Dragons remain undefeated in Section 3A baseball playoffs
GRANITE FALLS -- On a beautiful late-spring Saturday afternoon, along the banks of the Minnesota River at Richter Field, four high school baseball games were played in the Section 3A tournament, as the quest for a state tournament berth continued.
At day's end, three of the surviving six competing teams (of the 20 that began the tournament May 21) had been eliminated, while the other three will continue to battle to become the one team to represent the section in the state tournament at Jordan and Chaska, June 12-14.
Adrian, the top seed in the South, won its fourth consecutive playoff game -- without a defeat -- as the Dragons rallied with a three-run fifth inning to edge perennial Northern power Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, 3-2, in the day's first contest.
After defending section champion Wabasso (the No. 2 seed in the South) defeated Renville County West, 12-2, in an elimination game, Camden Conference rivals Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and MACCRAY hooked up in the day's third game. Plating four runs in the bottom of the fifth, the Wolverines ended T-M-B's season, 6-4.
In the day's final contest, Wabasso took MACCRAY out of the tournament with a 12-0 victory.
Wabasso (19-6) and K-M-S (17-3), each with one playoff loss, will tangle in an elimination game Tuesday in Marshall, while Adrian (19-3) will play the winner on Thursday at either Granite Falls or Windom. One victory by Adrian (Wabasso or K-M-S would have to beat the Dragons twice) Thursday would send the Dragons to the state tourney.
Adrian 3, K-M-S 2
During three of the game's first four innings, the Dragons put two runners on base with no outs, but each of those frames ended with a double play and a strikeout. The net result was four hits and no runs for Adrian.
K-M-S, meanwhile, scored two runs in the top of the third inning, and the Fighting Saints were riding the strong pitching of senior veteran Chris Braaten, as they continued to make stellar defensive plays.
But with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning, Adrian's Joey Bertrand cracked a sharp single to left-center field. After stealing second, Bertrand advanced to third base on a 6-3 groundout by leadoff hitter Matt Gades.
With two out, Adrian sophomore shortstop Adam Diekmann hit the ball up the middle to the right of second base. The ball was bobbled a bit, and the low throw was scooped, but on a very close play, the fleet-footed Diekmann was ruled safe and Bertrand had crossed the plate with Adrian's first run.
As they have done many times in the past, the Dragons capitalized on the break by stringing together a trio of consecutive hits, scoring two more runs in the inning.
Adrian pitcher Jordon Kontz followed with a looping infield hit and clean-up hitter Glen Kruger blasted a sharp RBI single to right field, scoring Diekmann from second.
With the score tied at 2-2, Dragon sophomore center fielder Brett Nowotny smacked his third hit of the game, an RBI single to center, plating Kontz from third and giving his team a 3-2 edge.
Kontz, who had pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, put the Saints down in order again in the sixth, as Adrian maintained its lead.
Then, for the first time all game, the Dragons went down in order in the bottom of the sixth and Kontz took the ball again in the top of the seventh.
The hard-throwing junior right-hander had faced just 10 batters in the previous three innings, getting stronger as the game progressed.
After a leadoff single by K-M-S's Luke Johnson, three fine defensive plays by the Dragons helped Adrian clinch the victory the seventh.
First baseman Tanner Loosbrock made a terrific scoop to get the first out, on a bunt fielded nicely by freshman third baseman Tyler Hornstein. Then, after a walk and a wild pitch had put runners on the corners, senior right fielder Jordan Reker made a nice running catch on a shallow fly ball for the second out
With Justin Johnson, a .468 hitter at the plate, Kontz induced a foul pop, which was caught between third and home by a hustling Gades (catcher) for the third out, sending the Dragons to the section finals.
"We survived again," Adrian head coach Kevin Nowotny said after the game. "We spread our hitting around and finally strung a bunch together to score those three runs in the fifth. We received an excellent pitching performance today from Jordon Kontz, and that really helped."
Kontz struck out five and gave up just that one seventh-inning walk, while scattering five hits.
Diekmann made a tremendous play on a hard-hit ground ball up the middle, fielding a bad hop and coming up with the ball for the third out of the fifth inning.
"That was a heck of a play," praised Nowotny. "K-M-S had a runner on third and would have scored if that ball got through, but Adam adjusted to the hop well and made the play. He also caught two flares down the line that were nice plays."
A total of six Dragons combined for nine hits in the game, as Nowotny (3-for-3, RBI), Diekmann (2-for-3, RBI, run), Bertrand (1-for-2, walk, run), Kontz (1-for-2, hit by pitch, run), Kruger (1-for-3, RBI) and Gades (1-for-3) all contributed at the plate.
The loss was the first of the season for Braaten, who -- along with the fine K-M-S defense -- held the Dragons in check in every inning but the fifth.
Gades and Diekmann ripped back-to-back singles for Adrian in the first, but a nifty double play by Saint shortstop Justin Johnson helped erase the early threat.
A single by Nowotny and a walk to Loosbrock gave the Dragons two on with nobody out in the second, but a line drive by Hornstein was caught in right field, and Nowotny was doubled off second. In the fourth, Nowotny singled again, but another nice double play by Johnson was followed by a strikeout by Braaten.
R H E
K-M-S 002 000 0 -- 2 5 0
Adrian 000 030 X -- 3 9 1
MACCRAY 6, T-M-B 4
After rallying with three runs in the top of the fifth inning to take a 3-2 lead, the Panthers gave back four runs to MACCRAY in the bottom of the frame, as the Wolverines went up, 6-3.
T-M-B, which finishes a fine season with an 18-5 record, scored another run in the top of the seventh, but a couple of great defensive plays by the Wolverines ended that final threat.
After MACCRAY scored twice, on a pair of hits and an error, in the bottom of the first inning, the two conference rivals played through three scoreless frames, before combining for seven runs in a wild fifth inning.
T-M-B's Brian Schlager drew a leadoff walk to open the fifth, giving the Panthers just their third base runner of the game. A walk to Dominic Dolan in the first and a single by David Schmidt in the fourth had been T-M-B's only men on base during the first four frames.
That trend looked to continue, but after Eric Lanoue coaxed a two-out walk, putting a pair of Panthers on base, T-M-B leadoff batter Tyler Hagberg drove a ball to deep right-center field, plating both Schlager and Lanoue with a two-RBI triple -- knotting the game at 2-all.
Dolan followed with an infield single, scoring Hagberg (2-for-4, triple, two RBI's, two runs) and giving T-M-B a 3-2 lead.
The Wolverines, however, came right back scoring four runs on three hits and three errors to reclaim a 6-3 advantage.
The rally started with a one-out walk to MACCRAY shortstop Shaun Condon, who advanced on a misplayed pickoff attempt. After an infield hit by Brendon Madsen put two runners on base, they each advanced on a wild pitch, and then Wolverine catcher Tyler Dammann (2-for-3, two RBI's, two runs) slapped a two-RBI single to right, putting his team back up, 4-3.
A sharp blast past third gave the Wolverines another base runner, and then a couple of throwing errors allowed MACCRAY to score two more runs, pushing the lead to 6-3.
Schmidt, who had pitched the first 4 1/3 innings for the Wolverines (two strikeouts, one walk, one hit batter, four hits, five runs, two earned runs), was relieved by Anthony Dolan with one out. Dolan pitched the final 1 2/3 innings for T-M-B, retiring the Wolverines in order in the sixth after ending the fifth with a strikeout.
In the top of the seventh, the Panthers hit the ball sharp against Wolverine reliever Ethan Pauling (two innings, three strikeouts, two walks, two hits), but a pair of spectacular plays by Condon left the last T-M-B effort short.
Hagberg beat out an infield hit to start the rally, and Dolan drew his second walk of the game. With two men on and no outs, Schmidt scorched the ball up the middle, but Condon gloved the ball and the Wolverines turned a nifty 6-4-3 double play. Hagberg, however, reached third.
Isaac Dolan's RBI infield hit scored Hagberg, trimming the MACCRAY lead to 6-4.
Anthony Dolan followed with a blast to a similar spot, but this time Condon made a diving catch, ending the inning and the game.
The Panthers had squandered a better chance in the top of the sixth when a lead-off walk to Isaac Dolan was followed by a one-out double (to right center) by Schlager.
A walk to Aaron Frisvold loaded the bases with one out. But Pauling struck out the next two Panthers, ending that potential rally.
Before the fifth, the Panthers had trouble touching Wolverine starter Kelly Siverhus. The junior left-hander twirled five complete innings, striking out four, while yielding four walks, four hits and a trio of earned runs.
R H E
T-M-B 000 030 1 -- 4 6 4
MACCRAY 200 040 X -- 6 6 1