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Newman Catholic baseball takes control of first place with win over St. Ansgar
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PREP BASEBALL

Newman Catholic baseball takes control of first place with win over St. Ansgar

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The key to success for the Newman Catholic baseball team is very simple. 

Play Newman baseball. 

It’s a phrase that is often heard from the mouths of Knights’ coaches and players, a short and simple refrain that sums up the ease with which the program continues to win, season after season.

On Friday, the Knights took down Top of Iowa East rival St. Ansgar, 11-1, a win that pushed the Knights back into first place, and served as a satisfying ending to a challenging couple of weeks. 

Last week, the Knights dropped a pair of games, falling to Northwood-Kensett 5-4, and then losing to Garner-Hayfield-Ventura by a 16-8 margin. Things got even more serious this week. The team took the day off from practice on Monday, as the school waited for the test results of a Newman Catholic softball player who had possibly been exposed to COVID-19. 

Once they got back on the field, the Knights didn’t miss a beat. The team pounded out eight hits against the Saints, as starting pitcher Sam Kratz provided the pitching performance that the team needed. In the final inning, Kratz could be heard grunting loudly as he threw each pitch, trying to put a few extra miles per hour on his fastball. 

Kratz wound up with five strikeouts on the night, and allowed just two hits to a Saints team that had scored at least 10 runs in each of its three games this week. 

“I thought I did pretty well for myself tonight," Kratz said. “I thought the coaching staff did a great job of mixing up pitches, and giving me full confidence to do what I wanted out there. I felt good overall. I had good (velocity), and good locations.”

At the plate, the Knights got production from almost everywhere in the lineup. The team scored three runs in the first inning, two of them coming on an RBI double from sophomore Eli Brinkley.

In the third inning, the Knights scored one run on a bases loaded walk from sophomore Nash Holmgaard, and then plated two more on a two-RBI single from senior Jacob Nelson that hit the first base bag and ricocheted into right field.

 In the third, freshman Max Burt hit a three-run home run to blow the game open at 9-1. 

“Our offensive approach is turning around, and that’s what you like to see,” head coach Alex Bohl said. “Right now it doesn’t feel like it, but you’ve got one week of the regular season left. You’ve got to start playing your best baseball, and we definitely took a step forward tonight.”

Though the season is only about three weeks old, the Knights are only one week away from the start of the playoffs, where they will attempt to win a fourth consecutive Class 1A state title. They will do so with a largely different lineup than last season, with seven new starters on this year's team. 

For the players, one of the big motivators coming into the season was to prove that the program would not be taking a step back. The program is still expected to compete for a championship, even with all of the new faces on the field.

Several of those new faces have had a big impact on the Knights. Holmgaard reached base three times against the Saints and scored a run. Brinkley hit a key RBI double early in the game, and lineup newcomers Tim Castle and Jack Maznio both scored and have contributed throughout the year.

Overall, Bohl says he is impressed with the progress his young team has made in this abbreviated and challenging season. 

"They’ve all come through in a few of those moments," Bohl said. "It’s difficult to pick out one, but we’re going to expect them all to execute and come through in the clutch. That is what it takes to be a good team."

But even with all of the changes and new faces, the message stays the same.

Play Newman baseball.

“Before the season, people didn’t think we were going to be the team we were last year,” Burt said. “People didn’t think we had it in us, after losing so many stars. Last week, we didn’t play our best for a couple games, but then coming back and proving that we are still Newman, and we still play Newman baseball, that's what it's all about.”

The Knights will conclude their conference schedule on Monday with a home game against West Fork. With Friday's victory, the Knights clinched a share of the Top of Iowa East title, but need to beat West Fork to win the conference outright. 

Shane Lantz covers sports for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at Shane.Lantz@GlobeGazette.com, or by phone at 641-421-0526. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneMLantz. 

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