-Superior in a doubleheader, then they travel to face Wisconsin-Stout this weekend. Facing the Yellowjackets prior to taking on the Blue Devils is something that Brandt feels is actually advantageous.

“We have to be locked in,” he said. “I think this mid-week series really helps us with that, to get at bats, to see live pitching. I think Superior is going to have pitching that is very similar to what Stout has. I actually think this is perfect timing.”

GAME TIMES

The doubleheader with the Yellowjackets opens at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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