By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette
FOREST LAKE – Stillwater’s pitching is rounding into shape nicely down the stretch and on Monday night it was Joe Stanton’s turn as he helped carry the Ponies to a 3-1 Suburban East Conference baseball victory over Forest Lake at Schumacher Field.
The Ponies (10-6 SEC, 11-6) have allowed just one run in each of their past three games, with strong starts also coming from Andy Peterson and Alex Haas during the current three-game winning streak.
Stanton allowed four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts as Stillwater joined the Rangers (9-6, 10-6) in a tie for third place in the league standings behind Cretin-Derham Hall (13-1, 13-4) and Mounds View (10-5, 10-5).
"He had a really nice outing," Stillwater coach Mike Parker said. "They had base runners most innings and was able to battle. He was throwing primarily off-speed because he was having a hard time throwing his fastball, but he really kept them off stride."
The Ponies scored a run in the third inning after Scott Livermore was hit by a pitch and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and a groundout. Zach Krenz followed with a line-drive single to right to provide a 1-0 lead.
Alex Zentzis delivered an RBI triple in the fourth as the Rangers tied the game, but Stillwater answered with two runs in the fifth. Connor Johnston singled to start the fifth and Livermore reached on an infield hit. Both runners moved up on a passed ball before Austin Holmberg came through with a two-out single to right field for a 3-1 advantage.
Stillwater’s run production has slipped a little the second half of the season, but the pitching and defense have improved a the same time. Catcher A.J. Johnson threw out a base runner trying to steal in the third inning and the Ponies also extinguished threats in the sixth and seventh innings.
"We played really solid defense," Parker said. "We only had six hits, but we hit how we wanted to do, putting the ball on the ground a lot and not giving them a lot of easy outs. We played what I thought was a tight game defensively and I like how Alex (Johnson) and Joe are keeping guys on base."
The Rangers completed an unusual double play with a runner on second in the sixth inning. Wyatt Kurzejeski fielded a grounder at third and threw to first before Connor Johnston fired back to shortstop Christian Abilla covering third to double off the runner trying to advance from second.
"That was a really nice play," Parker said.
Then in the seventh, two runners reached for Forest Lake but Stanton notched a strikeout and pop-out to secure the victory.
"That was a huge win for those guys under the lights," Parker said. "It was a big crowd and it was the first time in my four years we’ve won up there and I think we’ve only won once up there in the last nine years.
"We’ve had a couple of nice wins to beat Cretin and Forest Lake away. Our road record is better than our home record and that shows something about the grittiness of the group."
The Ponies improved to 7-2 on the road this season, compared to 4-4 in home games.
Stillwater0 0 1 0 2 0 0-361
Forest Lake0 0 0 1 0 0 0-140
WP: Joe Stanton 7-ip, 4-h, 1-r, 1-er, 2-bb, 9-so
LP: Beau Fandel 7-ip, 6-h, 3-r, 3-er, 2-bb, 5-so
Leading hitters: St, Austin Holmberg 1×3, Zach Krenz 1×3, Aaron Romportl 1×3, Wyatt Kurzejeski 1×3, Connor Johnston 1×3 and Scott Livermore 1×2.