HIBBING — The Hibbing Community College baseball team is playing for pride, and they can hold their heads up high for one more day.
With no chance at postseason play, the Cardinals came out and played somewhat of a spoiler role, knocking off Mesabi Range twice by the scores of 9-8 and 12-6 in MCAC action Saturday at Al Nyberg Field.
Now, Hibbing will try to complete the weekend sweep when they travel to Virginia today for a 1 p.m. doubleheader at Stock Field.
Cardinal manager Bob DeNucci said his team gave him everything they had against the Norsemen.
“Any time you keep score, you want to win,” DeNucci said. “I give these guys credit. They didn’t come out and quit because we’re not playoff eligible.”
It took some work in game one to get the job done.
Blake Warner gave Mesabi Range an early 1-0 lead with a solo blast in the first inning, but Hibbing came back to tie it during the bottom of the inning when Cory Wolters doubled, and scored on a single by Sean Bonner.
The Norsemen added three runs in the third inning as Cole Meyer doubled, and scored on a two-run shot by Warner. Dawson Tweet walked then with two out, Konrad Kisch single him home.
The Cardinals countered with three runs of their own in the third.
Hunter Herpel singled as did Wolters, then Robert Rodriguez doubled home a run. Casey Pickard hit a two-run double to tie it 4-4.
The Norsemen regained the lead in the fourth when Noah Paulseth doubled and scored on a single by Meyer. Jackson Bode doubled home a run and it was 6-4.
Mesabi Range added two more in the fifth to make it 8-4.
Zach Nelson was hit-by-a-pitch, then Max Grundhofer singled. Paulseth hit an RBI single, then Meyer hit an RBI double to give Mesabi Range that four-run lead.
Being down by four didn’t seem to faze Hibbing.
“We kept our composure, then we threw up a big inning,” DeNucci said. “We battled. I don’t think anyone in the dugout thought we were going to lose.”
That big inning was in the sixth.
Jake Miller led off by reaching on an error, then with two out, Herpel was hit-by-a-pitch and Wolters walked. Rodriguez hit his third double of the game to knock in two runs, then Pickard singled home a run. Bonner hit a two-run double to give Hibbing the lead.
Mount, who came on to pitch in relief of J.D. Cunningham, faced four batters in the seventh to get the win.
It’s not the first time Mesabi Range manager Chris Vito has seen a lead evaporate on his team.
“I don’t know if we have a habit of that, but we had an 8-4 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning there,” Vito said. “You can absorb some things happening to you, like an error, hitting a guy, walking a guy, stuff like that, over the course of seven innings.
“All of that stuff happened in the bottom of the sixth. To Hibbing’s credit, they capitalized on it.”
Mount pitched 3.2 innings, giving up three hits, striking out three and walking one. Cunningham worked 3.1 innings. He gave up eight hits, struck out three and walked one.
Kisch took the loss, tossing six innings. He allowed 11 hits, struck out six and walked three.
How big was the win?
“That sets the mood in the dugout,” DeNucci said. “You come out in the second game feeling a lot more confident.”
The Cardinals were confident enough to put up a four-spot in the first inning to take the early lead in game two.
Herpel singled and Wolters walked. Rodriguez singled home a run. Pickard walked to load the bases. After a strikeout, Noah Vinopal singled home two runs. The other run scored on a wild pitch.
“I honestly think we carried that (first-game loss) over into game two,” Vito said. “We talked about not giving up a big inning, and we gave them four right off the bat. It was a struggle.”
The Norsemen got one of those runs back in the third as Kisch had an RBI single, but Hibbing added two more runs in the same inning as Bonner doubled and scored on a base hit by Vinopal, who scored the second run of the inning to make it 5-1.
“We were able to execute, and hit the ball hard,” DeNucci said. “That Nelson kid is a good pitcher, and I thought we had good at bats, good approaches.”
Grundhofer doubled for Mesabi Range in the fourth, and scored when Meyer reached on an error.
The Cardinals responded with two runs in the fourth as Herpel tripled and scored on a single by Wolters. He scored on a single by Bonner.
Even though his team was leading 8-2, DeNucci wasn’t taking anything for granted.
“No lead is safe in this league,” DeNucci said. “Until that last out is recorded it’s up in the air.”
Mesabi Range proved him right with a three-run fifth inning to make it 8-5.
Tweet hit an RBI double, scoring Warner, who led off with a double. Paulseth had an RBI single, then Gabe Soto doubled home a run to put Mesabi Range within striking distance of taking the lead.
Whatever momentum the Norsemen had was quickly taken away by a four-run Hibbing fifth inning to make it 12-5.
Gonzalez walked, then Yadied Baez’s sacrifice bunt was misplaced for an error. Mesabi Range caught a break when Gonzalez rounded third base too far, got caught in a rundown and was tagged out for the first out of the inning.
It didn’t matter as Herpel doubled home Baez, who rached third during the rundown, then he scored on a double by Wolters. After a walk, Pickard singled home a run as did Vinopal to end the rally.
“That was good to see,” DeNucci said. “Everytime they would score, we would answer back. We kept the game out of distance.”
The Norseman got a solo home run from Matt Costa in the sixth to end the scoring.
It was a tough two losses for Mesabi Range, which still has an outside shot of making the postseason.
“Earlier in the year, we had a 10-1 lead against Rainy River and lost it,” Vito said. “We kept talking to the guys saying, ‘You have to keep going. You have to keep going.’ We have to learn from that, but this division is so tight from top to bottom.
“It could go down to the last hit, but it could literally go down to the last out today. We have to control what we can control. That’s one of the biggest things we discussed today. The only thing you have control over is you individually.”
The Norsemen will try to get back on track today.
“We’re looking forward to bouncing back today,” Vito said. “Regardless of what the outcome is, this will be the last time these play together as a team at Stock Field. I’m hoping we can make the regionals, but it’s a sentimental moment for the sophomores.
“It’s a sentimental moment for the freshmen, too, playing with those guys at home.”
Ryan Vondracek got the win, working a complete-game 10-hitter. He fanned four and walked three.
“We’ll go out and try to play good baseball to end the season on a positive note,” DeNucci said. “We have a lot of young kids, so we can build on something for next year.”
Zach Nelson took the loss, working 4.1 innings. He allowed 12 hits, struck out five and walked four. Tweet worked 1.2 innings, giving up two hits, to go along with four strikeouts and a walk.
MR 103 220 0 — 8 11 2
HCC 103 005 x — 9 11 2
Mesabi Range: Konrad Kisch (L) and Noah Paulseth; Hibbing: JD Cunningham, K Mount (W) (4th) and Sean Bonner; 2B — Paulseth, Jackson Bode, Cole Meyer 2, Robert Rodriguez 3, Cory Wolters 2, Bonner.
MR 001 130 1 — 6 10 1
HCC 402 240 x — 12 14 2
Mesabi Range: Zach Nelson (L), Dawson Tweet (5th) and Bode; Hibbing: Ryan Vondracek (W) and Bonner; 2B — Gabe Soto, Blake Warner, Tweet, Bonner, Hunter Herpel, Rodriguez, Wolters; 3B — Herpel.