Panthers crush Cougars

Published 7:33 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trevor Tracy of NRHEG swings at a pitch Tuesday against Zumbrota-Mazeppa at New Richland. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Trevor Tracy of NRHEG swings at a pitch Tuesday against Zumbrota-Mazeppa at New Richland. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

NEW RICHLAND — Wind gusts up to 43 mph with temperatures below 40 degrees didn’t stop the NRHEG baseball team from matching last year’s win total.

Matt Jensen notched his third pitching win of the season and was 3-for-3 at the plate with a three-run homer to lead NRHEG past Zumbrota-Mazeppa 13-3 Tuesday in five innings at New Richland.

“I haven’t pitched in this much wind before, and I was falling over a little bit on my follow-through,” said Jensen. “But it was definitely good to get that experience.”

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The Panthers (4-2, 3-1 Gopher) finished 4-10 last year.

NRHEG first-year coach Drew Paukert said this year’s upperclassmen, including captains Trevor Tracy and Jensen, helped the team improve.

“I’m really blessed to come here where I’ve got phenomenal seniors,” he said. “They help me out as far as getting on guys, so I’m not having to be the police about everything. They’re good about staying focused.”

Aside from being the Panthers’ sixth opponent of the season, Zumbrota-Mazeppa is Paukert’s alma mater. He graduated in 2009 after playing for Chuck Ohm, who led the Cougars’ dugout on Tuesday.

“It was fun to get him over here on the schedule,” Paukert said. “A few of those guys on that team are my neighbors, and I coached a few of them last summer. I think they start five freshman, so they’re a young team.”

The Cougars (0-8, 0-6 Hiawatha Valley League) had their most competitive outings Saturday with a pair of 5-4 losses against Kenyon-Wanamingo.

After Jensen held Zumbtota-Mazeppa scoreless in the top of the first, the Panthers took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the inning.

Dakota Thiele, who led the Panthers past Maple River with a grand slam less than a week ago, and Tracy had back-to-back bunts for base hits. Jensen and John Hubly followed with RBI singles.

“We started off the game with a little small ball to cause some havoc,” Paukert said.

Zumbrota-Mazeppa shaved NRHEG’s lead to one run, 3-2, in the top of the third, but the Panthers responded with 10 runs in the bottom of the inning.

A one-out single by Jensen started a scoring avalanche. An RBI single by Hubly scored Jensen after he stole second and third base.

“I give them pretty much free reign on the base paths if they get a good jump,” Paukert said.

The Panthers’ advantage expanded to five runs after a two-RBI single to the left-field gap by Spencer Tollefson.

Jensen’s three-run homer over the left field fence gave NRHEG it’s first double-digit lead.

Next, the Panthers will play at 5 p.m. at Blooming Prairie (3-3, 3-1 Gopher).