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Graser's knuckleball knocks down Hub City

Big Sticks pitcher Matt Graser struck out five Hub City batters on Saturday, June 7, at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)1 / 3
Big Sticks catcher Ben Thoma awaits the throw while a Hotshots baserunner slides into home on Saturday, June 7, at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)2 / 3
Christian Padilla (No. 6), hit a grand slam against Hub City on Saturday, June 7, at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)3 / 3

Once again, Matt Graser did his thing.

The Badlands Big Sticks pitcher relied heavily on his knuckleball, striking out five while his team downed Hub City 6-5 on Saturday, June 7, at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark.

In his seventh start of the summer, Graser picked up his sixth win. The junior from the University of Missouri - St. Louis tossed 6 ⅓ innings, giving up three runs on five hits.

"Graser was unreal. He trusted that knuckleball," Badlands head coach Hayden Pewitt said. "He kept throwing it and throwing it and they kept swinging and missing."

The Hotshots and other opponents of Graser aren't the only ones struggling to figure out where his knuckler will fall. Big Sticks catcher Ben Thoma had to quickly get used to catching the unpredictable pitch.

"It's kind of just getting lucky almost," Pewitt said. "The things moving every different direction every different pitch. It's honestly just getting lucky. We tell (Thoma) not to stab at the ball, but you gotta stab at a knuckleball because it's moving every which way. That was our worry with Matt (Graser), is who's going to catch him and Ben Thoma's been much better than we could ever ask for."

In the close match up, the Hotshots out-hit the Big Sticks 7-5, but one big hit from Badlands left fielder Christian Padilla was the difference.

Hub City starting pitcher Anthony Reese walked right fielder Gabe Knowles to start the bottom of the fourth, but his defense followed up with back-to-back outs. Reese dug himself into a hole though, walking third baseman Deandre Pitts and second baseman Chasen Roulhac, setting up Padilla.

When Padilla made contact on the 0-1 pitch, the whole stadium knew it was a home run, and they were right.

The grand slam, which put the Big Sticks up 5-3, was Padilla's third homer of the season. The Spokane Falls Community College freshman has been on a hot streak lately. Despite going hitless on July 5, he's put up seven hits over the last four games; That's nearly half of his total 17 hits on the summer.

"He's a game changer. He's got all five tools," Pewitt said of Padilla. "He can really change the game with one swing, he can change the game on the bases, he changes the game in the outfield. We're lucky to have him."

Padilla went 2-for-5 on the day, while Thurber, Roulhac and Aaron Fritts put up the only other hits for the Big Sticks.

The Hotshots pitching did a good job keeping the Big Sticks off balance and therefore off the board.

"They were getting ahead, mixing it up," Graser said. "Their starter was really keeping us off balance with the off speed. I was happy we were finally able to put some runs on the board."

Behind the mound, Hub City was efficient, tallying zero errors after putting up seven the day before.

"The point of emphasis today was defense before batting practice and just taking care of the baseball," Hub City head coach Jacob Jarreau said. "We put a sign up in the dugout that says, 'offense sells tickets, defense wins games.' So that's kind of what we're going with. Taking care of the baseball, just doing our part. We're on turf, it's easy."

Of the seven Hotshot hits, Daniel Rodriguez had three. His two-run home run in the third put Hub City up 2-1. He singled in the fifth and again in the ninth, that time driving in Ryan Kawano to get the Hotshots within one.

"He's just aggressive," Jarreau said. "When he gets mistakes, he crushes them. Like he hit the home run. We talked about before the game, with Graser who throws a knuckleball. We said if it's low, let it go, if it's high, let if fly. He saw high and he let it fly."

Badlands Big Sticks 6, Hub City Hotshots 5

HCH 002 100 002 — 5 7 0

BBS 010 401 000 — 6 5 2

Anthony Reese (4), Jesse Spangler (3), Josiah Acton (1) and Alex Elizondo. Matt Graser (6.1), Nick Jennings (1.2), Kaleb Binstock (1) and Ben Thoma.

W—Graser. L—Reese. S—Binstock. HR—HCH, Daniel Rodriguez. BBS, Christian Padilla.

Highlights: HCH, Rodriguez 3-5, HR, 1 R, 3 RBI; Reese 4 IP, 2 H, 5 R (5 ER), 6 BB, 4 K. BBS, Padilla 2-5, HR, 1 R, 4 RBI; Jake Thurber 1-4; Aaron Fritts 1-3; Chasen Roulhac 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI; Graser 6.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R (1 ER), 3 BB, 5 K; Jennings 1.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R (2 ER), 1 BB, 1 K; Binstock 1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 K.