MANKATO - A slow start to the game for the Sleepy Eye St. Mary's defense proved to be costly for the Knights, as Mankato Loyola eliminated them from the Section 2A baseball playoffs 6-2 Saturday at Franklin Rogers Park.
Pitcher Sean Mathiowetz could not have had a worse start to the game. He gave the first two Crusader batters free bases after a four-pitch walk and hitting the second batter on the very next pitch.
After getting up 1-2 on the next batter, Shane Sellner connected for an RBI single. The Crusaders took advantage of their base runners by giving Sellner the green light to steel second. An off target throw to second by catcher Mike Hirsch allowed in another run. A couple batters later, Blake Matuska took advantage of an outward blowing wind to clear the bases for his first home run of the season.
"I think the wind pushed it out, but he got a good part of the ball," St. Mary's coach Bruce Woitas said.
Loyola's defense was steller all day and made it so the four-run lead was able to last for the remainder of the game. John Fink had a fast start on the mound for the Crusaders as well, allowing only one hit and striking out three in his first three innings.
Mathiowetz rebounded well, striking out the next batter to end the inning and only allowed three hits in his next three scoreless innings.
"Everytime he goes out there, he gives it everything he's got," Woitas said of Mathiowetz.
That was evident on a defensive play in the fifth inning, when Andrew Sweere laid down a short bunt. Mathiowetz bare-handed the ball and threw it into catcher Mitch Hirsch's glove. Hirsch finished the play by hanging on to the ball even after Evan Ellingworth collided with him at home plate.
This came after an Ellingworth hit an RBI triple to the center field fence, giving the Crusaders their second run of the inning and a 6-1 lead.
The first run for the Knights came in the bottom of the fourth, when Lucas Heiderscheidt connected for a double to drive in Brandon Helget. Heiderscheidt finished the game 2-for-2 with a walk.
St. Mary's added a run in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly to deep center field to score Mike Zinniel from third.
Loyola's defense continued it's solid performance and closed out the game with two more scoreless innings by Fink. Fink got the win, pitching all seven innings, allowing only two runs, both earned, and six hits.
"You've got to give Loyola a lot of credit," Woitas said. "I thought we hit [Fink] fairly hard, and they made plays. They made some great plays."
Mathiowetz also pitched all seven innings for the Knights in the loss. He allowed six runs, five earned, on eight hits. He did strike out five and did not give away any free bases after his first two batters.
Mankato Loyola advances to play Minnesota Valley Lutheran at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at Franklin Rogers Park.