Some steps taken: Lions still searching for consistency this season, ready for Warhawks

Photo provided by Finlandia Athletics Finlandia’s Shawn Knutson checks on the runner sliding into second base before making his throw to first in attempt to complete a double play during a game against Wisconsin-Oshkosh. The Lions travel this weekend to face WIAC-leading Wisconsin-Whitewater.

HANCOCK — If there is one takeaway from the Finlandia Lions baseball season to this point, manager Evan Brandt hopes that it is a concept that at its heart is simple, but in execution can be very difficult to manage: consistency. In a four-game series earlier this week against Wisconsin-Stevens Point, the Lions opened surrendering 11 runs in the first inning, committed 13 errors over the course of the weekend, and closed out the series with their first WIAC win.

The errors bother Brandt, who wants his team to take ownership of their play to a greater degree.

“What I think hurts us the most, from a weekend like that, is that we go out and give up 11 runs in the first inning of Game One, and only one of those is earned,” he said. “There were four errors in one inning… We are hoping to rectify that.”

Brandt was also proud of his team for rallying in the second game Monday to earn a 9-7 win against a team that has already beaten Wisconsin-La Crosse and Wisconsin-Oshkosh this season.

“On the weekend, as a whole, I think these guys are starting to realize that they can hit,” said Brandt. “We’re moving runners. We’re getting on base. We’re just not stringing it together sometimes.”

In Sunday’s doubleheader, the Lions only managed six hits over the two games and committed five errors in a pair of losses, 22-1 and 12-1.

One bright spot for the Lions Sunday was the play of catcher Seth Gosse. Gosse went 1-for-3 at the plate in the opener while batting third in the lineup. He also knocked in the Lions’ lone run.

Brandt likes what he is seeing out of the Rosendale, Wisconsin, native in his first season with the team.

“As coaches, we were talking the whole weekend about guys being engaged in the game, and guys being involved,” Brandt said. “That is actually the reason that we put Seth Gosse out in left field. Non-stop, we see him up on the fence, being excited about the game. We rewarded that.”

Gosse went 1-for-4 in the final game of the series, playing in left field.

Junior Steve Guberti took the loss on the mound, surrendering nine hits and 13 runs, only six of which were earned, over the course of the opener.

“I actually thought that Steven Guberti threw a heck of an inning right away,” said Brandt. “If you take all of the errors and everything that happens after two outs off the board, I thought he pitched a really good inning. We just couldn’t get him out of it.”

In the nightcap, sophomore Will Thompson got the start, going two innings before giving way to sophomore J.J. Piontek. While the pair surrendered seven runs over three innings, a more disturbing trend showed up. Brandt also liked the fact that Piontek’s velocity is improving.

The Lions pitching staff is having trouble throwing strikes.

“We have a group that are throwing more strikes, they are just not quality strikes,” Brandt said. “That is a process, a growing process.”

In the opener Monday, senior Joey Krug homered to left in the top of the first inning, helping the Lions take a 3-0 lead. Unfortunately, the Lions surrendered the next 16 runs, nine of which came with junior Ashton Knutson on the mound.

Knutson’s line for the day was not good at 1 1/3 innings pitched with nine runs scored and no strikeouts, but Brandt praised his starter for throwing despite suffering through illness.

In the nightcap, junior Patrick Coles scored on a wild pitch in the top of the first and the Lions rallied from there as Knutson scored on a balk before the end of the first.

Junior Shawn Knutson went 2-for-3 ni the game, as did junior Brian Doyle, who also picked up an RBI.

Krug was solid on the mound until the ninth inning, where he gave up four of the seven runs he surrendered on the day.

Brandt was proud of his veteran hurler and the effort he put in Monday.

“We were talking before about making quality strikes, making good pitches in good counts, and not letting guys get too far out ahead of him,” Brandt said. “I wanted him to try to get ahead of guys and get the count in his favor more often than their favor… To see him get out there and get ahead of most at bats, I was proud of him doing that.”

With the win, the Lions improved to 4-20 on the season and 1-11 in WIAC play. Their schedule does not get any easier as this weekend they travel to face the WIAC’s preseason pick as the top team, Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The Warhawks, as Brandt puts it, do everything right. They come into the weekend 16-6 overall and 9-1 in WIAC play. The lone loss came to Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 10-9, on April 7.

Cal Aldridge drives the offense with a .455 batting average, eight home runs and 22 RBI. Nick Santoro is also tough, hitting .398 with four home runs and 14 RBI.

Brandt knows his young squad has a tall task ahead of them.

“Their one, two and three hitters are heavy bats,” he said. “They are boys that just crush. That is not easy for a pitching staff.”

GAME TIMES

The Lions and Warhawks open Friday’s doubleheader at 1 p.m. Saturday, their doubleheader is also set for first pitch at 1 p.m.

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