Monday, May 5, 2008

Monona's bats come alive

Defending Home Talent League champion Monona had to wait a week to get its season underway, but the week off didn’t seem to hurt. They got past Rio on Sunday by a score of 12-2.

The rest of the Eastern section got their season underway seven days earlier, but Monona was forced to postpone their game at Waterloo due to a wet field with the diamond being so close to the Maunesha River. Thus, their opening day was pushed back to May 4th.

Being the defending champions and with several players back, Monona is sure to be a favorite once again. They don’t figure to have many weaknesses in their game, but if their performance in an exhibition tournament in Fort Atkinson in mid-April was any indication, scoring runs might be an issue.

Monona lost both games that weekend by a combined score of 14-4. They lost to host Fort Atkinson in the opening game 5-4, although they took a 5-0 deficit into the last inning. And in the consolation game they lost 9-0 to Middleton. Not exactly the type of production you’d expect from the last year’s grand champions. And not exactly the type of performance you’d want to carry into the regular season.

Now that the games count, forget any concerns about scoring runs. Veteran Monona manager Greg Strangstalien explains there was a good reason the team didn’t put many tallies on the board in the pre-season. Up to five guys who would be regularly in the lineup were missing at some point that weekend. Three of them were still in the midst of their season playing for Edgewood College in Madison.

“We know that while they’re at college, they’re swinging the bat,” said Strangstalien. “So once they come back, they’re going to be in mid-season form. It’s just the other guys that haven’t played as much, they know they have to pick it up.”

And pick it up they did. With the game complete after seven innings because of a 10 run lead, Monona put up plenty of runs highlighted by homeruns by both third baseman Alex Bauer and catcher Shawn Burcum.

And once some of those missing players return that Strangstalien hinted at earlier, the lineup should have even more potency. And it won’t take that long. On the same day that Monona started their season, Edgewood College ended theirs.

Edgewood failed to qualify for the Northern Athletics Conference playoffs, which means that Dan “Boomer” Gugel will be eligible to play next week for Monona. Gugel was the Eastern section’s leading hitter a season ago with a .467 batting average.

So while Strangstalien was, no doubt, rooting for some of his collegiate players to succeed, you can’t blame him if there was some small part of him that didn’t see it as a total loss.

“This is a different team,” said Strangstalien after the victory over Rio. “We have most of our starters. We’re still missing one, but most of our starters are here today. And these guys have been around long enough that when it’s time to play, they’re ready to play.”

The offensive jolt was certainly a welcome addition for starting pitcher Zac Najacht.

“It’s great to come out the first game and see the guys hit the ball like that, definitely,” said Najacht. “It’s nice to jump on a team in the first inning when you’re pitching, and it feels good to get some run support right away.”

As last year’s playoff co-MVP as a pitcher, Najacht knows a thing or two about run support. And he’ll be jonesing for more of it as the season goes along.

Pictured: Third baseman Alex Bauer is congratulated after his homerun

Photo credit: Brian Carriveau

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