A gem in relief
After a 3-0 win over Mankato East at U.S. Bank Stadium last Friday, the Owatonna High School baseball team looked to make it two in a row as they played host to Mankato West.
After the first inning, a combine five runs were scored with Owatonna holding a slim 3-2 edge. After two, the Scarlets managed to regain a 4-3 lead as they started to get a beat on Huskies starting pitcher Jacob Gauthier.
Then Abe Havelka came in to relieve the struggling starter in the third inning.
He pitched a gem and the bats for Owatonna started to heat up.
Scoring three runs in the final three innings and Havelka tossing a two-hitter, the Huskies (3-2) were able to complete the comeback for a 6-5 win over Mankato West Tuesday at Darrts Park in Owatonna.
“It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but Abe Havelka came in and threw really well. I think he allowed two hits after coming in,” commented Huskies skipper Tate Cummings. “I think his ability to keep them off balance was critical because they were pretty comfortable early.”
In 3 2/3 innings of work, Havelka couldn’t have been any better for the Huskies. Relieving Gauthier with a runner in scoring position and no outs, the junior managed to register three-straight outs to end the inning. In fact, prior to allowing two hits in the top of the seventh inning, Havelka held the Scarlets hitless while registering four strikeouts.
Baseball’s just a really mental game,” commented Havelka. “You just have to be confident in what’s happening. I got on the mound, threw some strikes, Tuck (Tucker Alstead) called a great game and guys made plays behind me.”
Havelka would receive the win in relief, allowing one earned run on just two hits. Senior Kodey Kiel was awarded the save after coming in to relieve the junior with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
As for Gauthier, Tuesday’s outing was the second time in three games that the senior has struggled on the mound. In just two innings of work, he allowed four runs on six hits and walked two batters. Cummings noted that most of Gauthier’s problems stem from being behind in the count.
“As a hitter, you want to have a 2-0 count, 3-1 count,” he added. “As a pitcher, you want to be ahead and he hasn’t been ahead.”
While he was dominant on the mound, Havelka was also the spark for the offense. With runners on first and second, facing a 0-2 count, he managed to catch just enough of the ball for a blooper into right field to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the first inning. Ben Staska’s sacrifice fly to center scored Havelka to give the Huskies a 3-2 lead after one.
It would be the junior’s bat again in the bottom of the fourth, scoring Alstead after a long fly ball to centerfield to again tie the game at 4-4. Zach Mensink’s fielder’s choice would score Kiel, who managed to cross home plate before Noah Budach was caught at third, giving the Huskies a two-run advantage.
Havelka finished 1-for-2 with three RBIs while Mensink was 2-for-3 with a RBI. Despite registering just six hits throughout the contest, Owatonna managed to string out Scarlets’ starting pitcher Ben Smith into long and grueling at-bats.
“Ben Staska, I think he had 21 pitches that he saw tonight. So that’s one guy alone that did a heck of a job grinding out at bats,” commented Cummings. “We were logging pitches. There’s times were we want them to be more aggressive, get a pitch to hit early and go get it. This team is very capable of hitting.”
Owatonna held a 6-4 lead to start the final frame prior to Havelka’s lone earned run of the game, when Kiel was sent in relief. He would strike out Wesley Henderson to end the inning.
MW 2 2 0 0 0 1 5 8 3
OHS 3 0 0 2 1 x 6 6 2
WP: Havelka 3 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3K, 1HBP
Kiel 2-4 (ROE), Budach 1-4 (ROE), Havelka 1-2 (3RBIs), Mensink 2-3 (RBI), Nolan Malo 1-1 (RBI), Staska (RBI, two BB).