Milaca surges ahead in conference standings

Milaca legion second baseman Nathan Hass prepares to scoop up a grounder on July 8 against Princeton in Mark Park.  Times photo by Tyler Ohmann
Milaca legion second baseman Nathan Hass prepares to scoop up a grounder on July 8 against Princeton in Mark Park.
Times photo by Tyler Ohmann

Milaca went winless in its first four games of the Legion season. Since then, the story has changed as five more wins since July 7 put Milaca on a seven-game win streak and pushed the team into a second-place tie in the conference standings.

Milaca took down Mora on July 7, toppled second-place Princeton on July 8, breezed by Pine City last Thursday and swept a tough Cambridge team in a doubleheader last Sunday evening. The streak placed Milaca at 7-4 and in a tie with Princeton and Cambridge for second place behind conference-leading St. Francis (two losses).

The streak for Milaca began with a doubleheader sweep of North Branch on July 1. It continued on July 7 when Milaca broke open a tight game with Mora, and went on to win 11-0.

Both teams pitched to a scoreless game through four innings, but Milaca busted the game open with three runs in the fifth. They added a pair in the sixth and six more in the seventh to go up 11-0.

Milaca starter Matt VanSomeren pitched a gem, allowing only one hit and only three base runners in a complete game victory.

“This was his best performance of the year so far,” said Milaca coach Bart Naumann. “He located pitches well, and his curve ball was really moving.”

Offensively Milaca took advantage of drawing eight walks, scoring five of those runners. Mason Hoskins had a pair of singles, as did Raliegh Millar and Ian Carpenter. The offensive leader though was Mike Garber, who went 3-for-5 with a single, double and a triple.

Milaca kept the streak going with a thrilling 1-0 upset victory over Princeton (who was then tied for first) on July 8.

The game was the second of the day for Princeton, which beat Cambridge in game one with a walk-off home run to earn the tie for first.

Again it was a strong pitching performance that carried Milaca on the day. Brian Kiel went the distance and allowed just two Princeton hits.

Milaca scratched a run across in the top of the fourth when Mike Garber doubled in Nathan Hass.

The best was saved for last though as the play of the game was also the game’s last. With two outs in the seventh, a runner on third base and Kiel still on the mound, Kiel threw a pitch well in the dirt that squirted past Garber. Garber managed to get the ball to Kiel who put the tag on a Princeton runner for the final out.

“The hitting was timely, and the pitching was outstanding,” Naumann said. “If you like pitching duels, this was the one to watch.”

The victory for Milaca avenged a 2-0 loss in the opening game of the season in which Princeton’s Luke Hallbeck (who also pitched on July 8) no-hit Milaca.

Milaca kept its momentum going with a 10-0, five-inning win over Pine City last Thursday in Pine City.

VanSomeren was again a major factor on the mound for Milaca in the win. He allowed only a single it, and struck out nine in the win.

Hass had three singles, as all nine of Milaca’s hits were singles. Kiel went 2-for-2, and Hoskins, Garber, Millar and Matthew Fransen each added a single a piece in the victory.

“We drew four walks, and were able to push them in, and all our singles came at the right time,” Naumann said.

Milaca’s sixth win came last Sunday in game one against Cambridge. A seven-run fourth inning helped Milaca jump out to a 10-2 lead, and hold on for an 11-6 win.

Each team had 11 hits.

Hoskins went 3-for-5 and had one of four extra base hits for Milaca on the day. The others were doubles from Fransen, VanSomeren and Hunter Johnson.

Johnson was also on the mound for Milaca and went 6.1 innings and allowed four runs on 11 hits. He struck out six and walked just two.

“Our offense has really come around, and that makes pitchers life much easier,” Naumann said. “They can attack the strike zone and pitch to contact.”

Game two was much closer as Milaca escaped with a narrow, 5-4 victory.

Milaca took an early 5-0 lead after a four-run second inning. However, Cambridge stormed back with a four-run inning of their own in the fifth. That would be all they would get though, despite four Milaca errors.

“We got an early lead, pitched well and made the tough plays when we needed to,” Naumann said.

Carpenter started on the mound and got the win after he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings. VanSomeren came in and earned the save after two hitless innings of relief.

Garber was huge at the plate for Milaca with a 3-for-4 night including a double and a pair of singles. Kiel went 2-for-2, and Hoskins, Johnson and Fransen each added a single.

Milaca will take part in the Sub-State Tournament that begins on July 26 in Princeton. They will not know their seed until the regular season ends with their final game at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at home against Pine City. The state tournament is July 31-Aug. 4.