Following an offseason of uncertainty and a week of ‘lying low’ prior to their first game, the Carleton baseball team took the diamond on Monday to make their season debut in a doubleheader against the Bethel Royals, a team with 12 games already under their belt boasting an impressive record of 8-4.
The Knights were outscored 6-4 in the first leg, while the second game was postponed in the bottom of the ninth inning after darkness descended upon Mel Taube Field and visibility became limited with the Knights trailing 8-6. Play is expected to resume when the two teams meet again for a previously scheduled April 15 matchup on Bethel’s campus at Arden Hills.
Despite an undesirable outcome, the Knights exemplified grit and proved their potential as a competitor in the MIAC conference. With students expected to ‘lie low’ while awaiting their COVID-19 test results during the first week of Spring Term, the team was unable to practice for the week-long period beginning Sunday, March 27.
Rather than taking batting practice and working on situationals together on the field, the Knights resorted to nightly Zoom meetings and batting practices coordinated among roommates to prepare for opening day.
“Nobody really knows how the quarantine will impact any of the spring sports,” said Manager Aaron Rushing one day prior to the game. “We might not be as sharp as typical for a season opener, but I also think that the pure excitement of being back out there may nullify any potential negative impact.”
Rushing proved to be correct in his analysis. The Knights struggled with a handful of physical and mental errors throughout the day, including a few fumbled ground balls and a key miscommunication on the base path down the stretch in game one. Nevertheless, the team brought the energy and determination necessary to keep up with a proven Royals club.
Trailing 4-0 in game one, the Knights came to life in the bottom of the fifth inning, catalyzed by the insertion of Junior infielder Sam Schur into the lineup as a pinch hitter. Upon coming to the plate, Schur hit a single to right field, sending sophomore catcher Aaron Berkowitz to third with a headfirst dive to beat the throw from the outfield. Sophomore right fielder Luke Mager then drove Berkowitz home with a line drive shot above the Bethel shortstop’s outstretched glove to put Carleton’s first run on the board.
Following Berkowitz’s score, Junior third baseman Paul Hinton, who made numerous impressive plays in the field throughout both contests, sent a ground ball whizzing past Bethel’s third basemen to drive in Schur, who avoided a play at the plate to make it home for the Knights’s second score. Shortly thereafter, Bethel pitcher Matthew Bolke hit junior left fielder Jacob Small with a pitch, forcing Mager home with the bases loaded and trimming Bethel’s lead to only a run.
Bethel catcher James Woelful responded with a home run to leftfield in the top of the sixth inning, followed by a tag up run scored by Jordan Krupke that stretched Bethel’s lead to 6-3. Thankfully, with First-Year pitcher Kiefer Lord in trouble, the Knights rallied to minimize further damages. Before Lord ended the inning with a strikeout, Berkowitz collided with the backstop to catch a challenging pop-up behind home plate.
Following a blunder on the basepath in the bottom of the sixth inning which resulted in a pickle and a tag out for the Knights, the team rallied in the seventh (and last inning) of the first abbreviated game. The comeback attempt began with a double sent deep to center field by senior center fielder Travis Brown, who was subsequently driven home by an RBI single from Jacob Small to make the score 6-4 in favor of the Royals. The next two Carleton batters struck out after Bethel made a pitching change, thus ending the Knights’ hopes for a win in their first game.
The second contest of the afternoon began with three quick runs produced by Knights in the bottom of the first inning on Bethel’s ace Marcus Krupke, who entered the day 3-0 in four starts so far this season. Jacob Small picked up where he left off in the first leg by producing an RBI double, followed by a run-producing groundout from Junior Jacob Smith and a sacrifice-fly RBI from first-year Brayden Stark to make the score 3-0 in favor of Carleton.
Carleton’s bats remained relatively quiet for the remainder of the second contest, with the exception of a two-out RBI double from Smith in the bottom of the seventh that brought home speedy baserunner Jacob Small. Bethel, meanwhile, remained consistent throughout the second game, putting runners on base in each inning. The Royals scored two runs in the second, four runs in the third, along with a run forced by a walked batter and an RBI triple in the top of the seventh and ninth innings, respectively.
Only time will tell whether or not the Knight’s success scoring on Bethel’s defense will be a harbinger of things to come against lower-standing MIAC opponents this season. Nevertheless, Coach Rushing is optimistic about the Knight’s prospects.
“We’ve got a tremendous group of young men who are eager to play,” said Rushing. “They’ve worked hard and demonstrated impressive patience and leadership through a challenging year.”
All in all, the Knights were ecstatic to return to action on Monday. “We were over the moon with excitement,” said Jacob Small, who recorded 3 RBI’s on the day. “The majority of the team hasn’t played competitively in two years, so we are ready to put everything we have out on the field. Off the field, we’re going to everything we can to stay safe and ensure we play a full season,” Small added.
The Knights will play another doubleheader against Hamline on Saturday at CHS Field in St. Paul, with the first pitch scheduled to be thrown at 1 p.m. central time.