Learning opportunity: Lions use series with league’s top team to prep for weekend

Photo courtesy of Finlandia Athletics Finlandia’s Sawyer Murrell connects with a pitch during a game against Wisconsin-Oshkosh earlier this season. The Lions travel to face Wisconsin-Platteville this weekend.

HANCOCK — Playing the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC)’s top team, the nationally ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks, was going to be a tall task for the Finlandia Lions, who in their first season in the conference. Despite surrendering all four contests to the No. 23 Warhawks, the Lions did discover something about themselves.

They can hit against some of the top arms they will see this season.

“I think that every arm they ran out on the mound was a quality arm,” said manager Evan Brandt. “They made us hit. They made us swing at pitches.

“It’s tough for the boys, but at the same time, it’s nice for them to see one of those teams, especially Whitewater. They have quite the tradition and culture going on there.”

The weekend was also an eye-opening experience for several of the younger members of the Lions’ roster. Sophomore J.J. Piontek gave up four hits in just one inning of work in the series opener. Junior Steve Guberti fared slightly better, giving up five hits over four innings. Freshmen Christian Frederick and Kenny Weimer both struggled in their one inning of work, combined, as they surrendered nine hits and 10 runs.

In Game Two, freshman Jeff Saich faired better, giving up three hits over 1 2/3 innings. He also had the luxury of following sophomore Will Thompson, who surrendered nine hits over six innings.

Thompson, a left handed pitcher, has shown flashes in the past of the ability to start. After making four appearances in relief, he has started three straight games.

“I think Will Thompson came in, and he only gave up four or five runs over six innings,” said Brandt. “For him to do that shows us what we have been looking for in (him), that kind of outing. He did a great job. He just has to be more consistent with it.

“He has increased the velocity. He’s still kind of getting a feel for command. That’s just a lefty. He’ll get there.”

Finding a left handed arm in college who can give a manager innings is something very special.

“He’s a confident kid,” Brandt said. “He just wants to go out there and be on the mound. We like that about him.”

Senior Joey Krug is also rounding into form as the Lions hit the home stretch on their schedule. In Saturday’s opener, he was involved in two of the three runs Finlandia scored, first by sacrificing to get junior Patrick Coles home for the second run the Lions scored in the sixth, and then getting himself on the basepaths in the ninth before junior Brian Doyle scored on an error.

In the nightcap, Krug stepped up and threw six innings, surrendering 10 hits and eight runs. He walked just two and forced seven fly outs during the game as well.

“Joey had a good weekend at the plate,” said Brandt. “I don’t believe he struck out at the plate. That’s good to see.”

This weekend, the Lions will travel to face Wisconsin-Platteville. The Pioneers are 12-17 on the season overall and currently sit third in the WIAC with a record of 7-9. The Pioneers are fresh off a sweep at the hands of the Warhawks Tuesday in which they were outscored 15-2 in the opener.

The Pioneers have had two good stretches this season that included three straight wins over Wisconsin-Stout and three straights over Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

“Platteville will be a good matchup for us,” Brandt said. “They’re a scrappy team. They have a couple of good hitters. They are a lot like us, in a sense.”

Sophomore center fielder Jonathan Kelso leads the offense, batting .368 with six doubles, two triples and a home run on the season. Junior right fielder Josh Moses has also been good, hitting .306 with six doubles, two triples and a team-high two home runs.

GAME TIMES

The two teams are set to play a doubleheader on both Saturday and Sunday. Opening pitch on both days is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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