LEGION BASEBALL: Grafton pitchers have been in shut-down mode

Adam Mach's 2.90 earned run average, as well as his strikeout-per-inning average, would put him at or near ace status on a lot of American Legion baseball teams.

Grafton's Zak Hernandez, center, throws the ball to Adam Mach, right as Nelson County's Hunter Engel dives back to first base at Kraft Field in Grand Forks, ND on Sunday, June 21, 2015. (Grand Forks Herald/ Joshua Komer)

Adam Mach’s 2.90 earned run average, as well as his strikeout-per-inning average, would put him at or near ace status on a lot of American Legion baseball teams.

Not so with Grafton’s tradition-rich program. Mach is one of the top pitchers on this season’s 32-10 team. Ace status is shared, however. Of the seven pitchers who have thrown 20 or more innings, four have a lower ERA than Mach.

That quality pitching depth has helped Grafton win the East Region tournament title and take the No. 1 seed from the East into this week’s North Dakota Class A American Legion baseball tournament. The tournament runs Wednesday through Sunday in Beulah.

“Most kids would be ecstatic with that,’’ Grafton coach Chad Kliniske said of Mach’s sub-3.00 ERA. “But a lot of our kids have better numbers than that. We just don’t give up a lot of runs.’’

The stingiest Grafton pitcher is Tyler Kliniske (7-1, 1.24). He’s followed by Landon Droog (2-0, 1.62), Jess Suda (1-2, 2.00), Hunter Baldwin (6-0, 2.03) and Mach (3-1). Also in the mix on the deep pitching staff are Cody Kingsbury (2-2, 2.95), Zak Hernandez (4-1, 3.82) and Noah Heuchert (5-2, 4.64).


As a group, Grafton pitches with efficiency rather than with an overpowering style. Only Mach and Heuchert average a strikeout an inning.

“You like to have those guys who strike out a bunch of people,’’ Chad Kliniske said. “We usually do have guys who average more than a strikeout an inning. But that’s not in our bag this year. The kids are finding ways of getting batters out. You can’t complain about that.

“Nobody is overpowering. They throw good off-speed stuff, change speeds and hit their spots. And, for the last few weeks, we’ve been playing defense really well. We have to do that to do well.’’

Defense wasn’t always a strength this season, as indicated by the stats. Opponents have scored 184 runs against Grafton; 84 of those were unearned as the team struggled with the gloves early in the season.

But the defense, led by Hernandez at shortstop, Baldwin at third base and speedy Brett Longtin in center field, has become a strength.

“We were getting by for awhile simply because we were hitting the ball well,’’ Chad Kliniske said. “Our defense was hard to watch. But everything clicked a few weeks ago. I can’t explain it. But we’ve been making the plays and we’ve turned a ton of double plays, a lot of them in crucial spots.’’

That hitting is led by Longtin (.288 batting average with 25 walks) and Suda (.387) at the top of the lineup, with Baldwin (.494, 8 home runs, 38 RBI) and Kingsbury (.451, 31 RBI) being the big run producers.

“Baldwin has been hot all year. So has Kingsbury,’’ Chad Kliniske said. “One through nine, we’re pretty solid in our lineup.’’


Beyond the numbers, Grafton has a different mentality this year.

“These kids aren’t stat-crazy,’’ Chad Kliniske said. “But there is competition amongst themselves. I get a kick out of it, listening to them trash talk each other. They’re always chirping at each other and having fun with it. It’s comical how loose these kids are. They’re laughing and having fun all the time.’’

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