Defensive breakdowns in the seventh inning cost Stoughton in a 10-5 loss to Albion in a Home Talent League Southeast Section showdown Sunday, June 30, at Norse Park.
Albion had a five-run seventh to pull away for the victory to improve to 8-1, one game ahead of the Merchants (7-2) with seven games left in the Sunday league. The Merchants are still in a good position to make the playoffs as one of the top four teams. Stoughton has a half-game lead on both Evansville and Jefferson (6-2) for second place.
“You are playing for the top four spots to get into the playoffs,” Stoughton manager Dale Seffens said. “That is the main gig. It’s nice to have a home playoff game, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Stoughton entered the seventh trailing 5-4. The Tigers hit just one ball out of the infield in the seventh. Stoughton committed two errors that led to three runs, and another run scored on Yonardo Herdenez’s wild pitch.
After Albion’s Cullen Oren singled off relief pitcher Erick Sperloen, Jake Zeimet was hit with a pitch. Charlie Hatlen then bunted for a single, and the Merchants brought in Herdenez in relief. Aaron Laskowski, who had a go-ahead two-run double to right in the sixth that gave Albion a one-run lead, delivered again lining an RBI single to left off Herdenez to give the Tigers a 10-4 lead.
“We didn’t play very good defense and didn’t help the pitchers out at all,” Seffens said. “It was just too many gimmes.”
Stoughton’s Ryan Nyhagen said the defensive miscues were uncharacteristic.
“Our pitchers were putting the ball in good spots, and they were just putting good swings on the ball,” Nyhagen said. “We definitely need to clean up our defense. We can’t give them extra outs. They are already a tough team to beat.”
The Merchants dug themselves a hole in the first, when Zeimet blasted a two-run home run to left off starting pitcher Ben Riffle to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead. Zeimet was a thorn in the side of the Merchants, going 2-for-3 with a home run, two RBIs and three runs scored.
In 5 2/3 innings, Riffle gave up five runs on six hits. He struck out seven and walked three.
“He gave up the homer in the first inning there, but that can happen,” Seffens said. “After that, he did a nice job. We made the pitchers throw extra pitches, and sooner or later, a good team will get to you.”
Nyhagen said it’s never fun having to play from behind.
“We have to do a better job of bouncing back right away when we get down in a game,” he said. “We have to start to get leads and work on getting ahead instead of always relying on our bats to come back in games.”
Nyhagen walked leading off the second and scored on a passed ball to cut the A’s lead to 2-1. The Merchants took the lead by manufacturing two runs with some small ball in the third.
Ervin Medina led off with a single and then stole second. Albion starting pitcher Lucas Gregory then walked Chris Lund and Nyhagen to load the bases. Stoughton’s Jake Wenzel turned late for a squeeze bunt and knocked in Medina. He picked up a single when no one covered first base. Winder Fuentes then bunted in Lund to give the Merchants a 3-2 lead.
Nyhagen, who went 1-for-2 with three walks, crushed a double to center in the fifth. Fuentes drove in his second run on an RBI single to right to extend the Merchants’ lead to 4-2.
Stoughton stranded six runners and was 2-for-9 hitting with runners in scoring position.
“We left some runs out there,” Seffens said. “They have a good pitcher, and you have to give him credit.”
Lund crushed a solo home run to center in the ninth.
Stoughton hosts McFarland in a Sunday league game on Thursday and then hosts Jefferson on Sunday.
After the Merchants play Jefferson on Sunday, they will finish a suspended Thursday Night League game that is tied 4-4 in the top of the ninth inning.
“We just have to have a short memory with this game and try to work from ahead and put the pressure on these teams like Albion did to us,” Nyhagen said.