AMATEUR BASEBALL: Wilmont advances in playoffs with 3-2 win over LuverneWILMONT — Ace right-hander Justin Saufley hurled a complete-game gem, and veteran left-fielder Jesse “Muff” Teerink delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday night, leading the top-seeded Wilmont Cardinals to a thrilling 3-2 victory over the third-seeded Luverne Redbirds in an elimination game of the Gopher League amateur baseball playoffs at Butts Probst Field.
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WILMONT — Ace right-hander Justin Saufley hurled a complete-game gem, and veteran left-fielder Jesse “Muff” Teerink delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday night, leading the top-seeded Wilmont Cardinals to a thrilling 3-2 victory over the third-seeded Luverne Redbirds in an elimination game of the Gopher League amateur baseball playoffs at Butts Probst Field.
Saufley (six strikeouts, two walks) and Luverne’s Andrew DeBoer (five strikeouts, four walks) were both sharp on the mound, combining to pitch 12 scoreless half innings of baseball. The other five half innings each featured one run — three for Wilmont and two for Luverne — as the Cardinals advanced in the double-elimination tournament.
Wilmont (21-6) will host the second-seeded Milroy Irish — who lost to the fourth-seeded Pipestone A’s 2-1 Wednesday — Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
The winner of that game will clinch a berth, along with Pipestone, in the upcoming Region 13C playoffs.
Luverne ends the season as the fifth club to be eliminated from the eight-team league tournament. Adrian, Hadley, Tracy and Minneota have already been knocked out of the playoffs — leaving Wilmont, Milroy and Pipestone as the only teams remaining.
“This was the most fun and intense game of the season, as playoff baseball tends to be that way this time of year,” summed up Saufley, who also serves as Wilmont’s manager. “We didn’t want our season to end tonight, and we battled all the way against a very good Luverne team. We made some great plays defensively, and “Muff” came through with the key hit to win it for us like he always seems to do in clutch situations.”
Teerink’s game-winning base hit came on a 1-2 count with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning, as the veteran slapped a ground ball the other way into the hole between first and second base and into right field. Pinch-runner Brandon Schroeder scored from third on the play, snapping a 2-2 tie and putting Wilmont up by a run.
“I just stuck my bat out and was able to get it past a diving effort by the first baseman,” explained Teerink, who is the longest tenured player for Wilmont. “What a great game this was that had two of the best pitchers in the area dueling against each other. It was just a lot of fun to be a part of, and we’re happy to have the chance to play at least one more time.”
Saufley’s RBI single, five scoreless innings help Wilmont take 2-0 lead
Saufley worked a 1-2-3 frame on 12 pitches in the top of the first, fanning a pair of batters and inducing a ground-ball out to second baseman Nick Ahrens — who had four assists and three putouts in the game.
Wilmont then scored in the bottom half to take a quick 1-0 lead. Lucas Henning (2-for-4, single in the third) landed a one-out single into left field and later scored from second on Saufley’s RBI single to get the Cardinals on the board.
Luverne’s Zach Olson and Brian Beuning (2-for-4) cracked back-to-back singles to begin the second, but a nifty 6-4-3 double play — shortstop Adam Diekmann to Nick Ahrens to first baseman Joe Ahrens — helped Saufley wiggle out of that early jam.
The Cardinals nearly doubled their lead in the bottom half, as Diekmann (2-for-3) ripped a lead-off single up the middle and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Stuart Rogers. Teerink (2-for-4) followed with a single to center, but Zack Clark was there to field the softly-hit ball and fire a strike to Beuning at the plate — cutting down Diekmann, who was waved around third, on a close play.
Luverne made another great defensive play in the third, as third baseman Tim Connell gloved a hard smash down the line off the bat of designated hitter Jay Scheidt and threw across the diamond for the out.
Wilmont’s second-inning action was then duplicated in the fourth, with Diekmann smacking a lead-off single and moving to second on another sacrifice bunt by Rogers. But this time, Nate Stoll belted a two-out, RBI double to right-center that plated Diekmann from third for a 2-0 Cardinals’ lead.
Saufley tossed scoreless frames in each of the third, fourth and fifth frames, working around a lead-off single by DeBoer in the third and a one-out walk to Connell in the fifth. Saufley induced a trio of ground-ball outs — including a diving play by Joe Ahrens — in a 1-2-3 fourth and then started a 1-6-3 double play on a comebacker in the fifth.
Luverne scores twice, threatens to take lead; Saufley limits damage
Both of the runs that Luverne scored were unearned, coming after the only two errors that Wilmont committed in the game. The Redbirds scored their first run in the sixth, as the speedy Clark reached on a one-out error and promptly stole second base.
An infield single by Tony Sandbulte (2-for-4) and an RBI fielder’s choice groundout off the bat of James Fisher ensued, as Clark scored to make it 2-1. A diving catch by Stoll — on a line drive hit by Olson — in center field was next, as Wilmont held onto the lead.
DeBoer worked his only 1-2-3 innings back-to-back — in the sixth and seventh — to keep the score a one-run difference. Eleven of the 24 outs that DeBoer recorded in eight innings came as a result of ground balls.
The momentum seemed to be tilting Luverne’s way at the plate, as well. Beuning and Connell both singled in the seventh, and the Redbirds broke through with another run in the eighth to tie the game.
Taylor Van Santen reached on an error to start the inning. A passed ball and an infield single by Clark allowed Van Santen to advance to third, where he scored from when Sandbulte laced an RBI single into left field.
With the score tied at two runs apiece and a pair of runners on with no outs, it appeared that Luverne might break the game open — especially with the middle of the Redbirds’ order due up.
Saufley, though, fanned the next batter for the first out. Nick Ahrens then made a dandy of a play on a ground ball up the middle, getting a force out at second and leaving runners at the corners with two outs before Stoll hauled in a fly ball for the third out.
“That was big to get out of there allowing just one run,” Saufley said. “That’s what I wanted to do after the first three batters reached that inning, and I liked our chances of winning if the game was still tied. It worked out for us.”
Catcher Steven Kremer and Saufley (2-for-2, two walks) led off the bottom of the eighth with consecutive singles, with Schroeder and Tanner Loosbrock inserted as pinch-runners, respectively. Joe Ahrens advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Diekmann was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out.
DeBoer notched a key strikeout for the second out and then got up 1-2 on Teerink, but “Muff” knocked the next pitch into right field to score Schroeder and give Wilmont a 3-2 lead.
Saufley issued a lead-off walk to Tanner Skattum in the ninth, and Connell laid down a sacrifice bunt. With a runner on second and one out, DeBoer hit a hard smash up the middle that Saufley got a glove on before Nick Ahrens fielded behind second base and fired to a stretching Joe Ahrens for the out at first.
Saufley, who is now 9-0 on the mound, then stranded the potential tying run at third when he struck out the next batter on an off-speed pitch, recording the third out of the inning and the 27th out of the game — keeping the Cardinals’ season alive.
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Luv. 000 001 010 — 2 8 0
Wil. 100 100 01X — 3 10 2