Fleck play

Hutchinson shortstop Jayden Fleck makes a play on the run to throw out a Cokato runner during Sunday’s North Star League victory. It was the final home game of the season for the Huskies.

Town ball playoffs are right around the corner, and the Hutchinson Huskies are in the driver’s seat as they speed down the final stretch of the regular season.

After two straight losses in the end of June set the Huskies back a step, they’ve responded in July with six straight wins for a 21-6 overall record and 13-4 in the North Star League. They’re now half a game out of first and have locked in a top-four spot in the Region 12C Tournament.

“We had a couple games where the bats went cold, but we always play good (defense),” Huskies veteran Adam Katzenmeyer said following Sunday’s win over Cokato. “Coming down the stretch we’ll do the same thing. Pitchers are throwing good and we’re starting to hit now, so I think we’ll pull it together.”

“We just had a couple slow games and got a nice break with the Fourth (of July),” Hutchinson’s Jake Wendland said. “We usually play good July baseball going into the playoffs, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Last week’s stretch of games included a 6-0 shutout against Dassel-Cokato, a 13-0 shutout over Maple Plain, and a 7-1 win against Cokato. In all three games Hutchinson’s starting pitchers went the distance, as Jayden Fleck, Jon DeRock and Jeremiah Van De Steeg pitched complete-game gems.

“Our pitching and defense is what carried us through this stretch of games,” Hutchinson manager Mike Kutter said.

“Between Fleck and DeRock and then Jeremiah this week, they saved us in a big way,” Kutter added. “But it’s also just getting them confident, getting them prepared for the playoffs has been big. They go out there and throw strikes. Teams aren’t going to have big innings off those guys, and I think that helps us.”

Despite the string of victories, Kutter said the Huskies are still working through some issues at the plate, especially with guys in scoring position. Hutch had eight hits in its win over DC and 15 hits against Maple Plain, but batters were kept relatively quiet against Cokato with just five hits.

“We’ve struggled a little with clutch hitting,” Kutter admitted. “Friday night (against Maple Plain) we hit very well, but we’ve been up and down with that a little bit, and I know that’s a frustrating thing for some guys. In the end you’ve got to have that and be able to chip away and get those hits and those runs when you need them.”

The Huskies seem confident, however, that the bats will come around, and their pitching and defense will continue to lead the team going into the next phase of the season. They missed out on state last year for the first time since 2015 and are looking to get back after a second-place finish in 2019.

“I think we’re pretty confident,” Katzenmeyer said. “We come to the field every day expecting to win, and that’s how we’re going to take it this week too.”

The Huskies have three league games on the road left and they’ll need all three wins to have a shot at first in the NSL standings. They start with Maple Lake on Wednesday and then face Delano Friday and Loretto Sunday, when they could see the Larks’ 48-year-old rookie phenom, Corey Koskie. Koskie, a former third baseman for the Minnesota Twins and member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, joined the Larks this season to play with his sons.

Delano and Loretto are also two of the four teams battling for first in the NSL standings, along with Buffalo, so the Huskies are sure to have a fight on their hands as the regular season winds down.

“We’ve got a busy week here coming up, and we’ve got three big games,” Wendland said. “We set our own destiny, (play) one game at a time and do as well as we can and hopefully mow through them.”