Huskies riding 6-game skid
Duluth Huskies baseball coach Adam Stahl had a rough Father's Day. Not only did he miss seeing his 14-year-old son, Ty, collect three hits in a summer league game back home in St. Louis, but Stahl had to wade through his team's 7-1 Northwoods Lea...
Duluth Huskies baseball coach Adam Stahl had a rough Father's Day.
Not only did he miss seeing his 14-year-old son, Ty, collect three hits in a summer league game back home in St. Louis, but Stahl had to wade through his team's 7-1 Northwoods League loss to Rochester on Sunday before 1,175 at Wade Stadium, extending the Huskies' franchise-record losing streak to six games.
"I'm feeling sorry for myself a little bit," Stahl said. "I'm throwing my own pity party right now, but it's my choice to be here."
The Huskies aren't getting the same timely hits, plays in the field and pitching performances that helped them go 41-27 last season and advance to the North Division Championship Series. Case in point: Sunday's game.
Duluth (5-12) managed only five hits, had two errors and let two fly balls drop in the outfield that possibly could have been caught. Huskies starter T.J. Walz pitched five strong innings before suddenly going into a funk in the sixth inning with uncharacteristic control problems, walking a batter and hitting another. Walz (0-2) had 23 strikeouts to just two walks and hadn't hit a batter before Sunday's game.
"It's a different group this year, but we're just as talented," Stahl said. "The guys are working hard and showing up early. The effort is there, but we're just not getting it done, and that all starts with Coach Stahl."
Stahl has a simple blueprint for success that he has written down and that he has been preaching to his players, including game-day goals for getting four leadoff hitters on base, striking out less than five times and executing three plays. The Huskies came up short in each category as Rochester starter Phil Haig of Illinois -- the third-string quarterback on the Illini's Rose Bowl team last season -- came just short of a complete game. Haig pitched eight shutout innings before having control problems in the ninth. Haig gave up a run on two hits before reliever Jesse Meaux came in to get the final out.
Haig's performance was just what Rochester (9-6) needed after falling 8-7 to Green Bay in 12 innings on Saturday. The Honkers' pitching staff leads the league in ERA and includes St. Scholastica standout Peter Burg (1-1, .96 ERA).
"We used a lot of bullpen last night, and Phil wanted the complete game," Rochester coach Jason Plourde said. "We gave him a shot, but once he lost the shutout, we figured it was time to pull him, but he didn't want to come out. He's a competitor."
Northwoods League RBI leader Eric Stephens of Cal State-Fullerton had two doubles and two RBIs to lead Rochester, while Todd Baumgartner and Steve Chatwood had two hits each to lead Duluth.
Infielder Robby Price has been one of Duluth's steadiest players in his three seasons with the team, but is hitting only .161 through 17 games this season.
"We're 17 games into the season now, so the adjustment to the wood bats is no longer an excuse for what's going on," Price said. "When you get five hits a game you're not going to win many ballgames. We just have to keep working hard and staying positive. We've got a bunch of good guys who come from successful programs and know what it takes to win. It could take just one game to turn this thing around."
Sunday was the first of a four-game homestand for the Huskies, with the teams meeting up again at 7:05 p.m. today.
"A win would be great, but right now, I'll simply take nine innings of competitive baseball," Stahl said. "Our guys have to realize that Wade Stadium is where good hitters go to die, so we have to start doing all the little things right, the things that don't always show up in the box score."
With Mankato off to a 13-3 start in the North Division, Huskies fans might already be looking forward to the second half of the season on July 4, and a second chance at making the playoffs. Northwoods League teams, however, don't look that far ahead.
"It's June 15, so all I'm worried about right now is June 16," Plourde said, laughing.
Mankato 6, Duluth 4
The North Division-leading MoonDogs jumped to a 4-0 lead and then held off the Huskies in the later innings to win before 1,489 at Franklin Rogers Park in Mankato, Minn.
It was remarkable that Duluth stayed close, as the Huskies committed five errors and walked 12 batters. Mankato stranded 15 base runners in just eight innings, including 11 in the first four innings alone.
Andy Burns had two of Duluth's five hits, including his second home run of the season. The Huskies stranded eight base runners. Right fielder C.J. Belanger had a double and two RBIs for Mankato.
JON NOWACKI covers the Duluth Huskies for the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5305 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .