VIRGINIA — In the second game of a double header with Hibbing, a few too many Norse errors was the difference maker Tuesday afternoon as the Cardinals swept Mesabi Range, winning 5-3 in the second game.
Hibbing picked up the victory in the opener as well, 12-2 in five innings.
The home team on the scoreboard, the Cardinals got things going offensively with two outs in the bottom of the third inning.
Facing Mesabi Range pitcher Jack Kelly, Jake Miller was the first to reach for Hibbing, making it to first on a called third strike that got loose from Norse catcher Dawson Tweet.
With Noah Vinopal at the plate, a hard hit single to Mesabi’s second baseman allowed Vinopal to reach with Miller getting to second safely. Colton Cobb now at the plate, a throwing error allowed Miller to score from second with Vinopal reaching third, giving HCC the 1-0 lead early.
After striking out the first two batters in the inning, Kelly ended the inning by striking out Cobb, limiting the damage to just one run.
The Cardinals doubled their lead in the fourth inning thanks to lead-off hitter Kazdion Mount. Mount blasted a solo shot to left-center field, easily clearing the fence for the score. After Mount’s trot around the bases, Hibbing held the 2-0 lead after four innings.
A pair of outs to their name in the top of the fifth, the Norsemen began to string together some hits to get themselves into scoring position. Jackson Bode nailed a single to center off of Codeih Powers to reach base and then made his way to third on a single up the middle from Tweet to put runners on the corners.
With Ryan Hujanen at the plate, a wild pitch from Powers allowed Bode to score and Tweet to move to third. Hujanen was walked, again putting runners on the corners. Powers got the final out on the next at-bat to end the inning, keeping HCC ahead 2-1.
The Cardinals used a combination of hot bats, patience at the plate and Mesabi Range errors to add three runs to their total in the bottom of the fifth. Matt Costa now pitching for Mesabi Range, HCC’s Hunter Herpel reached on a lead off walk before stealing his way to second on the next at-bat.
Bishop Gonzalez then hit a double up the left side to score Herpel, making it a 3-1 game. The Norse recorded the second out on a routine pop fly from Miller, but the throw to second to keep Gonzalez in check missed the mark, allowing him to move to third base.
Gonzalex didn’t take long to score after that with a wild pitch giving him enough room and time to come home, putting Hibbing up 4-1 all while clearing the bases.
An out later, the Cardinals expanded their lead yet again with their second home run of the contest. This time it came from Cole Cobb, who cleared the center field fence, giving the Cardinals one more reason to celebrate.
The Norsemen made things close in the end, adding two runs in the top of the seventh, but weren’t able to make it any closer than that.
Bode led off the inning with a triple to center field and Hujanen was walked with one out to put runners back on the corners. An RBI double to right field from Max Grundhofer made it 5-2 with two runners in scoring position ready to come home.
The Cardinals pulled Powers from the game after giving up just the two runs in six and 1/3 innings and looked to rely on JD Cunningham to get the final two outs.
Trent Braaten at the plate for Mesabi Range, the Cardinals made the routine play at first for the second out all while keeping Hujanen and Grundhofer away from home. Hujanen eventually came home to score on a wild pitch with Noah Paulseth at the plate, but Paulseth then flew out, with Hibbing making the play to end the contest, 5-3.
After the game, Mesabi Range head coach Chris Vito said he liked the way his team battled, but recognized that the errors ultimately cost his team a chance at the win.
“It wasn’t just physical, but it was mental errors as well,” Vito said. “Hibbing’s got a nice team. We’ve played them four times now and except for the first game today, we’ve been right there with them in every one. I think if you find a way to take away those errors, we’ll find ways to win games.”
Using some big hits from Bode and Grunhofer near the end of the game as motivation will be key for the Norse as they get into the conference portion of their schedule.
“We had two big hits from them right at the end of the game and that’s a sign that we can keep on grinding and keep on battling. Those are the things you want to build on going into conference play. We can use that as a positive going forward.
“Part of the issue is that winning can cure a lot of things. We have to find out how to finish. Those few clutch hits got us close and helped out a lot. Once we find a way to win, we’ll gain that confidence we need and start heading in the right direction.”
With the game moving from Wednesday to Tuesday and the location changing from Aurora to Virginia, Vito said it was important for his team to get in the double header when the timing looked right.
“It was huge to not have to cancel. We were very excited to come and not only play some games, but play some games at Stock Field. That’s big. It was a beautiful day once the sun came out.”
The Norse fall to 2-11 on the season and will begin MCAC conference play with a pair of weekend doubleheaders against Rainy River. Rainy River will host Saturday’s games with the Norse hosting a pair on Sunday.