For the Benilde-St. Margaret’s baseball team, keeping pitches down has gone a long way toward moving up.
Red Knights coach Greg Hoemke knows that trends come and go and players constantly change, but paths to victory are the same as they were 50 years ago.
It’s pitching that has the Red Knights dreaming big this season. Behind a tough-minded starting tandem of seniors Michael Kaminski and Jimmy Cron and a crafty lefthander in No. 3 starter Mike McGill, Benilde-St. Margaret’s won its first 11 games of the season and is looking to make a lengthy postseason run.
“It’s been 100 percent about pitching,” Hoemke said. “Kaminski and Cron have really done a great job in competing and cutting down on walks. You’re always going to give up a few hits, but if you don’t walk anybody, those hits don’t hurt you too much.”
The key, Kaminski said, has been throwing the ball where he wants it to go.
“Going into this season, I worked a lot on stuff like accuracy,” he said. “A lot of it was about getting the ball down in the zone. It definitely helps when you’re keeping the ball low.”
With a 5-1 record and a 2.27 ERA, Kaminski gets the nod as staff ace because of the big games he’s started. They include victories over Bloomington Jefferson, Wayzata and Edina.
“I like getting those games,” he said. “I asked for them and I got them. It gets you fired up.”
Cron, a righthander, isn’t far behind. He is second on the team in innings pitched (29) with a 2-0 record and a 2.41 ERA.
“I’d say we’re 1 and 1A this year,” Cron said. “Having us at the top of the rotation gives us a chance to win every game or at least keep ourselves in it. But it’s not just Mike and I. All of our pitchers are really throwing well.”
That includes McGill, the regular first baseman who has been effective in his No. 3 role, posting a 3-1 record and a 3.28 ERA.
After their strong start, the Red Knights went through a midseason lull, losing three consecutive games.
“I think we lost a little focus,” Kaminski said. “But I think the lull was beneficial. You want that get that drop in play out of the way early.”
The solution, Cron said, was easy. They just needed to stay low.
“We were leaving the ball up and giving up a few more hits,” he said. “When we started to win again, we were keeping the ball down, like we did before.”
While the pitching has been the obvious peg to their winning ways, Hoemke said he expected this bunch to have success.
The team boasts 12 seniors, many of whom played on a regular basis in 2013. Not only did most of them play significant innings as juniors, they stayed together over the summer, playing for the Chester Bird Post American Legion team.
“They learned how to win together, and they came back this year with a lot of confidence,” Hoemke said. “They had a little swagger to them.”
In addition to the pitching staff, they have benefited from the leadership of a pair of college football signees in shortstop Keaton Studsrud (North Dakota) and center fielder Sam Lynch (UMD). Studsrud is hitting .545 while Lynch is adept at getting on base from his leadoff spot.
Of course, it’s easy to feel confident behind a pair of bulldogs in Kaminski and Cron, best buddies off the field who admit to a friendly competitiveness on it. After this season, they both plan on playing for St. Olaf University. They might even room together.
“We’re trying,” Kaminski said. “The school has a rule against requesting roommates, but we’re trying to work something out.”