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Pipestone second baseman Josh Homann awaits the throw as Worthington’s Shawn Hurley slides into second to break up a double play attempt during Thursday night’s VFW baseball game. BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE

VFW baseball: Post 3958 makes statement

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sports Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON — The Worthington VFW baseball team knew prior to the start of its league finale Thursday that it had a tall hill to climb if it wanted to take over the top seed in the district playoffs.

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Post 3958 — which entered the game at 6-1 in league play — not only needed to beat previously undefeated Pipestone, they had to win by at least eight runs after Post 3814 won their first meeting on June 18, 7-0.

Worthington came up just a little shy of leap-frogging into the No. 1 spot, but it still made a big statement. Post 3958 handed Pipestone its first loss of the season, a 6-0 showing in which pitching and defense were key. At the conclusion of Thursday’s game, Worthington has held opponents scoreless in 23 straight innings.

“Overall I was really pleased with our defense, and that starts with our pitchers throwing strikes,” said Worthington coach TD Hostikka.

Perhaps the most crucial defensive moment in the game came in the top of the fifth inning. Worthington had already taken its 6-0 lead, but it looked like Pipestone was about to break out a big inning.

A leadoff single by Michael Friese got things started. McKinley Bush and Austin Moeller reached on an error and a walk, respectively, and Post 3814 had the bases loaded with nobody out. The next batter, Ethan Ploeger, hit a medium-deep flyball to left field that Worthington’s Shawn Hurley had measured right off the bat. After the catch, Friese broke for home, but Hurley threw a dart to catcher King Blanchette for the double play. Post 3958 was able to get the final out to keep Pipestone off the board.

“That was awesome,” said Worthington starting pitcher Brian Morales, who went five innings to get the win. “I was just thinking, ‘Wow!’ That was such a nice throw.”

“That one kind of took their sails out and gave us a nice boost,” Hostikka added.

The only other threat Pipestone put together came in the second inning when a single and an error gave it runners at second and third with nobody out. Morales struck out the next three batters to get out of the inning unscathed.

Worthington didn’t get many opportunities either, but the ones it got were not wasted.

In the home half of the third, Tory Rogers was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Hurley sacrificed him to second before a big two-base error on a ball put in play by Tucker Sorenson gave Post 3958 their first threat of the night. Easton Sauerbrei came up with the big hit when he smashed a double to deep right, scoring both runners. He eventually crossed the plate himself and after three, Worthington was up 3-0.

Small-ball continued to pay off in the bottom of the fourth. Nate Russell led off with a bunt single with Eli Gaul following him with a base hit the old-fashioned way. Brandon Veen moved both runners up 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt, opening the door to a sac fly by Rogers that plated Russell. Gaul and Hurley both scored to set the score at 6-0 going to the decisive fifth.

“Our bats were OK,” Hostikka said. “We played small-ball when we needed to, made some things happen with bunts and good baserunning. We played my kind of baseball.”

Morales used his fastball, curveball and a pitch he’s dubbed, “The Special One” to keep Pipestone batters guessing. In five innings of work, he allowed no runs on four hits, struck out five and walked three. Hurley came in and allowed just one baserunner during the final two innings.

Mitchel Carson took the loss for Post 3814 in relief. He allowed six runs, only two of which were earned, on three hits over an inning and two-thirds.

Gaul was 2-for-3 with a run scored to lead Worthington at the plate. Sauerbrei went 1-for-3 with two RBIs and run. Luke Drooger, Cooper Kanthak, Brad Hillard and Friese had a hit each for Pipestone.

Both teams will begin the district playoffs next Saturday in Pipestone. But before Worthington does that, it will play in the Alexandria Tournament this weekend. Post 3958 plays twice today in Carlos. The first game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. against Shakopee with a 7:30 p.m. contest against Becker to follow.

“I’m proud of my team,” Morales said. “When we started the season, we just went down and up, down and up. Now we’re just going up, up, up.”

R H E

Pipestone 000 000 0 — 0 4 3

Worthington 003 300 x — 6 7 2

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