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Week One Recap: Mustangs Find Different Ways to Win in 4-1 Start

The St. Joseph Mustangs enjoyed a successful first week of the 2023 season, earning a 4-1 overall record and a 3-1 mark in M.I.N.K. League action. St. Joe opened with a three-game homestand, defeating Baldwin City 11-4 on Wednesday and downing Nevada 5-2 on Saturday. The middle game saw the Mustangs pull out to an 11-1 lead over the KC Monarchs before the contest was wiped out by lightning in the third inning.

Transitioning to a three-game road trip, St. Joe continued to play winning baseball. The Mustangs slugged out a 15-0 win Sunday in Nevada to start. Then, after a 6-1, Monday night loss in Joplin, the Mustangs emerged victorious in Carroll, winning 5-4 in 10 innings.

“[The players] have really gelled together as a team,” Mustangs head coach Johnny Coy said. “We’ve got a lot of players that can fill a lot of different spots, and the guys are having fun so I couldn’t be happier with our start.”

In their season-opener, the Mustangs used a lineup featuring a core of returners in the top five spots. Through the game’s first three innings, those five combined to score nine times. One night later, in the rain-shortened matchup with the Monarchs, the experienced quintet scored 10 runs in three frames.

“In years past, we’ve usually had so many new guys that just want to get the crowd riled up as best as they can, and they try to do too much,” Coy said. “Our guys didn’t do that for three games at home, and that’s huge.”

While all the returners were on-base machines during the opening homestand, one Mustang consistently took it upon himself to drive them in. After breaking the Coffeyville Community College single-season record with 65 runs batted in during the spring, third baseman Mason Holton has piled them up quickly in St. Joe. He drove in four Wednesday night with three singles. Then, he plated three of Saturday’s five Mustang runs with a single in the sixth and a double in the seventh.

“He’s been on fire all spring, and he didn’t miss a beat - carried it right over into the summer season,” Coy said. “He shows up, gets the job done and has fun with a smile on his face doing it. He’s a guy that I love having around.”

Overall, Holton has eight RBI, which ties him for the team lead. He also assumed the role of starting pitcher in St. Joe’s road opener in Nevada Sunday night. With seven RBI already under his belt, Holton twirled six scoreless innings, earning the win.

Staying in Nevada, a Mustangs newcomer burst onto the scene in the 15-0 beatdown of the Griffons. Left fielder Easton Bruce drove in seven runs, briefly leapfrogging Holton for the team lead in RBI. He accomplished the feat on a triple and two home runs, which both flew over the fence during a 10-run seventh inning. Bruce’s second long ball was a grand slam.

“That’s pretty incredible, man,” Coy said of Bruce’s performance. “I knew he was a good player, but to make an impact like that so early in the season in his first road game in a Mustang uniform is pretty impressive.”

A week into the season, Bruce is the only M.I.N.K. League player with multiple home runs or seven RBI in one game. Overall, he leads the Mustangs with eight hits.

In addition to the offense’s success, St. Joe has enjoyed a number of strong pitching efforts to begin the season. Like Holton, Andrew Clark also delivered a quality start in his season pitching debut, allowing only two runs in six innings on Saturday. Camden Lutz was key in keeping Tuesday’s game close, tossing four shutout innings out of the bullpen. Brandon Stone and Ryker Curry cranked up the heat in their summer debuts, striking out a combined 11 in five scoreless frames.

“When you show up in a Mustang uniform, so much is expected of you. It’s hard to not try to throw too hard and blow everybody away,” Coy said. “They’ve done a great job, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how everything’s gone so far.”

Like last summer, which saw St. Joe go 11-1 in one-run games, the 2023 Mustangs have delivered in big moments. They earned two come-from-behind victories in week one, rallying in the game’s final three innings on both occasions. In Saturday’s 5-2 defeat of Nevada, St. Joe trailed 2-0 through five innings but scored five combined runs between the sixth and seventh. Then, in ending the Carroll Merchants’ 6-0 start on Tuesday, the Mustangs turned another 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead in the eighth. Though Carroll forced extra innings, St. Joe scored in the 10th to take home a 5-4 victory.

“There’s no lead that’s safe when it comes to this team,” Coy said. “These guys have shown it time and time again - that they don’t care how much they’re down or on the road. Whatever the situation, they’re gonna fight back and do whatever they can to make it a game.”

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