Wilmont takes series with 11-5 win over Pipestone in Game 3
WILMONT -- A tough-nosed pitching performance by Lucas Henning, stellar team defense and a five-run first inning -- along with a trio of two-run frames -- combined Sunday afternoon to lift the host Wilmont Cardinals to an 11-5 victory over the Pipestone A's in the decisive third game of their state-qualifying Region 13C playoff series at Butts Probst Field.
Wilmont's win sends the Cardinals (23-8) to the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament as the region's third seed -- behind top-seeded Fairmont (29-6) and second-seeded Jackson (20-9) -- and a Friday night game (8 p.m.) at St. Cloud's Joe Faber Field against the Loretto Larks, the second-seed from Region 12C in the first round of the expanded 48-team Class C Tournament.
"It feels great," summed up Henning about qualifying to play in St. Cloud. "We get to play a little more baseball, which we enjoy doing together."
Henning, who helped his own cause with a towering two-run homer over the right-center field fence in the bottom of the third inning Sunday, pitched the entire game against the A's and was aided by an error-free Wilmont defense.
"I just tried to throw strikes and trust my teammates," he said. "They all did a great job, especially Stuart (Rogers) who ate up everything over there at third base after that one -- double down the line by Pipestone catcher Brandan Alfson to lead off the top of the sixth -- got past him. Our defense made lots of plays, which helped because Pipestone was hitting the ball hard."
The A's, who entered the contest having won five of seven regional playoff games (two over Worthington, two over Luverne and one over Wilmont), scorched the ball often Sunday and tagged a total of 11 hits in the game -- two more than the Cardinals stroked.
But, Wilmont did not have an error and Henning issued only four walks through nine innings, while striking out eight hitters, including a pair of clutch K's in an action-packed top of the fifth as the A's stranded three runners.
"Lucas came through with another dandy pitching performance," summed up Wilmont skipper Todd Rogers. "He kept a good-hitting team from having any big innings, which was really important for us."
Indeed, the A's spread their five runs over four innings and were held scoreless in five of the frames.
Henning worked 1-2-3 frames in the first, seventh and eighth innings, while facing just four batters and five batters, respectively, in scoreless efforts in the top of the third and top of the fourth.
Pipestone plated a single run in the second when A's designated hitter Nate Alfson blasted the first pitch of the inning high over the fence in left-center field for a solo home run, slicing Wilmont's early lead to 5-1.
The A's scored just one run -- despite loading the bases -- in the top of the fifth and then scored two runs on four hits in the sixth to trim the Cardinals' advantage to 9-4.
Pipestone's final run came in the top of the ninth when Greg Quist and Nate Alfson (3-for-4, two RBI) smacked back-to-back two-out doubles before Henning caught his second pop up of the game along the third-base line, clinching the Cardinals' win.
Quist pitched six strong innings for the A's, striking out seven Cardinals, including three in a row in the third -- after Henning's home run.
Quist walked four and hit one batter, but was victimized by six Pipestone errors, as only four of Wilmont's 11 runs were earned.
Nate Alfson pitched the seventh and eighth frames, striking out five of the seven batters he faced. He walked Wilmont's Tanner Loosbrock (2-for-2, two walks, one run, two RBI) to lead off the eighth, but a fielder's choice (5-4) and two strikeouts ended the inning.
Cards combine three hits with three straight A's errors to score five quick runs
Wilmont first baseman Jay Scheidt laced a sharp single to left to trigger the Cardinals in the bottom of the first.
Designated hitter Steven Kremer drew a walk and both runners advanced on a hit-and-run off the bat of shortstop Justin Saufley, who was thrown out on a 6-3 play by A's shortstop Sam Schneider.
With runners on second and third and one out, the flood gates opened early as consecutive Pipestone throwing errors allowed both Scheidt and Kremer to cross the plate, while Blake Rogers and Henning reached base.
A third infield error put Nick Ahrens on base and then Blake Rogers sprinted home on an RBI infield hit by Jesse "Muff" Teerink, giving Wilmont an early 3-0 lead with still just one out.
After four consecutive Cardinals reached base, Quist recorded a strikeout for the second out. But Loosbrock ripped a shot up the middle for a two-run single, scoring both Henning and Ahrens.
When the ball skipped past the A's center fielder -- Pipestone's fourth error of the inning -- Teerink headed for home, too.
But A's right fielder Jordan Karels, who backed up the play, fired to Schneider (the cutoff) and his perfect throw to Brandan Alfson completed a 9-6-2 putout at the plate on a sliding Teerink to finally put the brakes on the inning.
But, Wilmont owned an early 5-0 lead.
"We came out aggressive, both at the plate and on the bases," praised Todd Rogers about his team's quick start. "We did a good job of hitting the ball against a very good pitcher. Quist threw a nice game, but we put the ball in play enough times to make things happen and took advantage of some errors to get those early runs."
The home run exchange between Nate Alfson and Henning made the score 7-1 two innings later.
"I pretty well knew that his (Alfson's) was gone," Henning said after the game. "Nate's really a good hitter and he got a hold of that one. I didn't think mine was going over, but it carried better than I thought when it first came off my bat. The pitch came right down the middle and I was able to get the barrel of the bat right on it."
Pipestone trimmed the gap to 7-2 when Danny Moffitt (2-for-4) crossed the plate on a bases-loaded, four-pitch RBI walk to Karels in the top of the fifth.
Moffitt opened the inning by ripping a solid single to center.
After Colin Taubert drew a walk -- on a long at-bat -- both runners advanced on a 6-3 groundout to Saufley. Henning registered his fifth strikeout, but with first base open, the Cardinals elected to intentionally walk Nate Alfson to load the sacks and set up a potential force out at any base.
But, Karels drew his RBI walk and the bases were still loaded.
Henning, however, ended the inning with -- perhaps -- his most timely strikeout of the game and it was Wilmont's turn to bat again, still owning a five-run lead.
Wilmont scores twice in both fifth and sixth innings, offsetting two more Pipestone runs
Saufley reached on an error to open the bottom of the fifth and advanced to second on a single by Blake Rogers. Henning's single up the middle loaded the bases.
Ahrens drew an RBI walk, plating Saufley and -- after a strikeout by Quist -- Rogers scored on an RBI sacrifice fly (to right field) off the bat of Brandon Schroeder.
The A's quickly countered those two runs with their biggest offensive inning of the game.
Brandan Alfson (2-for-4) tagged a shot past Stuart Rogers at third and scampered all the way to second with a double to start the frame for Pipestone.
Brady Legler belted an RBI triple to the center field fence, scoring Alfson with the A's third run.
Moffitt followed with an RBI single into shallow right field, plating Legler.
But Henning came up with a defensive gem, fielding a high hopper by Taubert and recording the inning's first out.
"That was a real nice play by Henning," praised Region 13C commissioner Greg M. Rossow of Windom. "It was just a great play on a tough hop when Wilmont really needed an out."
Moffitt moved to second on the play and advanced to third on a sharp single by Schneider -- Pipestone's fourth hit of the inning.
But, Stuart Rogers caught Quist's hard line drive for the second out and then tagged a diving Moffitt out for the third out, completing an inning-ending double play.
"That was a good example of our defense coming through," declared Todd Rogers. "Both Lucas and Stuart had great plays in an inning when Pipestone was really smacking the ball."
Holding a 9-4 lead, the Cardinals pushed across another pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth to extend their edge to seven.
Loosbrock started things with his second hit of the game up the middle. Two batters later, Kremer hit a one-out single to left and Saufley followed with a similar single, loading the bases.
But when the ball got past Pipestone's left fielder -- the A's sixth error of the game -- Todd Rogers sent Loosbrock home and both Kremer and Saufley advanced a base.
Henning then delivered his third RBI of the game, driving in Kremer with a sacrifice fly to left, completing Wilmont's scoring.
Henning was tough on the mound in both the seventh and eighth frames, being helped by a pair of groundouts each by Stuart Rogers and Saufley on the left side of the infield.
Meanwhile, Nate Alfson was holding the Cardinals in check and the game's final run came on the consecutive doubles by Quist and Nate Alfson in the top of the ninth.
Loosbrock, Kremer and Henning all had two hits for Wilmont, while Scheidt, Saufley and Teerink each had one hit.
The Alfson brothers combined for five of Pipestone's 11 hits, while Moffitt (two), Taubert (third-inning double), Schneider, Quist and Legler also contributed timely hitting for the A's, who finished fourth in the 16-team Region 13C playoffs with an overall record of 19-19.
R H E
Pipestone 010 012 001 -- 5 11 6
Wilmont 502 022 00X -- 11 9 0
Alfson brothers are first two picks in draft for state
Following the completion of Sunday's game, the three state-qualifying teams -- Fairmont, Jackson and Wilmont -- were each able to select two more pitchers, from any of the other 13 regional teams (First Nite League or Gopher League).
Three Pipestone hurlers were among the six chosen players.
Fairmont selected Pipestone's Brandan Alfson with its first pick. Jackson followed by drafting Nate Alfson of the A's.
Wilmont's first pick was Isaac Dolan from the Milroy Irish.
Fairmont chose Luverne's Brian Beuning with its second pick, Jackson took Pipestone's Greg Quist and Wilmont selected Hadley pitcher Max Zwart.
Dolan and Zwart join Thomas Albrecht (Heron Lake Lakers) as Wilmont's three drafted pitchers, while Nate Alfson and Quist will complement Brennan Holm (Fox Lake Foxes) for the Jackson Bulls at the state tournament.
Both Wilmont and Jackson will play this weekend, with the Bulls playing the Winsted Wildcats Saturday (1:30 p.m. at St. Cloud's Dick Putz Field). Fairmont has a first-round bye and will not play until Aug. 26.