WORTHINGTON -- There just isn’t any way to sugar-coat the Worthington Cubs’ 2019 summer baseball campaign, and it was just as difficult Friday night to find a silver lining in their final game.
In the second game of a best-of-three league playoff series against the Pipestone A’s in Worthington, the Cubs were victimized 18-1 in seven innings. They ended the season with an unprecedented 0-19 record.
The Cubs didn’t want to go out this way -- not without having won a game, and not by a 17-run margin. But Friday’s game was not unlike the way events transpired throughout the season. Not enough pitching, too many errors, and an inability to fight back when things start turning sour.
Veteran first baseman Josh Wasmund played his last game with the Cubs Friday night. The 37-year-old, who announced his retirement earlier this summer, has seen many outstanding team and individual moments with the franchise throughout a long career. After the final out was made Friday, he attempted to find something helpful to say.
It wasn’t easy.
“To try to look at something positive, we had games we should have won. We get runners in position to score, and when you don’t do it once, you don’t do it twice, it just kind of builds,” he said. “You gotta get runners in when you get ‘em on.”
Shawn Hurley, one of the younger players who helped manage the team, said, “We never seemed to learn from our mistakes. Errors and walks killed us all season long.”
To a man -- and to knowledgeable fans, too, -- there is a feeling that there were many good players on the team this summer. They swing aggressive bats, they have speed. But they didn’t have pitching in 2019, and the players made lots of errors (six in Friday’s game against Pipestone). And as Hurley admitted, they couldn’t overcome adversity.
“We just gotta learn that when times are tough, you still gotta step up and make plays,” he said.
Friday’s game began as many other Cubs games began this season. Pipestone scored one run in the top of the first inning, then added four more in the second and two in the third off Worthington starting pitcher Ryan Swanson. Austin Moeller hit a two-run single for the A’s in the second, and drove in another run in the third with another single.
The Cubs committed two errors in the second inning, and another A’s batter reached on a bad-hop single.
In Pipestone’s third inning, the first two batters hit hard bouncers to third base and reached on errors.
But it’s difficult to blame it all on the defense. The infield at the Worthington middle school field this summer may be judged more suitable for a prairie dog colony than for baseball, with its hard and uneven surface. It’s made even worse by the condition of the grass, a blotchy and unevenly-cut carpet that might be more appropriate for cattle grazing.
Even so, none of the Cubs would blame Friday’s loss on the conditions. The locals just didn’t play good baseball.
Swanson pitched five and one-third innings for Worthington and gave way to Brayden Donkersloot, who retired the only two hitters he faced to leave the bases loaded in the sixth. Wasmund and Eli Gaul pitched the top of the seventh, but had difficulty finding the plate. Between them, they allowed seven Pipestone runs (including five without getting an out) which put a comeback attempt far out of reach.
Worthington didn’t score until the sixth inning, with Swanson driving in the run with a ringing double off the left-centerfield fence. The Cubs had chances to score earlier in the contest, including the second inning when Wasmund and Donkersloot singled.
Pipestone cashed in most of its scoring opportunities. Josh Tinklenberg, Avery Ploeger and Mitchell Carson all reached on singles to start the sixth inning, for instance, and the A’s scored three times in that inning to increase their lead to 11-0.
Austin Evans went the distance for Pipestone’s mound victory.
Afterward, Wasmund said he would have never imagined the Cubs going winless on the year.
“Especially not with the guys on this team. These guys have been winners their whole baseball careers,” he said.
While packing up his gear, Hurley said there’s nowhere to go next year but up. He advocates more practice before the season starts, better mental preparation. Getting a non-player manager for 2020 “would be huge,” he concluded.