Panther Bats Explode in Metrodome

Seven unanswered runs fuel first win of 2010.

For the UWM baseball team, it was a game against an out-of-conference opponent with a pedestrian 2-4 record. But for the Panthers, any time they play the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, it’s always a big deal. As the old saying goes, you can throw the records out the window.

Such was the case last Wednesday at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, where the Panthers broke a 6-6 stalemate with seven unanswered runs to win going away 13-6.

This offensive outburst led to the Panthers’ first win of the 2010 baseball season after they opened the year by dropping their first four games right off the bat. During those first four games, they were averaging 3.75 runs per game with solid hitting with an earned run average of 7.25.

In addition to the team’s early-season skid and inconsistent pitching, there were other reasons why this win was not only satisfying, but very surprising. One was that it came against a team ranked #30 in the preseason poll for all-college baseball teams in the country. Plus, it was the first time that the Panthers had beaten the Golden Gophers since March 1998- a 12-year drought.

The turning point in the game was junior centerfielder Doug Dekoning’s three-run homer in the top of the fifth inning that put them ahead 9-6.

The team got key contributions from up and down the lineup. Senior left fielder followed up on Hoenecke’s homer with a sixth-inning double that drove in two more runs. Later that inning, freshman right fielder John Capasso would add an RBI off of a sacrifice fly.

Aside from Dekoning and his momentum-changing homer, sophomore second baseman Paul Hoenecke played a just as vital and important a role in the Panthers’ victory. He went 3 for 3 at the plate with 3 RBI, a single and 2 doubles- a performance that contributed to him being named the Horizon League Player of the Week.

Even before that six-run inning, there were signs that the Panthers might get the Gopher hex off their back. In the top of the first, shortstop Cole Kraft hit a double down the left-field line. After advancing to third, he scored on Hoenecke’s sacrifice fly to left.

One inning later, Capasso singled into left, then advanced to second on a wild pitch by Gopher starter Kevin Kray. After catcher Shaun Wegner singled and advanced Capasso to third, who then scored on a balk that moved Capasso to second. Chad Pierce hit an RBI single in the third. The Panthers’ then scored twice in the fourth inning. Hoenecke and senior first baseman Ben Long hit consecutive RBI singles to extend the lead to 6-2.

But the Gophers, who scored twice in the second and third innings, put up four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to tie up the game.

After Hoenecke’s three-run blast led to UWM’s seven unanswered runs, it was up to the bullpen to protect the lead. After a shaky start, the Panther hurlers blanked the Gophers over the game’s final five innings. Junior Cuyler Franzke allowed just one hit in three innings, then sophomore Greg Blohowiak also gave up only one hit in the last two innings.

“Cuyler Franzke was very good out of the pen in putting up a few zeros after we scored.,” said UWM Coah Scott Doffek.

"After settling down we showed a glimpse of what we can do in all of our games, having our offense, defense, and pitching on the same page," said Blohowiak, who considers Minnesota to be the Panthers’ biggest out-of-conference rivals.

Along with those 13 runs, the suddenly slugging Panthers also put up their third consecutive game with at least 10 hits on the scoreboard- on this day, their booming bats were en route to spraying 14 balls all over the field.

The Panthers are hoping to follow up that big win with a potentially bigger one. They go to Fayetteville to play the fourteenth ranked Arkansas Razorbacks starting Friday for a three-game series against a team that made it all the way to the semifinals of last year’s College World Series. These teams have played each other before only one time- in 2007, the Hogs came to UWM and swept the Panthers in a three-game series.

Could UWM’s batting clinic in the Metrodome be a springboard for bigger things to come in 2010?

"It was a nice team win.  We did a good job of putting together quality at-bats and came up with some huge two-out hits.  We played solid defense all game. It was a quality game for us in all aspects," said Coach Doffek.

“Playing in the Metrodome against the University of Minnesota was a big win for our program,” Dekoning said. “We realized our potential as a team that we still need to get better at in order to get to where we want to be this season.”


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