TAMA - Injuries forced the Mustangs to devise a back-up plan.
Now with their full lineup intact, the East Marshall baseball team relied upon a different form of backup - its defense - to hang on for a 1-0 victory over South Tama County Thursday.
Sam Benzing scattered four hits over seven innings and received enough support from his defense, which despite three errors came through with several timely plays to maintain the shutout. Earning its second win over the Trojans in as many nights, the Mustangs (10-11, 9-2) picked up their sixth straight victory.
T-R PHOTO BY TYLER STRAND
East Marshall shortstop Caleb Benzing awaits the call from the umpire after tagging out South Tama County’s Sam Kuhter on a steal attempt at second in the fifth inning of Thursday’s NICL West Division showdown at Tama. The Mustangs won 1-0 to claim their sixth straight win and their second in two nights over the Trojans.
Catcher Ryan Puumala stepped up in the seventh when an errant throw to first on a ground ball by STC's Sam Kuhter sailed over first baseman Brock Pieters. Puumala was in position on the play and retrieved the ball before throwing out Kuhter at second to end the Trojans' last threat.
"We work on that all the time - a player backing up in certain positions and that's why you do it," East Marshall coach Justin Frost said of Puumala's heads-up play.
"Something like that could happen and you could make a play that wins you a ballgame."
Puumala ended two other Trojan (9-5, 6-2) scoring opportunities tagging out a leaping Justin Suchanek at the plate in the third and throwing out Kuhter on a steal attempt at second to open the fifth.
"You have to give them credit defensively," South Tama coach Seth Koch said of the Mustangs, who also defeated the Trojans 11-1 in Gilman Wednesday night.
"They picked the ball up, threw the ball across and got outs. We made a couple mistakes on the basepaths but they're aggressive mistakes. ... You can't fault the kids when they're trying to be aggressive."
Sam Benzing, one of three players who missed significant time for the Mustangs this season due to injury, scored the game's lone run in the first on a hard hit single by fellow returnee Josh Wilson.
Benzing, who returned from a concussion he sustained at the Ethan Hungerford Memorial Tournament June 1, reached first on a fielder's choice before advancing to second on Puumala's single. Wilson, back from a pulled hamstring, laced a hit up the middle to bring in Benzing.
"Josh is our team leader," Frost said. "He's been a five-year starter and we know what we're going to get out of him every time we play. He's definitely a kickstarter for us."
The Mustangs had another scare in the sixth when a sharp ground ball from Tony "Tank" Keckler bounced off Benzing's shin on the mound. The Mustang sophomore hit the ground but was back on his feet quickly to retire the next batter.
"Our luck was starting to change and I thought, 'Uh oh, here we go again,'" Frost said of the hard grounder that knocked down Benzing.
"(Sam) hasn't thrown a varsity game in about two weeks because of his (concussion). It was a pretty gutsy effort to come out and do that against a very good South Tama team."
Benzing needed just two strikeouts for the shutout, while also walking a batter and hitting one. Kuhter gave South Tama a chance by fanning 12 and walking two. The senior allowed one run on five hits in a complete game effort.
"We just have to swing the bats better," Koch said.
"We get a couple hard hit balls a couple feet to the left or right and they're base hits instead of groundouts.
Kaleb Davenport had a hit and stolen base for STC, while Kolton Smith, Kuhter and Keckler each chipped in a hit. Puumala led the Mustangs with two hits, while Brock Pieters, Wilson and Nick Long each had a hit.
South Tama travels to the GMG Tournament Saturday, while East Marshall heads to West Marshall on Monday.
The Mustangs cruised to an 11-1 victory over the Trojans in six-innings in Gilman Wednesday night. STC was limited to just four hits in that game, while East Marshall tallied 12. ... The Mustangs have won their last six games by a combined score of 59-13...The Trojans stranded six runners Thursday, while the Mustangs left on five. Kuhter retired nine straight batters in the second through fourth innings. ... Josh Benzing has also been out for the Mustangs this season with a swollen elbow.