Saints host winless Sports Academy this weekend

Manistee’s Nick Brzezinski smashes a base hit during the Saints’ season opener on May 26. Brzezinski is batting .333 this year and has scored a team-high eight runs. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

Manistee’s Nick Brzezinski smashes a base hit during the Saints’ season opener on May 26. Brzezinski is batting .333 this year and has scored a team-high eight runs. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — The Manistee Saints will look to keep their bats hot when they host the 0-4 Michigan Sports Academy for a 4-game series at Rietz Park this weekend.

With a (so far) winless opponent, Manistee manager Tyrone Collins said he’s gunning for four wins this weekend.

“We need to go out and do our jobs and put up a sweep this weekend,” Collins said. “We have to take advantage when other teams are struggling, that’s going to be key for us moving forward.”

The Saints (5-3) have scored just under six runs per game so far this season, having put together a formidable batting order, with five players hitting over .300 in their 8 games played.

Alex Strickland has shown that he can hit for both power and average, batting a team-high .375 with an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 1.137. Strickland also blasted a long home run in the seventh inning of their last game, a come-from-behind 5-4 win last Sunday.

Two-time team player of the year Lucas Richardson is second on the squad with a .346 batting average.

Nick Brzezinski and Preston Shazri each boast a .333 average, with Brzezinski driving in a team-high 8 RBI.

Travis McCormick has hit .313 so far this season, and has amassed an OPS of 1.071 thanks in part to his drawing 11 walks in 32 plate appearances. He has also scored 7 runs.

Collins said that his team, which at times had a hard time scoring runs, has used the benefit of another year in college ball.

“Last year, it seemed like we struggled game after game to have an offensive presence out there,” he said. “When you have another year under your belt of seeing that kind of pitching, things start to click. You start getting your timing, learn how to hit base hits and take the extra base when you’re supposed to. This team has some veterans on it now, and it’s coming along.”

The Michigan Sports Academy is really the summer home of the baseball team of Cleary University, a business college in Howell, Mich. Of the Academy’s 23-man roster, 20 of them play at Cleary, an school with a successful recent history in baseball.

The Cougars have advanced to the national semifinals of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, an NCAA-like national organization of small colleges, for the past two seasons, although they finished their 2018 season with a record of 22-28.

Given the Sports Academy’s 0-4 record one might think an easy sweep is in order, but that might be a bit premature.

“We certainly aren’t going to take them lightly just because they haven’t won a ballgame,” Collins said. “We can’t take them lightly, we’ve got to go out and do our job.”

The Saints will send Robin Van Orden (1-1) to the mound in the opener on Saturday and Patrick Brautigam (1-1) in the nightcap. Sunday’s probable starting pitchers are Andrew Childs (0-0) and Kyle Gorski (0-1).

So far, the Achilles heel of the Saints has been defense. The Saints have committed 16 errors in its eight games, which have led to 18 unearned runs.

Van Orden has been the primary victim of Manistee’s substandard fielding, having given up 11 run, with only four of them earned. Van Orden has struck out 15 batters and walked just two in 15 innings pitched this season.

Similarly, only 6 of Brautigam’s runs allowed have been earned. This will be Brautigam’s first start this season after the departure of starter Max Ludka, who left the team to play for the Muskegon Clippers.

“Losing Max is going to be a blow, there’s no doubt,” Collins said. “But we’re a team, we have to go out and perform, next guy up. The next guy up in this scenario is Pat Brautigam, and we’re expecting him to step in there and do a job. He’s fully capable of doing that job.”

First pitch both days at Rietz Park is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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