SAUK RAPIDS – It is imminently fair to say that the St. Cloud Apollo baseball team got off to a slow start this season, head coach Adam Savolainen confirmed.
“Fair,” he admitted.
It also is fair to say the Eagles have picked things up since beginning the season with three straight losses.
They won their fourth straight game on a sunny Thursday at Bob Cross Field, beating Sauk Rapids 5-3.
“Our defense played pretty well tonight,” Savolainen said. “When your defense plays well, it puts a lot of pressure on the offense.”
The win handed Sauk Rapids its first Central Lakes Conference loss of the season and ended the Storm’s own five-game winning streak.
It was the first of two games for Sauk Rapids, which played a makeup game against Rocori late Thursday.
Apollo (3-3 CLC, 4-3 overall) opened the season with a 6-1 loss at Rocori, then was swept in a home doubleheader by Alexandria, 3-0 and 7-6.
There was, the Eagles admitted, some work to do.
“We were finding some things out we didn’t know and weren’t doing right,” said senior catcher Ben Alvord, who after Thursday’s game is batting .542 with five doubles and seven runs-batted-in, all team-bests. “We’ve been working on fixing it these next few games.”
The Eagles swept Brainerd in a doubleheader Wednesday and knocked off Grand Rapids last Friday. The key, the team says, has been its pitching.
“Everybody on this team can pitch,” senior center fielder Hunter Blommer said.
Apollo has some depth and a lot of it is left-handed. Left-handers Jason Omann and Tanner Aleshire combined for the pitching win against the Storm.
Toss in Zach Heyne, another lefty, and the Eagles have a nice compliment to ace right-hander Jack Atkinson.
Alvord and Blommer are the only two returning starters from a team that went 12-9, though Atkinson, second baseman Ben Nelson and third baseman Tanner Breidenbach were big contributors.
The Eagles also have gained experience. Savolainen said he was most proud of his team rallying to beat Sauk Rapids. Apollo rallied from a 3-2 deficit by scoring three runs in the sixth. The key blow was a one-out, two-run single by Aleshire.
Aleshire eventually came around to score on an error. The Storm committed two miscues.
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Sauk Rapids got an RBI double from Zach Fuecker and a run-scoring single from Bjorn Hanson to take a 3-2 lead. Both hits came with two outs.
Aleshire came on in the sixth and got six outs. Only Fuecker reached on a two-out single in the seventh.
Apollo is host to Fergus Falls at 11 a.m. Saturday at Dick Putz Field in another CLC game.
“The Central Lakes is really good this year and that’s great,” Savolainen said. “It makes every game fun.”
St. Cloud Apollo 5, Sauk Rapids 3
APOLLO — Cooper Gray 1-3 R, Hunter Blommer 1-4, Ben Alvord 1-3 2B R BB, Ben Nelson 2-3 RBI, Tanner Aleshire 1-3 R RBI-2, WP-Jason Omann IP-5 H-4 R-3 ER-2 BB-4 SO-4, SV-Aleshire IP-2 H-1 R-0 ER-0 BB-0 SO-1.
SAUK RAPIDS — Zach Fuecker 2-4 R 2B RBI, Bjorn Hanson 1-4 RBI, Matt Johnson 1-4: LP-Jordan Schlichting IP-5.1 H-5 R-5 ER-3 BB-4 SO-4, Johnson IP-1.2 H-0 R-0 ER-0 BB-1 SO-0.
ROCORI 7, SAUK RAPIDS 5 (9 innings)
SAUK RAPIDS – Calvin Kalthoff’s two-run single and Hunter Ahrens’ RBI single in the top of the ninth proved to be the difference in Rocori’s win at Bob Cross Field.
Sauk Rapids (3-2 Central Lakes, 5-2 overall) scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to tie it at 4-4. The key blow was an RBI single by Lucas Bertrand.
The Storm scored a run in the bottom of the ninth on Eric Burski’s RBI single. They had runners on first and third when Alec Anderson struck out the final batter for the save.
For Rocori, Cole Field went 3-for-4 with a double. Kalthoff was 3-for-5. Alex Budde and Ahrens each added two hits. Ryan Hennen pitched into the seventh, striking out 10 and walking three before giving way to Anderson.
For Sauk Rapids, Casey Lynch, Jordan Schlichting and Burski each had two hits. Matt Johnson took the loss in relief of Bertrand, who also pitched into the seventh.
Follow Tom Elliott on Twitter @sctimestom or call 259-3661.