April 15, 2010 at 10:29 a.m.
Just like last year, the North Branch boys baseball team rang in the new season by lighting up the scoreboard against Spring Lake Park.
Last year, the Vikes downed the Panthers 18-11 in their opening game. This year, it wasn't quite as many runs, but the scorekeepers still had a busy day.
Senior hurler Tyler Ball got the opening day start on the mound and was the leadoff hitter for the Vikes also. Although Ball hit a few rough pitches in his three innings of work -- he gave up six hits and two walks, but only allowed two earned runs -- his start was enough to keep the Panthers guessing. "Tyler gave us a good start by keeping them off-balance," skipper Steve Christensen said. At the plate, Ball went 1-for-2 with a walk and a run.
Spring Lake Park opened the game with three runs in the first two innings, and things already looked a little troubling for the Vikings.
However, they answered with three runs of their own in the top half of the third, and after keeping SLP off the board in the bottom of the third, the Vikings took their first lead of the game when they scored two runs in the top of the fourth.
Spring Lake Park put a one on the board in the bottom of the fourth, and the two teams remained close through the fifth inning.
The Vikings broke the game open in the top of the sixth, plating six runs and stretching their lead to 11-4 with only six outs left. The Panthers grabbed a run each in the sixth and seventh, but they never put together another threat to get close to North Branch.
The other star of the game for the Vikings was fellow senior Matt Lutgen. Lutgen came in to relieve Ball after his three innings of work. Lutgen worked three more innings, giving up two hits, three walks and two runs.
He really stepped up at the plate, however. Batting in the three spot, Lutgen went 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBIs for the Vikes. "Lutty pitched well to get us the win, and he came up with a big hit. It was the lift we needed."
Tanner Danks and Sean Graff also had impressive days at the plate. Danks went 2-for-3 with a walk and three runs, and Graff went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run.
Ball, Jake Kalkbrenner, Thomas Kinsella, Andy Freel and Luke LeVasseur collected the other hits for North Branch.
Kinsella also ended the game by pitching the seventh inning. He gave up one run in his one inning of work.
Although North Branch won by five runs, they have a lot of room for improvement still. They committed four errors in the game, and only outhit the Panthers by two, 12-10, but the difference was timely hitting. "Our clutch hitting was key," Christensen said. "We hit the ball when we needed to."
Despite the four errors, Christensen said the defense still played well and got the Vikings' pitchers out of some jams.
North Branch took on Totino Grace earlier this week, and they host St. Francis tonight at the varsity baseball field.
On Saturday, the Vikes host their only doubleheader of the year, with Duluth East rolling into town at 11 a.m. and Duluth Denfeld playing shortly after, around 1 p.m.