Still work to do: FinnU baseball returns to work after Florida trip

HANCOCK — It is easy to look at the record of the Finlandia Lions baseball team and see that they went 2-8 in Florida, which should mean they will be in for a long year. The truth is that their record in Florida means little when it comes to the rest of the season.

The Lions’ Spring Break trip is always tough. It is grueling, demanding week in which the team plays 10 games in five days. The games are nine innings long, which means that manager Evan Brandt has go deep into his rotation and into his bullpen over the course of the week just to get through it all.

That means his bullpen pitchers end up getting used longer than they will the rest of the year.

“Our bullpen struggled a lot,” said Brandt. “We threw our bullpen in starts.

“I think they all did really well, just their outings just got too long. That’s the problem with Florida, they are always going to be too long.”

It is also the beginning of the season, which means his main rotation guys like senior Joey Krug, junior Ashton Knutson, junior Patrick Coles and senior Brandon Teichman have to ratchet up their games very quickly.

Knutson and Teichman have looked very good start the season, and Brandt is encouraged with the way both have performed.

After throwing a complete game with nine strikeouts and four walks against Baruch, Knutson stepped in against FDU-Florham and struck out four and walked none in what became a three-inning relief outing that his manager loved.

“Ashton Knutson is exactly what we advertise him as,” said Brandt. “When Ashton is on the mound, we are going to have a chance to win.”

As for Krug, Brandt is not concerned about his line in his one mound appearance, where he went 4.2 innings, struck out six, and surrendered nine runs, six of which were earned. Brandt knows it takes his senior a couple of outings to get going.

At the plate, Krug struggled early in the trip, but as the week went on, his swing improved, and with it, the power came back. For the week, Krug hit .310, with nine hits, one double and a home run. He knocked in four runs and walked twice.

Krug’s home run against FDU-Florham sparked the Lions rally.

“I think a lot of that got started with Joey Krug getting that home run in the fifth inning,” Brandt said. “His bat was alive and well as usual, but he finally got his power back on the last day there.”

The Lions had 8-9 hits a game during the trip, something that Brandt has been stressing this season. He wants his team to average about 10 hits per game, so they are very close to that “magic” number as he sees it, which should breed success for the still-young team.

Another Lion who had a strong week at the plate was first baseman Nic Geiser. Geiser saw action in seven contests, but unlike his sophomore year, he was ready to do from the first game in Florida. Geiser hit .364 with eight hits, two walks and four RBI.

Brandt is really happy to see Geiser get off to a good start.

“I think if he continues to do what he is doing, he is going to be a middle .300 hitter, which is where we want him,” said Brandt. “Having him come around at the plate is a good time for us. We’re going to hit him in the four spot. We don’t expect him to hit home runs, but we are going to expect him to produce some RBIs.”

Sophomore infielder Sawyer Murrell and freshman backup catcher Seth Gosse also had strong weeks for the Lions.

Murrell, who was is slated to be the backup shortstop. Brandt was particularly impressed with his efforts defensively against FDU-Florham before coming up with the walk-off hit.

“He played an amazing game at short all day,” said Brandt. “He was clean on the infield, he was hitting the ball really well. It’s exciting for him to come in and contribute like that.

“It’s fun. It puts a lot of pressure on our infield. He’s showing that he can do exactly what we want him to do. He can step up and do things for us, which is good, because that gives us another option.”

At the plate, Murrell hit .500 in eight at bats, with one double, two walks and three RBI.

Gosse saw action in seven games and hit .375 in 16 plate appearances. He had two RBI and was 1-for-1 in stolen base attempts.

While the Lions are not particularly fast this season, Gosse’s willingness to run impressed his coach.

There is still plenty for the Lions to work on, and they have time now as they are schedule to be off until March 30 when they will play a four-game set with Wisconsin-Oshkosh. The Lions were supposed to play a four-game set with Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) last weekend, but the games were cancelled to both fields MSOE wanted to use being flooded. The games are still planning to be rescheduled at time of printing.

With the Lions in the WIAC, the schedule will be challenging for Finlandia, but Brandt and his players are excited about what lies ahead.