Pine River stays undefeated with non-league sweep of Big Rapids

BIG RAPIDS — While the weather wasn’t perfect, the Pine River baseball team’s record stayed unblemished with a pair of nonconference victories over Big Rapids on Monday.

The Bucks (10-0, 2-0 Highland) came away with a 4-2 victory in the first contest before securing a 4-0 win in the nightcap.

In the first game, Pine River took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Mason Powell advanced home from third after the Cardinals tried to catch a steal attempt at second base.

That lead grew by a run in the top of the third when Mitchell McDonald scored from second on a fielding error, but Big Rapids rallied back with a two-run single by Dakota Sanders to knot the score at 2-2 in the bottom of the third.

With the Cardinals shifting the momentum to their side, the Bucks put the game away in the top of the sixth with an RBI groundout from Greg Park and a run scored on an error by Brandon Hoaglund to put the final score at 4-2.

Park was the winning pitcher after allowing two runs on three hits while striking out 13 in seven innings.

McDonald was 2-for-4 at the plate to lead the Bucks’ offense.

“I was happy with the pitching. Greg got stronger as the game went on,” Pine River coach Shawn Ruppert said. “When we got runners on, we scored them.”

Sterling Brinker took the loss for the Cardinals after giving up one earned run on six hits with three strikeouts in seven innings.

Josh Jones went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored while Sanders was 1-for-2 with two RBIs.

“Sterling in game one had a beautiful game for us,” Big Rapids coach Ben Oleson said. “We just had some mental breakdowns. If we can eliminate those, we can start moving forward.”

In the nightcap, the Bucks got the majority of their runs in the top half of the first with RBI singles from Skyler Nelson and Lucas Harris before Harris advanced home on a passed ball later in the inning to take the early 3-0 lead.

The Bucks tacked on another run in the top of the second on a sacrifice fly by Nelson to drive in a run and that would be all the Bucks needed as they kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard the rest of the way to secure the twinbill sweep.

Nelson was the winning pitcher after giving up five hits and piling up 10 strikeouts in five innings.

“I thought Skyler had one of his better games of the season (Monday),” Ruppert said. “We couldn’t score when we had runners on in this second game. We’re not overpowering with our pitching like we were last year, but our guys throw strikes and we have good team speed out in the field, so we make the plays we need to make.”

Geoff Pisani took the loss for the Cardinals after giving up three runs in the first three at-bats for the Bucks before Tim Folkema relieved him on the mound. Folkema gave up one run on three hits in the final four innings while striking out three.

Eric Fountain was 1-for-2 with a stolen base while Jones was 1-for-3 at the plate.

After struggling at the plate in recent games, Oleson said the Cardinals will need to lock in at the plate to produce some runs and help out their pitchers to get back in the win column.

“Last week, we were doing really good things like battling in two-strike counts and really pulling the trigger at the plate,” Oleson said. “Now all of a sudden, we’re hesitant and we’re letting the pitchers dictate the at-bats right now. We’ve just kind of shied away from being able to get that big hit.

“But I thought after that rocky start in the second game, we pulled it together,” he continued. “We just have some wrinkles to work out.”

Big Rapids (3-6, 2-2 CSAA) is scheduled to host Central Montcalm Tuesday and Pine River is scheduled to play at McBain Northern Michigan Christian.