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The Story from La Crosse Not Good

LA CROSSE – Ben Stanczyk’s fan club will have to start admitting a lot of new members after what he did Saturday night.

Pitching in front of family, friends and a former coach, the La Crosse Loggers right-hander delivered a two-hit shutout to beat Madison 2-0 in front of 2,611 people at muggy Copeland Park.

It was the first shutout of the season for La Crosse, which has won five of its last six games.

“It feels great,” Stanczyk said. “Every pitcher’s goal is to go out and not give up runs inning after inning and wind up with a shutout.

“The close game made for more pressure, and I tried to respond to that by just throwing strikes and doing the little things right.”

Stanczyk (5-3), an All-Star pitcher, has a team-leading four complete games after starting the season as the Loggers’ closer.

Against the Mallards, Stanczyk allowed a two-out bunt single to Mike Rozema in the third inning to load the bases before getting Kyle Yates to fly out. Stanczyk then retired

13 straight batters from the fourth through eighth innings. The only other hit against him was a clean single by Josh Wettlaufer.

“Today, I switched it up a little and pitched backward,” said Stanczyk, who struck out eight with two walks. “When I was deep in the count, I’d throw an off-speed pitch instead of a fastball. My knuckle-curve was my out pitch and it was working pretty well. Even though it was hot and the ball was slipping in my hand, I felt stronger as the game went on.”

Stanczyk wanted to play well for his parents, Mike and Robin, and former coach Kirk Gardner, who came from Waukesha, Wis., to watch the game. They witnessed a scary moment in the second inning when Stanczyk was clipped in the face by a line drive that deflected off his glove, but Stanczyk was fine and kept cruising along.

“It makes it that much better that I could do this in front of a bunch of family and friends,” Stanczyk said.

Stanczyk beat Madison starter Brian Kroll, who went seven innings and allowed two runs, one earned, on six hits. Kroll (3-4) was coming off a one-hit victory over South Division leader Wisconsin.

“Stanczyk pitched lights-out and you’ve got to tip your cap to that,” Mallards manager Darrell Handelsman said. “He was as good as we’ve seen so far. Brian’s been our best guy lately and he deserved better than to lose tonight.”

The Loggers (8-9 second half, 22-26 overall) scored single runs in the fourth and sixth, both driven in by Bubbs Merrill.

In the fourth, Merrill came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. He fell behind 0-2 to Kroll, fouled off a pitch, then worked a walk to bring home Matt Einspahr.

“We know we’re going to get a good outing when Ben’s pitching and you just want to scratch out one or two runs for him,” Merrill said. “That walk, a lot of it was because the guys before me saw a lot of pitches and made (Kroll) work a lot. When I was 0-2, it was a matter of battling and looking for something to hit. I didn’t get that, but I was able to get the walk.”

With Stanczyk cruising, La Crosse added a run in the sixth. Chris Ramirez led off with a double and Dale Mueller hit a single to put runners on first and third with one out. Merrill pushed a bunt down the first base line, allowing Ramirez to score easily.

“The funny thing about that was, I didn’t want Bubbs swinging the bat there, so we could stay out of the double play,” Loggers manager Estevan Valencia said. “So I gave Bubbs the ?push’ sign. When he came back to the dugout, he said he was thinking the same thing all along.”

And after a sweep of Madison, the Loggers are all thinking the same thing.

“Now we’ve got things rolling a little bit,” Stanczyk said. “We have to keep it up and try to make a run to the end and get in this race.”