North Branch falls 6-4 to Bison
The Viking baseball team came out strong in the first inning of its season opener at home on Monday night against Buffalo. But a late-game, four-run streak by the visitors caught North Branch by surprise.
Senior Ethan Fairbanks jump-started a first-inning offensive run with a walk, followed by an infield single by junior Nick Pilz. Senior Jacob Kari then brought both runners home by launching a home run over the right-field fence, giving the Vikings a 3-0 lead.
Kari led his squad from the mound by pitching a no-hitter through four innings until Buffalo found its sweet spot in the top of the fifth inning. The Bison hit two base hits, then walked to load the bases. A sacrifice fly and fielder’s choice scored two runs before a bad hop in the infield caused more trouble for the Vikings. With the score tied at three apiece, Buffalo hit a double to score another run and take a 4-3 lead. Junior Charlie Linder switched spots with Kari and closed the inning on the mound for North Branch with a strikeout, one of three in his 2.1 innings pitched on the day.
The Vikings responded in the bottom of the fifth. Pilz hit a one-out single, then Kari laced a shot to deep left center to put Pilz in scoring position at third base. Linder struck gold with a single up the middle to tie the game at four before the inning’s close.
Linder walked the first Buffalo batter after a full-count battle to open the sixth inning. The next visiting batter took hold of Linder’s fastball and sent it over the left-field fence to give the Bison a 6-4 lead. The Vikings wouldn’t recover.
Kari gave up three hits in 4.2 innings in his 2014 pitching debut, while Linder gave up one hit in 2.1 innings. Kari recorded six strikeouts in the loss.
Head coach Stephen Christensen said he thought his starting pitcher did well in his opening game.
“They did just fine,” Christensen said. “I think Jacob got on a roll, then once he gave up those hits, it can be tough to combat that. He’ll bounce back and be fine — he kept his pitch count low, which is good because early on in the season we don’t want him doing too much.”
Pilz led the offense, going 4-4 and scoring two runs. Christensen said it was nice to see Pilz’s hard work pay off.
“He had a couple of nice base hits and just did a good job getting on base,” the head coach said. “He prides himself on getting in early and taking some extra swings. He did a wonderful job coming in and being a threat.”
Linder batted .500 with one RBI while junior Trey O’Day went 1-2 at the plate. Senior Rob Osowski went 1-3.
With four games coming up this week, Christensen was pleased to get the first matchup under his belt.
“It was good to get outside,” he said. “Usually, we have two to three weeks inside before playing, and now we were upwards of four weeks and not much time outside, period. It gave our guys a chance to show what they can do on the field, and everyone’s just excited to be playing some games.”
North Branch hosted Chisago Lakes on Tuesday night and next travel to Princeton on Thursday, April 24, for a 4:30 p.m. matchup. The Vikings host St. Francis at 4:45 p.m. Friday, April 25, and play Pine City at home at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 26.