Parker Burman – Staff Writer
The Gustavus baseball team has spent the past week in Tucson, Arizona, for the Tucson Invitational. While the Gusties’ win-loss record of 2-6 was not what the team was hoping for, there were still many positives to take away from the trip.
“We did not have our desired performance during our trip but it was a good experience to learn from the small things on what we need to work on to become the best we can be and very positive in what we can become this season,” Senior Outfielder Bryce Novak said.
“Nothing was really working for us in Arizona, but I think that really is just from getting the first few games out of the way. Hitting needs to be better, fielding needs to be better and pitching needs to be better. We are a pretty young team and it was fun to see some freshman and sophomore players getting some serious innings in Arizona and performing very well,” Senior infielder Jake Hanson said.
On the first day of competition, the Gusties faced off in a doubleheader, with Allegheny splitting the two-game set. The Gusties fell 14-13 in the first game after squandering a late-game lead but bounced back to win 6-1 in game two.
Game one alone saw six lead changes, 27 runs, 38 hits, eight errors, and 22 runners left on base in a game that could have been even higher scoring. The Gustavus offense was led by Junior Drake Siens, Hanson, and Novak in game one. With a grand slam from Senior Gavin Baker leading the way in game two. Sophomore starter Luke Siegle helped the Gusties bounce back with a strong game-two start.
“I think my biggest focus going in was to fill up the strike zone and throw a lot of strikes. The first game was a lot of back and forth with our guys in the field for a long time so I wanted to work fast, have quick innings and get our guys back in the dugout,” Siegle said.
“I think our pitching staff performed really well. Although the final scores might have not reflected this, we executed our plan as a pitching staff that we came into the trip with. We threw a lot of strikes and did some things really well that we wanted to improve on from last year,” Senior Catcher Logan Bjorkman said.
Game three for the Gusties on day two, much like day one, was a high-scoring affair with 17 runs across the plate, unfortunately, only six belonged to Gustavus who fell 11-6 to Bethany Lutheran. Gustavus answered Bethany in the second with three runs of their own starting off with a double from Bjorkman who drove in Senior Patrick Timmer. Hanson would lead the offense going 4/5 on the day driving in two runs as well.
“Our offense definitely started off hot in the first game and then we kind of cooled off towards the end. I feel we performed alright but can definitely improve in clutch situations such as when runners are in scoring position with two outs. We need to grind out more at bat and have confidence because everyone we have can hit the crap out of the ball,” Hanson said.
The next three days of competition pitted the Gusties against Otterbein, Carthage, and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Gustavus fell in all three matches in a similar fashion to their first three games of the invitational, with lots of offense and limited run prevention.
Gustavus did receive two solid starts against Otterbein and Carthage from their starters Senior Jayce Luna and baker. Against Otterbein Baker went five innings collecting four strikeouts while surrendering just a pair of unearned runs. Luna followed up Baker’s start with five innings of one-run ball against Carthage, picking up six punch outs.
“It is always hard to go from throwing in the blue to throwing in AZ where balls fly farther. Although it wasn’t a perfect trip for the staff, we realized that we have some talented arms that will benefit us throughout the season but we all have some fine tuning to do individually throughout practice and as the season progresses,” Luna said.
“My goal for the start was to really challenge them in the zone and to stay away from the walks, something our coaching staff really preaches, and it worked out well. Sam Schneider was also fantastic behind the plate which helped me on the mound a ton. There were also many good plays made behind me to get out of some jams,” Baker said.
On the Gusties’ final day of games, they squared off with Wesleyan for their second doubleheader of the trip. With the offense shut down by Wesleyan’s pitching staff, the Gusties fell in a shutout 2-0. As in their first doubleheader, Gustavus bounced back in game two for the 5-2 victory.
Game one’s starter Junior Mitch Casperson started off the game with three scoreless innings before giving up a run in the fourth. On the day Casperson went five innings giving up only a single run and punching out eight batters. His strong performance on the mound was followed by Sophomore Brevin Goetz who pitched two solid innings of relief.
Ending their trip on a high note, Gustavus put together a complete game on all sides of the ball to pick up a much-needed victory. Novak, Baker, and Junior Chris Knowles lead the offense, going a combined 7/11 with four runs driven in. Sophomore Luke Seigle picked up the victory on the mound with four very solid innings and Senior Damon Rademacher picked up the multi-inning save.
“There are games where the pitchers are struggling and we are good offensively to back them up and other days where the pitchers are dominating but the hitters are struggling. It is always good to know that one side or the other we have each other’s back to keep us in games,” Novak said.
Gustavus will kick off their regular season on Saturday, March 18th, with a doubleheader against Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Their first home game will come on March 22nd at 2 p.m. against Crown College.