Hot bats, Johnson's complete game help Memorial split crosstown showdown

After falling in walk-off fashion the day before, Eau Claire Memorial got some revenge on Eau Claire North Thursday, beating the Huskies 8-1 to split the crosstown showdown series. The Old Abes got hot bats early and rode a dominant complete game from starting pitcher Brady Johnson to victory.

Memorial (10-6, 5-5 Big Rivers Conference) struggled to hit with runners on for much of the first game in the series, but that wasn’t the case in game two. In the bottom of the first inning, the Old Abes got base hits from Grant Lokken and Elliot Heit to kick off the game, and the pair reached second and third on a wild pitch from North (10-5, 7-3) starter Aidan Ecker.

Old Abes first baseman Sawyer Stein crushed a ball to right field that was eventually flagged down by Maddux Geurts, but Lokken was able to score easily and Heit moved up to third. That brought the dangerous cleanup hitter Leo Lauscher to the dish and the third baseman wasted no time.

Lauscher ambushed the first pitch he saw and launched it over North center fielder Tyler Barrows’ head and all the way to the wall. Heit scored the second run of the inning and Lauscher legged out a triple. Memorial wasn’t done.

Right fielder David Ankeny followed that up with a chopper towards third that North couldn’t make a play on, allowing Lauscher to score. Ankeny made it to third on a wild pitch and an Ian Bauer single and shortstop Blake Bugher capped off the inning with a perfect sacrifice-bunt that allowed the Old Abes right fielder to score Memorial’s fourth and final run of the inning.

In all, eight Old Abes came to bat in the opening frame. It set the tone for the rest of the game and was a sorely-needed response after Memorial’s offense had been stymied in game one.

“As this team continues to grow every day, the thing that I know is they're gonna come out and they're gonna make the adjustment. They learn from one day to the next,” Memorial head coach Kyle Kaufman said. “It definitely gave us confidence early on to find an offensive rhythm and then take off from there and allow Brady to throw a great game for us tonight.”

EC Memorial Baseball

Memorial's Brady Johnson throws a pitch. The junior righty pitched a complete game, allowing just a run on two hits while striking out six in Memorial's 8-1 win over North.

The Old Abes spotted starter Brady Johnson four after the first inning, and the Memorial junior ran with it. The righthander struggled a bit with his command early on, walking three Huskies and hitting two of them with a pitch in the opening three innings, but found it in the third.

Johnson started to lean on his curveball, dropping it in consistently for strikes and getting plenty of swing and miss. The junior needed a couple of innings to find the feel, but once he had it, it was tough for the Huskies to time it up.

“Curveball was working,” Johnson said. “I was able to start it high, drop it in for strikes, get a few kids swinging on it and it was my go-to to try and get a ground ball.”

The righthander was only getting better as the game went on. He got his first 1-2-3 inning of the game in the fourth and another in the fifth frame, capping it off by striking out Barrows looking.

North actually remained hitless against the Old Abes starter until the sixth inning. With one out in the frame, first baseman Chase Watkins pushed an opposite-field single to left-center field to get the Huskies in the hit column.

Johnson actually found himself in a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the sixth after allowing another single to game-one hero Aiden Pankratz and walking pinch-hitter Caleb Moss. Aaron Gust drove in the only Huskies run of the game with a sacrifice-fly and Johnson escaped the jam with a groundout.

“Not to put too much pressure on myself,” Johnson said of the key to his effectiveness. “I want to just go out there, relaxed, confident, loose, going to attack hitters and just to trust my defense knowing they're going to do their job.”

The seventh inning didn’t bring any drama as it did in game one, and Johnson ended the game with his sixth strikeout of the day. The junior saved the bullpen in what was Memorial’s second game in as many days, helping out the Old Abes immensely as they look to finish up a stretch of three games in three days.

Memorial’s offense didn’t let up either. A pair of errors and an Ian Bauer single helped Ankeny score the Old Abes fifth run of the game in the third inning. The first four batters reached for Memorial in the fifth, Bauer eventually driving in Lauscher with a single and catcher Jack Harris lifting a sac-fly to left that allowed Ankeny to score for the third time of the evening.

The cherry on top came in the sixth inning. Heit led off the bottom of the frame and pulled a flyball to deep right field. The ball kept carrying and bounced off the top of the right field wall for a home run. That made it 8-1 and served as an exclamation point for the Old Abes offense.

With the loss, North fell one game behind Hudson for the top spot in the Big Rivers standings. The Huskies next conference series comes against River Falls before facing Hudson in the final week of the season in a two-game set that could determine Big Rivers supremacy.

Memorial gets Menomonie next week, but first has a matchup with Arrowhead at 7 p.m. Friday where the Old Abes will honor members of the state-champion 1964 Memorial baseball team. North will also play Arrowhead this weekend at 11 a.m. Saturday.

“I'm just excited about where this group is headed,” Kaufman said. “I think that they're definitely finding their stride and a lot of young guys are gaining confidence and belief in themselves.”