Austin Hietbrink homers in 2-1 HL-O loss, Logan Knutson pitches six strong innings
A second-inning home run by senior slugger Austin Hietbrink, several fine fielding plays by the Wildcats’ defense and a stellar six-inning pitching performance by junior all-around athlete Logan Knutson highlighted Heron Lake-Okabena baseball action in an opening round game of the Section 3A high school tournament at Wabasso last Tuesday, May 31.
Playing well from start to finish, the sixth-seeded Wildcats battled third-seeded Murray County Central in a low-scoring, pitcher’s duel which ended up with a narrow 2-1 victory for the Rebels.
The victory advanced MCC into the double-elimination segment of the tournament with a 12-6 record, while HL-O finished its season at 3-17.
“It was a well-played high school baseball game,” summed up second-year HL-O head coach Kevin Rogers. “Both teams fielded the ball very well and each pitcher threw strikes, keeping the game moving along. MCC ended up scoring one more run than we did, but our guys made plays and competed hard the whole game.”
The Rebels scored a run on three hits in the bottom of the first inning, but Knutson stopped the early damage with back-to-back strikeouts to bring the Wildcats back to the plate.
Batting in the number four slot as HL-O’s “clean up” hitter, Hietbrink drilled the first pitch — of the top of the second inning — high over the left-field fence for a solo home run, knotting the score at 1-1.
Hietbrink’s home run was a historic blast, as it was the first homer hit at Wabasso’s new field, which opened for high school action in late April.
“Austin really got a hold of that one,” declared Rogers. “He has good power in his swing and that home run was a highlight for us, giving us a lift and putting us on the scoreboard.”
Hietbrink’s homer was HL-O’s first run off of MCC senior pitcher Paul Mesner, who twirled a 3-0 complete-game (seven innings) shutout against the Wildcats at Slayton on May 10.
Mesner, who had worked a 1-2-3 first frame, stayed in control the rest of the way. He walked only one Wildcat, while striking out four. HL-O did finish with six hits, but the Wildcats were not able to score again.
Knutson, meanwhile, was nearly as effective. Logan struck out five Rebels (two in the first, one in the second and two in the fourth), while walking just one (in the third frame).
MCC scored an unearned run in the bottom of the third to take a 2-1 lead, but Knutson worked a 1-2-3 fourth inning and held the Rebels without a run in both the fifth and sixth, aided by some fine defensive plays.
Senior second baseman Angel Esqueda fielded a pair of ground balls in the fifth inning, getting an unassisted tag out at second for one out and starting a 4-6-3 double play (sophomore shortstop Ethan Becker and junior first baseman Adam Hietbrink) to end the inning.
Becker, who made five fine plays in the field, came up with a pair of gems in the sixth to help keep the Rebels from scoring.
In the second inning, the Wildcats picked off a runner on a 1-3-6 (Knutson to Chum to Becker) to end that frame, which started with a ground-ball out to Becker.
Junior third baseman David Volk, Austin Hietbrink (left field), Knutson (pitcher), “Chum” Hietbrink (first base) and senior catcher Marcelo Esqueda also all made key fielding plays for the Wildcats, who had just two errors in the entire contest.
Hietbrink brothers each contribute at the plate
At the plate, Adam “Chum” Hietbrink came through all three times. He put down a sacrifice bunt in the second inning, drew HL-O’s only walk in the fourth and beat out an infield hit in the seventh.
Austin Hietbrink had a one-out infield single in the sixth, giving him a two-for-three day with the bat.
Volk had an infield hit in the second (following Austin’s home run) and was moved to second by Chum’s bunt.
Senior right fielder Brady Haberman also reached base in that second inning, legging out a well-placed bunt single. But with runners on the corners (Volk had stole third), Mesner induced a ground-ball to shortstop for a force out at second, ending the inning as the Wildcats stranded a pair.
Freshman center fielder Andrew Madsen ripped a sharp single to right field to lead off the sixth inning for the Wildcats. A sacrifice bunt by Angel Esqueda moved Madsen to second and he advanced to third on Austin Hietbrink’s second hit of the game. But, the Rebels turned a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning as Madsen crossed the plate without being counted as a run.
“We had chances in both the second and sixth innings,” exclaimed Rogers. “Both times, we had guys on first and third. Each time we hit a ground ball, which MCC made a good play on to end the inning.”
The Rebels turned another double play (5-4-3) in the seventh inning.
Immediately following its one-run win over HL-O, MCC advanced with a 1-0 victory over second-seeded Wabasso as Mesner also pitched all seven innings of that one-run contest.
The Rebels were defeated by Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg, 10-0, before bouncing back with a 7-2 victory over Renville County West. MCC’s season (14-8) ended with a 4-0 loss to top-seeded Adrian at Milroy last Saturday, June 4.
HL-O gave MCC one of its losses with a 7-5 victory over the Rebels at Heron Lake on April 19, a game in which Mesner did not pitch.
The Wildcats also posted a 2-1 win over Adrian (at Heron Lake, May 3), the Dragons’ only Red Rock Conference loss of the season. HL-O’s other victory was a 10-5 conference win over Mountain Lake at Heron Lake on Saturday, April 23.
Six of HL-O’s losses were by three runs or less.
R H E
HL-O 010 000 0 = 1 6 2
MCC 101 000 X = 2 7 0