Legion baseball: Luverne's comeback falls short in state third-place game
LUVERNE — The first five innings of Sunday’s third-place game of the state Division II American Legion baseball tournament floated by like daydreams on a hot summer’s day. Foley and Luverne were stalemated in a pitcher’s duel at Redbird Field, knotted 1-1. Both teams had but two hits as pitchers Cameron Jurek of Foley and Connor Crabtree of Luverne kept batters missing.
But then came the top of the sixth. Foley’s Tyler Midas led off with a ringing ground-rule double to leftfield. Cleanup hitter Mitch Keeler followed with a line drive to right. Luverne right fielder Tommy Vajgrt dove to his left, missed the ball, and Keeler wound up at third base as Midas crossed home plate. After a walk, a strikeout, and another walk loaded the bases, Gunnar Olson came on to relieve Crabtree. A squeeze bunt then plated Foley’s second run of the inning and third of the game.
It was all Foley needed to capture the victory.
With Luverne still trailing 3-1, cleanup hitter Josh Slieter led off the seventh with a frozen rope down the leftfield line that went for a double off Jurek. He motored to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Olson.
Now trailing by just a run, Post 123 was able to get runners on first and second base with just one out in the inning. Crabtree got ahold of a Jurek offering and crashed it to right-centerfield whereupon Foley right fielder Hunter Hamers was able to run it down in the gap, doubling off the runner at second — who had taken off with the crack of the bat and who was a half-step slow in getting back to the second sack.
Game over. Foley wins, 3-2.
It was a tough way to end a ballgame for the home-standing Luverne bunch. Post 123 had qualified for the state tournament this year solely because it served as the tournament’s host, but the team showed it belonged with a 5-2 first-round win over 2013 champion La Crescent. After falling to St. James 5-1 in the semifinal round Saturday night, the home-standers hoped to go out on a winning note.
“We had our ups and downs,” head coach Barry Shelton summed up the summer season. “When we played well we really played well, and when we played bad we played really bad. We had a good season. Can’t complain.”
There were no complaints about the way the game ended, either.
“Our bench was yelling to go, and it was a line drive that didn’t look like it was going to be caught. It looked like a fly ball that was going to drop. Their right fielder made a good play on it and caught it,” Shelton said.
“You gotta be aggressive to get that run across, anyways,” said Luverne shortstop Skyler Wenninger after the game. “Gotta be aggressive.”
Foley, which lost to Plato 9-1 in its semifinal contest Saturday, had the right pitcher in the lanky, hard-throwing right-hander Jurek, who went the distance Sunday and allowed just four Luverne hits in the hot Redbird Field noon-time sun. He seldom let Post 123 get on the offensive with the bats.
Foley scored the game’s first run in the top of the first on an unearned run due to an errant throw to first base. Luverne matched the run when Slieter led off with an infield single, moved to second on a wild pick-off throw, went to third on an infield out and scored when the catcher’s pick-off attempt at third sailed into right field.
In the middle innings, Jurek took control. In the third, he stranded Luverne’s Connor Hoffman at second base. In the fourth, he put down Luverne 1-2-3. No real scoring threat materialized in the fifth, either. In the sixth, Hoffman reached first after being hit by a pitch with one out, but first base was as far as he could go as the meat of the Luverne order got ready to take their places in the batter’s box.
Wenninger, the team’s No. 3 hitter and one of the most consistent batters on the team, went 0-for-3 against Jurek with three fly balls. But he appeared to take the loss in stride as Luverne finished its season with a solid 15-8 mark.
“It was a fun year. A good year,” he said. “Especially being the home team (in the state tournament). It’s good to get one win at least.”
St. James wasn’t quite able to pull off a championship in its first state tournament appearance in 46 years. Plato, a team from the Glencoe-Silver Lake school district, defeated St. James 6-0 in the championship game Sunday afternoon.
R H E
Foley 100 002 0 — 3 5 4
Luverne 010 000 1 — 2 4 2