Bulldogs searching for consistency after series split with Lakeland

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(Photo courtesy of JASON DUCHOW) Alex Stockton steals second base in the first game of Sandpoint’s doubleheader with Lakeland on Thursday.

As Cameron Garcia’s shot to deep center field dropped, bringing home the game-ending 11th run to take the first game of Sandpoint’s doubleheader with Lakeland in a 11-1 win, it looked like the Bulldogs could cruise to a series sweep.

Yet five innings and a 12-1 loss later, Sandpoint left Memorial Field with a series split that left Chase Tigert and the Bulldogs seeking consistency for Sandpoint’s second half of Inland Empire League play.

“I think we’re a far better team [than Lakeland] and I think we’re a better team than Moscow as well,” Tigert said. “The trick is getting out guys to simply play the way they can play every time. And the way we played in game one is the way we’re capable of playing every single time we take the field. For some reason, we’re not firing all the time.”

When Sandpoint fires on all cylinders, it looks like a team that can break the three-way, 2-2 tie between the three 4A IEL teams — and then some.

This power hitting and shutdown pitching was on display in the first game of the Lakeland doubleheader, which was a complete team game. Freshman Ethan Butler came out to pitch an “outstanding” game in his third start, according to his coach; the defense prevented Lakeland from hitting extra-base hits and Lakeland’s bullpen was baited into issuing 12 walks, while only striking out two of the 38 total batters it faced.

“Our hitters were really patient at the plate,” Tigert said. “They worked deep counts, and were smart up there, recognizing that when [Lakeland] threw 10, 11, 12 straight balls up there, we don’t need to be super aggressive up there and let the guy do what he’s going to do.”

Few hitters were more disciplined at the plate during the series than Kerry Johnson, who finished game one going 4-4 with two runs and three RBI.

“Kerry gets the job done at the plate,” Tigert said. “He’s a gamer. He’s doing a really good job at the plate for us.”

But Johnson was merely one of many Bulldogs whom took advantage of a Lakeland bullpen that struggled to find the zone. Garcia and Max Thielbahr turned in multi-hit performances and seven of the nine Bulldogs scored runs during the first game.

“It was a really good offensive performance, but the defense is what I was most proud of,” Tigert said. “We only made one error.”

Part of the defensive in the first game was courtesy of Avery Bocksch, who was moved over to third base earlier in the week. Bocksch prevented Lakeland from hitting up the left-field gap — most notably by stopping a grounder and making the throw to first in the first inning that set the tone for the rest of the series.

Even when Sandpoint was off — like the first three innings of the second game that ultimately led to the loss — the Bulldogs showed flashes of that team from the first game. The problem was not everyone was on the same page.

The Bulldogs played with their backs against the wall for the entire game. When the defense and the pitching seemed to come into form with Darren Bailey on the mound, Lakeland pitcher Justin Dennison would quell Sandpoint’s runs with one of his six strikeouts. And when the offense finally strung together some hits in the third, it was too little, too late.

Sandpoint (4-7, 2-2 IEL) will look to turn things around against Bonners Ferry on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Game 1

Lakeland 000 10 — 1 4 2

Sandpoint 330 23 — 11( 12) 1

Game called in the 6th due to run-rule.

W — Butler, 5, (3-0). L — Hegbloom.

HITS: Lakeland — Hegbloom, Dennison 2, Harris. Sandpoint — Brackett, Garcia 3, Johnson 4, Dodd. 2B —Bocksch, Thielbahr.

Game 2

Lakeland 426 00 — 12 8 2

Sandpoint 000 10 — 1 4 3

Game called in the 5th due to run-rule.

W — Dennison, 6. L — T. Lehman, 1, (1-1.)

HITS: Lakeland — Aragon, Silva, Tierney, Harris. 2B — Silva, Tierney. 3B — Dennison. Sandpoint — T. Lehman, MacDonald, Dodd. 2B —Garcia.

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