Junior ace Brandon Krueger delivers a pitch during the third inning of Inter-Lakes’ 3-2 win over Winnisquam in the Lakers’ season-opener on April 13 in Tilton. Krueger struck out 10 in a complete game effort to earn the win on the mound. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
April 16, 2012TILTON – Things didn't look too promising for the Inter-Lakes High School baseball team through five innings on April 13. The Lakers managed just two singles offensively, with neither runner moving past first base.
That all changed in the sixth inning, however. Behind four hits in a five-batter span, including a huge two-run single from Eamon Bean, visiting I-L scored three times and came back to pick up a solid 3-2 win over Winnisquam Regional High School in the Lakers' Division III opener.
"Coming over here every year, they've had such incredibly tough teams that to come out of here with a victory with three returning players is huge, just huge," said I-L skipper Vint Choiniere of Winnisquam. "We waited quite a while to get something started. For awhile it looked awfully tough. We barely could get a ball out of the infield. But we strung a couple key hits there, Eamon Bean's was humongous. So I'm just really happy for the kids to get off to a good start."
The tone of the game changed completely in that one half inning. Winnisquam (0-3) starting pitcher Austin Hunt was outright dominant entering the sixth. The junior allowed just singles to Ryan Hambrook and Travis Manville, and he struck out three while not issuing a single walk through five innings.
"Boy, Austin pitched great, that's the best I've ever seen him," said Winnisquam coach Fred Caruso. "He's been working on his changeup, getting his off-speed stuff over. He mixed it up great today, had a lot of people out on their front foot."
Trailing 2-0 in the sixth, Willie True reached for the Lakers (1-0) with a single with one out to get the rally started. Dillon Mailand followed with a bunt single and Brandon Krueger loaded the bases with a third consecutive hit. After Hunt came back with a strikeout for the second out of the inning, Bean stepped in and delivered a bounding ball through the left side of the infield. True and Mailand came around to tie the game at 2-2, and the throw home allowed Krueger to move up to third base. Two pitches later, a wild pitch allowed him to scamper home for the go-ahead run and a 3-2 I-L lead.
After scoring the run, Krueger stepped up his game on the mound for the Lakers when I-L returned to the field. The left-handed junior needed just eight pitches to get out of the bottom of the sixth and a 1-2-3 inning, and he struck out two and got a pop out to the catcher in the seventh to close out the 3-2 road win. Krueger struck out 10 batters on the day to go along with just two walks and two hits.
"I could see it in his body language, he was really fired up and he really wanted to seal the deal," said Choiniere of his starting pitcher. "The second half of the game, we went almost solely with his fastball. He was throwing the ball well. Didn't quite have quite the command with his curveball but his fastball was live enough today that we stuck with it."
The Bears couldn't quite get anything going against Krueger, and they tried to mix in several bunt attempts to get some runners on base.
"If you don't do the little things when Krueger's on the mound…the kid's a good pitcher, probably one of the best we're going to see all year," said Caruso. "This is the fifth time we've seen him (in three years) and he finally got us."
The win was the first for Krueger against Winnisquam in his varsity career, as he'd been involved in quite a few close games with the squad over his first two seasons. In last year's season-opener, the Bears won a tight 3-2 game in Tilton and two years ago, Winnisquam used a walk-off home run in the eighth-inning to capture a victory.
"We've paid our dues over here," said a smiling Choiniere.
Winnisquam wasted little time getting on the scoreboard in the first inning, as freshman Tucker Normand led off with a walk and stole second base. After back-to-back strikeouts, Krueger attempted a pickoff play to second to try and catch the speedy Normand napping. But the youngster instead took off for third base, and the throw directed to third got away, allowing Normand to come around and score to give Winnisquam an early 1-0 lead.
Normand would reach base again in the third after being hit by a pitch, and after taking second on a wild pitch and third on a stolen base, would come around on an infield error to double the lead to 2-0.
"I told our assistant coaches that if we can get him on base every time, he is going to just wreak havoc out there," said Caruso of his freshman leadoff hitter. "That was our plan, to get him out there and to stir it up and hopefully steal a couple of runs."
The miscues of Inter-Lakes' part almost resulted in a defeat, though the sixth inning offense picked the squad up and took those early-game errors off the hook.
"We assisted both of those early runs and that's doubly difficult when you're struggling so much offensively," said Choiniere. "It just magnifies the pressure on the offense. I'm not going to lie, it didn't look real good for five innings but it was a nice comeback for the guys."
It was a tough opening week in the standings for the Bears, as the team dropped two games to Newfound as well to begin the year 0-3. But there's got to be some patience for the young team, as the entire infield including pitcher and catcher is gone from last year's Final Four team.
"Like we said when we started, this is a work in progress," said Caruso. "We saw three tough pitchers the first week but we'll get better as the year goes on. We looked like a baseball team today. We looked like we belong out there. That's a step in the right direction."