Behind impressive performances from Matt Jansen, Ben Long and Joe De Pinto, the Madison Mallards earned a 5-1 victory Tuesday to complete a two-game sweep of the Rochester Honkers at the Duck Pond.
Jansen allowed six hits and struck out four over six shut out innings to get the win. Long, the designated hitter, drove a two-run home run over the left field fence with one out in the sixth to give the Mallards a 4-0 lead, which proved to be more than enough for Jansen.
“I’ve been seeing the ball really well lately,” Long said. “I was looking for a ball on the inner half that I could drive and he gave it to me. I knew it had a chance when I hit it, but I wasn’t sure.”
The game began as a classic pitchers duel between a pair of Big Ten hurlers in Jansen (Purdue) and Rochester’s Zach Robertson (Iowa). Through the first five innings, the two starters combined to strike out 13 batters while allowing just two runs on nine hits.
“It’s always fun when there’s a good battle and there’s another good guy on the mound against you,” Jansen said. “It was fun going through those first few innings with both teams scoreless and the pressure’s on you to keep the other team’s hitters from breaking through.”
Still it wasn’t as easy for Jansen as the box score would make it seem. For whatever reason, he seems to struggle to put opposing hitters away in the fifth inning of his starts. And when the fifth rolled around, last year’s South Division all-star game starter struggled again.
The Honkers started the inning by loading the bases on three straight infield hits, mounting their first big challenge of the night. This time, however, Jansen dug deep and retired the next three hitters, including a pair of strikeouts to end the inning.
“All spring and the first outing I had with the Mallards the fifth inning has been the inning that has killed me,” Jansen said. “I don’t know what it is, but I was able to get through that today. Hopefully from here on out I won’t have to worry that anymore.”
Long’s home run was his third hit of the game after singling in each of his first two at-bats. With a 3-for-4 showing Tuesday night, the junior from UW-Milwaukee improved his average to an impressive .619 (13-for-21) through six games, including three doubles, a pair of home runs and six runs batted in.
“Ben Long has been tremendous the last three or four days for us,” manager C.J. Thieleke said. “He carried us again tonight with a big home run. Anytime you can extend that lead — especially with a home run — it breaks a team’s back a little bit.”
De Pinto, the Mallards’ shortstop, broke up the scoreless tie in the fourth inning with a leadoff home run to left, just the second hit allowed in the game by Robertson.
The sophomore from USC helped the Mallards push across another run in the fifth inning following a leadoff walk by catcher Tyson Blaser. With two outs in the inning, De Pinto singled to left driving in Blaser, which proved to be the eventual winning run. De Pinto finished the night 2-for-4 with a pair of runs batted in.
After Long’s home run in the sixth, the Mallards would strike one more time in the inning to go up 5-0 on the Honkers. Blaser doubled off the fence in left center and after a walk, center fielder Kurtis Muller singled to center to drive in another run.
Rochester threatened again in the eighth, loading the bases for the second time in the game, but managed just one run on a single to right by second baseman William Arnold.
Brad Allen, a sophomore from Elgin Community College pitched a scoreless ninth for the Mallards to close out the ballgame, completing the two-game sweep and extending the team’s winning streak to three games.
With the win, Madison improves to 4-2 and sits just one game behind the South Division leaders Battle Creek and Eau Claire. Rochester falls to 2-3 and two and one-half games behind North Division leader Alexandria.
“I feel really good about where we’re at and the way we started this home stand,” Thieleke said. “We’ll take them one at a time, but this is a good stretch for us.”
The Mallards will look to keep their momentum going Wednesday at the Duck Pond as the Waterloo Bucks (1-5) come to town for the first time this season.