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Grizzlies toss a scare into state-ranked Panthers

David Colburn
Posted 5/26/21

FIELD TWP- The North Woods baseball team picked up a home win against Carlton last Friday, just after a near upset of state-ranked South Ridge the day before was short-circuited by an unlikely …

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Grizzlies toss a scare into state-ranked Panthers

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FIELD TWP- The North Woods baseball team picked up a home win against Carlton last Friday, just after a near upset of state-ranked South Ridge the day before was short-circuited by an unlikely source— the rule book.
The Grizzlies fell behind the Panthers 2-0 at the outset of Thursday’s home contest, but scratched across a run in the home half of the first on an RBI single by Chris Chaulklin. They evened the score in the bottom of the third inning when Cole Thiel came home on a sacrifice fly by Zach Cheney.
While Cheney held South Ridge at bay from the mound, the Grizzlies grabbed a 3-2 lead when Chauklin scored on an error in the fourth.
Chaulklin was in the mix again in the bottom of the sixth, smacking an RBI double that scored Jake Panichi, and then crossing the plate himself on a Ty Leinonen grounder. Going into the final inning, the Grizzlies led 5-3.
“We took the number- three team in the state in Class A right down to the last inning,” Head Coach Jeff Smerud said.
But the Panthers loaded the bases in the top of the seventh on two walks and an error, and then the rulebook intervened. In ringing up a strikeout, Cheney banged up against the mandatory pitch count limit and had to surrender the ball to another pitcher.
It couldn’t have been a more tense situation for Andrew Zika to step to the mound. He faced four Panthers, hitting two with pitches, giving up a walk and a single, and surrendering four runs. South Ridge was just as brutal against Zika’s relief, Ben Kruse, ramming across four more runs in a devastating eight-run inning that doomed the Grizzlies to an 11-5 defeat.
“They’re not number three in the state for nothing. They’ve only got three losses all year,” Smerud said. “It came down to Zach running out of pitches.”
But the game signified a turning point of sorts for the Grizzlies. They worked through a five-game hitting slump, and the defense was again solid against the Panthers.
“I’m proud of how those kids played,” Smerud said. “I can’t ask for anything more. But our defense has been playing really well, we’re finding our groove and I think we’re going to be just fine going into playoffs. On any given day we can compete with anybody in our section.”
Friday’s game against Carlton was another tight affair for much of the game, tied 2-2 going into the bottom of the sixth. Zach Cheney contributed to the Grizzlies’ pair with an RBI single and a score.
But this time it was the Grizzlies who had an explosive inning. The inning opened with a walk, a hit batsman, a single to load the bases, and an Andrew Zika single drove home a run. Zach Cheney scored on a sacrifice bunt by Austin Sokoloski, and a Carlton error on a Ben Kruse fly ball allowed Zika and Jake Panichi to cross the plate. Caleb Uchal topped off the five-run outburst with an RBI double that drove home Kruse.
Carlton answered with only one run as Andrew Zika closed out a complete game on the mound and earned the 7-3 win.
“It was a good bounce-back game for us,” Smerud said. “We started a little slow, but the game rolls on and the kids get a rhythm hitting the ball, seeing the ball, and they finally came through in the sixth with some big at-bats. It’s nice to finally put something back on another team and be able to relax a little bit.”

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