Fridley second-year head coach Brian Hronski knew what hand he was dealt heading into Friday’s matchup with North Suburban Conference rival Spring Lake Park.
He knew the Panthers were sending their ace to the mound in senior pitcher Jake Matthys.
Despite having a 2-3 record, Matthys is one of the state’s top pitching prospects and is destined next season to pitch Division-I college baseball for the Kansas State Wildcats of the Big 12 Conference.
Hronski spent two seasons coaching Matthys as an assistant at Spring Lake Park in Matthys’ freshman and sophomore seasons. The senior pitcher knew going in it would be a friendly rival with his ex-coach and said it was a thrill to be able to pitch against his team in an 8-1 Panther victory.
“We got along pretty good when he was here,” Matthys said. “When I first came to the plate he saw my necklace and told the umpire, maybe trying to get in my head a bit there. It was all in fun though and he is a good coach and I like him.”
While Hronski’s Tigers had their hands full, Spring Lake Park head coach Josh Davis had seen his share of hands trumped of late. Losers of four prior games in a row and with a 3-7 overall record after the Fridley win, Davis said the season has started slowly, but he is optimistic for the second half of the year.
“Our goal is to play the first 10 games of the season for the second 10,” Davis said. “We’re still a young team with guys learning their roles. Yes, we have a losing record, but looking at the second half we want to string a couple of wins together and get on a roll going into the playoffs.”
Friday’s game was another example of the Tigers playing close, but letting the ball drop at the end.
After Fridley rallied to tie the score 1-1 in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly, things fell apart for senior pitcher Colin Borop and the Tigers in the last half of the sixth as the Panthers batted around and scored seven runs, breaking the game open 8-1.
The extra runs were more than enough support for Matthys, who later said it was nice to pitch the final inning with no worries.
“That felt good to have a little run support,” Matthys said. “Sometimes we have been having trouble staying up all game and we were able to get a couple key hits there and gave me a nice cushion to pitch in the seventh.”
“Everybody was doing their part,” said Davis of the seven-run sixth inning. “One guy got on base and the next guy would get on. We just kept it going. With Jake on the mound we know we have a good shot of winning. We just need to play defense behind him and put a couple hits together like we did.”
The Panthers look to continue their winning ways into the second half of the season with a pair of games which started with Monday’s contest against Chisago Lakes. Wednesday night they took on Cambridge-Isanti and Friday night play at 7 p.m. under the lights at St. Francis.
Matthys said he is confident in his stuff and he and his teammates are destined for a second half run.
“For me, I’m a competitor and I want to win,” he said. “I rely on my two-seam fastball and get it to sink in on righties and away from the lefties. If I can locate that, it’s going to be a pretty good day. I pitch to contact and I trust the guys behind me.”