The battle between Armstrong and Cooper’s sports teams had been rather one-sided as the two schools prepared to play each other in baseball April 8.
Cooper had won the football, boys basketball and girls basketball match-ups, while Armstrong had only been able to win the wrestling Robbinsdale Rumble match-up.
Cooper took a 3-0 lead after the first inning, and it looked like the Hawks were well-positioned to win the latest Battle of the Birds.
Armstrong’s bats then caught fire, as the Falcons scored 11 runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings as Armstrong was able to capture a 12-11 victory.
“We talked to our guys about being patient and to let the game come to us,” Armstrong head baseball coach Brian Sobiech said. “We knew we were going to hit, we have some guys that have been hitting well this spring, and we didn’t want to press, we wanted them to stay patient and make sure they had good, quality at-bats.”
Cooper came back late with five runs in the sixth and seventh innings, but it wasn’t enough to complete the late comeback.
“We struck out five of the six outs in the sixth and seventh innings,” Cooper head baseball coach Tim Palm said. “If we get a big hit, we win and that would change their whole mind set.
“I was hoping that was going to happen, but it didn’t and that’s how it goes.”
Trailing 3-0 to Cooper after the first inning of play in the team’s season opener April 8, Armstrong head baseball coach Brian Sobiech felt his team allowed itself to hang its head after a rough start.
“I feel we wouldn’t have made so many mistakes if we didn’t hang our head after the first mistakes,” Sobiech said. “That’s how we can avoid secondary errors.”
After a short talk with his team following the first inning, Sobiech began to see a change in his team. the change in behavior led to Armstrong taking as much as a 12-6 lead after the top of the sixth inning. Cooper gave Armstrong a run for the victory, but Braeden Lutmer ended the game with a strikeout to preserve the Falcon’s 12-11 season-opening victory.
“We talked to our guys about being patient and to let the game come to us,” Sobiech said. “We knew we were going to hit, we have some guys that have been hitting well this spring, and we didn’t want to press, we wanted them to stay patient and make sure they had good, quality at-bats.”
With a relatively young team, the Falcons have a combined 10 juniors and sophomores on the roster, Sobiech knew it might take a little while for his team to get going.”
“They needed to experience this,” Sobiech said. “We have a pretty young team with a lot of younger kids in the lineup.
“They need to feel the atmosphere of what it’s like to play in a real varsity game, because that will pay dividends down the road.”
While Armstrong gave up 11 runs in the game, Sobiech is confident his pitchers can bounce back.
“I think we made too many mistakes in the field to give our pitchers a chance,” Sobiech said. “We had some young guys step up, Strassman came in and pitched some good innings for us and kept his pitch count down.
“Braeden Lutmer came in and closed the door, and that’s great experience for both guys to come in and do that kind of stuff.”
On offense, four players were able to get multiple hits, while every player with at least two at bats recorded a hit. Alex Proctor (3-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBIs), Brayden Gray (3-for-3 with four RBIs and two runs), Michael O’Malley (1-for-4 with three RBIs) and Eric Goldman (4-for-5 with one RBI and three runs scored) led the Falcons.
“We bashed the baseball around a little bit, but it was good to get in the field,” Gray said. “We haven’t really taken a lot of grounders because our field is under construction.
“We learned some things, but it was good to get the win over Cooper. We have work to do if we want to hit our goal of getting to the state tournament.”
After the first game of the season, Sobiech feels he has a good idea of what his team needs to work on in order for the team to have what it would call a successful season.
“We just need to work on our composure and we need to work on our toughness,” Sobiech said. “We can fix physical errors, we can improve technique, but what we can’t fix is hanging our head.
“Coaches can’t teach how to not hang your head, sometimes kids just have to reach down deep for that.”
Armstrong played Hopkins and Spring Lake Park earlier this week, and it will take the field next against Anoka at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 13, at New Hope Lighted Field.
Cooper began its season against Osseo April 5, and the loss to Armstrong gave the Hawks an 0-2 record after its first two games.
“We’ve done OK, but we have to get better,” Palm said. “We have to put the ball in play, there have been too many strikeouts.
“We have to be able to relax to play and execute. In the big moment they have to settle down and hit a ball, field a ball, throw a ball.
“We’re not doing enough right,” Palm added. “You score 11 runs and you should be able to win a ball game.
“The pitchers have to keep the ball down because we don’t throw hard enough to throw the ball at the belt consistently and not have an off-speed pitch. We’ll be alright, we’ll be fine, but I want to win for these kids bad.”
Despite the two losses to begin the season, Palm is confident his team can bounce back.
“We’ll be fine. I love these kids, I love this team,” Palm said. “They’re very coachable, the chemistry is good, but there are a lot of new varsity players here.
“These first two games, we’re 0-2, but we should be 2-0 and they know it.”
With a roster that features 11 underclassmen, Palm knows it’s just a matter of time before his team comes together and plays the way he knows it is capable of.
“It’s just time and gaining experience,” Palm said. “The tough thing here is these kids are single sport athletes.
“Playing varsity athletics for the first time is a big deal, and I’m trying to get it into their head that it isn’t that big of a show, there isn’t 1,900 people watching you.”
Cooper was led in the loss to Armstrong by junior Josh Gabrick, who allowed one run over three innings while giving up four hits, four walks and striking out four. Gabrick also went 2-for-2 with two RBIs and two walks. Andrew Pena (2-for-4 with three RBIs) also had a great game for the Hawks.
Cooper will play its next game of the season against Benilde-St. Margaret’s at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 13, at Cooper High School.
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.