Amateur baseball: There's more to play for
The Wilmont Cardinals know they’ll need to score runs at a more consistent pace. They also know they’ll have to do it against the Fairmont Martins — a team blessed with pitching.
The Jackson Bulls know all about the Martins. They are still recovering from a thrilling three-game series with the Martins that Bulls manager Scott Bahr has called “one for the ages.”
But since the Bulls emerged the victor — three games to two — their task in their next series with Luverne is more relaxed. Jackson and Luverne have already qualified for the upcoming state tournament, and tonight (Aug. 6) in Jackson they’ll commence another three-game series for seeding purposes.Fairmont and Wilmont have more at stake. The winner of that series, which begins tonight in Wilmont, earns a state berth. The loser is out.
On Tuesday, Wilmont manager Todd Rogers expressed confidence in his team’s chances, but he also expressed concern about his offense.
“Our pitching has been good. Our offense — the other night we had a five-nothing lead on Luverne, but we couldn’t score any more runs.”
Indeed, Luverne (now 20-5 on the season) dispatched the Cardinals two games to none, winning the first game 6-2 and the second in a 6-5 come-from-behind victory.
In that second game, said Rogers, the Wilmont offense “just shut off.”
Rogers said he’ll probably start one of his more proven pitchers, Justin Saufley, in the Fairmont opener, but he hadn’t decided as of Tuesday afternoon. Whoever Fairmont decides to pitch will probably be difficult to score upon. The Martins’ hard-throwing Taylor Nawrocki is a big-time ace (he beat Jackson 3-2 last week Wednesday while recording 16 strikeouts), and Lakefield draftee Dustin Pronk allowed just one unearned run Sunday in a 2-1 loss to Jackson.
Fairmont is 22-10 on the season. Wilmont is 16-5.
“I think it’ll be a pitchers’ battle, definitely,” Rogers predicted for the series.
“All year we’ve had solid pitching,” he said. “Fairmont’s a good team, too. They hit the ball and they have some good pitchers, too.”
In the one midseason league game Wilmont and Fairmont played this season, Wilmont won 3-2 in extra innings.
Fresh from their scintillating series with Fairmont (the Bulls lost the opener 3-2, then went 10 innings in both of their next two games to win and clinch their state berth), the Bulls stand at 27-2 on the season.
Long forgotten are memories held over from 2013, when another outstanding Jackson team shockingly lost its first playoff series. Now, having already secured their state berth — an annual team goal — Bahr says fans expect the Bulls to be more relaxed heading into the series with Luverne.
“I’ve been asked that a million times,” he replied Tuesday. “And I want to tell everybody that it’s not true. But it is true. That is the one challenge that I’m worried about — to have that little letdown.
“But there is a lot at stake.”
At stake is the No. 1 and No. 4 draft picks for the state tournament, plus the honor of being the No. 1 seed from the region, and also the more favorable (presumably) matchup in the state opener.
Ryan Rasche is penciled in as Bahr’s starter Wednesday night. Rasche pitched seven-plus solid innings against Nawrocki in the Bulls-Martins series opener. Elsewhere in the lineup, Jackson has usually been able to count on a strong and consistent hitting lineup led by Rasche, Pat Rients, Andy Wolf and Blaise Jacobsen.