PREP BASEBALL: Eagles flying high to title gameMARSHALL — Riding the strong and accurate right arm of Collin Lovell and hustling for two first-inning runs Tuesday, the Windom Eagles continued their late-season surge in high school baseball action with a well-played, 2-1, victory over Springfield in a Section 3A playoff elimination game at American Legion Field.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
MARSHALL — Riding the strong and accurate right arm of Collin Lovell and hustling for two first-inning runs Tuesday, the Windom Eagles continued their late-season surge in high school baseball action with a well-played, 2-1, victory over Springfield in a Section 3A playoff elimination game at American Legion Field.
“What a great effort by these kids,” beamed an elated Windom head coach Brad Schlomann after congratulating his team. “Collin pitched well, he was efficient and controlled the game. Our defense made plays all day long and we ran the bases well in the first inning to earn an early lead, which ended up being big, very big.”
Windom’s win keeps the Eagles alive in the double-elimination tournament and gives the Southwest Conference cellar-dwellers a chance to qualify for the state tournament.
Standing in Windom’s way is another team nicknamed the Eagles, Lac qui Parle Valley High School, made up of the communities of Appleton, Madison, Milan, Bellingham, Marietta and Nassau.
LQPV defeated Windom, 5-0, June 2 and is the only undefeated team in the tournament, having won four straight playoff games. For the season, the “northern” Eagles sport an overall record of 15-9.
The two Eagle squads will square off at 5 p.m. Thursday in Granite Falls at Richter Field.
A win by LQPV would end the tournament and send those Eagles to state.
A win by Windom would set up a third playoff clash between the two Eagles to decide the Section 3A champion and determine who would advance to next week’s state tournament.
“We have a chance,” summed up Schlomann, who played in the state high school baseball tournament for Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin in 1993. “This crew of kids has played a lot baseball together and they are full of baseball savvy, which has made this playoff run a lot of fun to be a part of.”
After 11 games this spring, Windom had a 2-9 record and playing in the highly-competitive Southwest Conference — featuring six Class AA teams (Worthington, Marshall, Jackson County Central, Luverne, Pipestone Area and Redwood Valley) — the Eagles finished last with a 1-11 league mark.
“We had played several of those teams very competively,” exclaimed Schlomann. “But we didn’t play real well in a loss to Redwood and I was not happy with how things went. Since then, we have been getting better.”
Indeed, Windom has won eight of its last 13 games — including a five-game winning streak — and will take a 10-14 overall record into the section finals, having won four of its five playoff contests.
Springfield, which ended its season with a 13-11 record, outhit the Eagles 4-2 Tuesday, but never scored until the sixth inning.
Windom, which struck out seven times against Tigers’ pitching ace Matt Vogel, had only five baserunners all game long — collecting just two hits, while drawing a pair of walks and being beaned once.
“Yeah, we only had five guys get on base, but two of them scored,” declared Schlomann. “The kids were aggressive on the bases and getting out of the gate quickly with those two early runs helped everybody’s confidence and allowed us to play loose and relaxed.”
Lovell retires first 13 batters, eight on groundouts
Lovell, a lanky junior, struck out the first two batters he faced Tuesday.
But, he never fanned another Tiger until ringing up a pair in the top of the seventh.
In between times, the all-around Eagle athlete (football and basketball) was in command with a variety of pitches and the support of his defense, especially the middle of the infield.
Facing 26 batters over seven complete innings, Lovell threw a total of 93 pitches — 56 for strikes, while only 37 tosses were balls.
Vogel — who had pitched a no-hit, shutout against defending section champion Tracy-Milroy-Balaton earlier in the tournament — was just as effective, throwing 89 pitches (55 strikes, 34 balls), while facing 23 batters.
Lovell, in fact, took a perfect game into the fifth inning, not putting a single Tiger on base through the first 13 batters. Eight of the outs had come on groundballs — three each by shortstop Brandon Thongvivong and second baseman Andy Pfeffer, while third baseman Travis Janssen made a pair of stellar plays of his own.
Janssen, in fact, had handled a high hopper for the first out in the third and then had charged in and made a bare-handed scoop on a slow roller to record the first out in the fifth, keeping Lovell’s perfect game in tact.
“That was quite a play by Travis,” praised Schlomann. “A very big out to start the inning.”
But, Springfield freshman Carter Erickson stroked a single into right field to give the Tigers their first baserunner of the game.
Erickson advanced to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on a spectacular 6-3 putout by Thongvivong who ranged well to his left to prevent a possible RBI single.
Lovell kept his shutout going by getting the inning’s third out on a foul pop up to Eagle catcher Danny Kneeland (his second one of the game).
“Our defense was very good,” praised Lovell about his teammates. “I was just trying to mix up my pitches — fastball, curve, change up — and attack the strike zone, trying to keep it down low.”
The Tigers threatened again in the top of the sixth after a leadoff double by Isaac Kirschstein.
A well-placed bunt by Shawn Anderson (fielded for the out by Lovell) moved Kirschstein to third.
Springfield scored on the next play, as a sharp grounder off the bat of Zach Mickelson blazed past the diving reach of Windom first baseman Jake Holt. Pfeffer, however, scooped up the ball from his second base position and fired to Lovell, covering first, for the inning’s second out.
Kirschstein crossed the plate on the play, making the score 2-1. But there were two outs and the bases were empty.
Windom’s Drake Borsgard made his third catch of the game in center field to end the inning.
Borsgard then drew a leadoff walk to open the bottom of the inning, but the Eagles were unable to advance him and entered the seventh with just a one-run edge.
Lovell struck out Springfield’s ever-athletic Alex Fink (a Lions’ All-Star member later this summer) for the first out.
“I was really happy with that one,” Lovell said. “He is a very good hitter, so that was a big strikeout for me.”
Vogel did his best to help his own cause by stroking a sharp one-out single to left.
But Lovell, struck out Erickson and the Eagles were one out from earning the right to play again on Thursday.
Springfield’s Tim Krueger knocked the ball deep in the hole between short and third.
Once again, Thongvivong (four assists) ranged to his left and came up with the ball. His long throw, however, was high and sailed into the Tigers’ dugout, as Vogel advanced to third and Krueger (infield hit and error) moved to second.
“Most kids don’t even get to that ball,” Schlomann said. “So, it’s kind of hard to fault Brandon for the throw. After the play, it’s easy to say that he should have just fielded the ball and not made the throw.”
With runners on second and third with two outs, Springfield’s Cooper Scheffler came to the plate. After falling behind 3-0, Lovell buried back-to-back strikes to load the count. He missed the outside corner, however, on the next pitch and the bases were loaded.
That was Lovell’s only walk of the game.
Eagle assistant coach Dane Nielsen came out to the mound to chat with Lovell.
“He just helped calm me down,” Lovell said of Nielsen’s visit. “I have a good relationship with him from basketball and he just told me to relax and throw it across.”
Kirchstein worked the count to 2-2 and then smacked a ground ball at Pfeffer, who made the play — coming up with his fifth assist of the game — to send Windom to the section finals.
“Andy, Brandon, Travis — they all came up with big plays in the infield,” praised Schlomann. “Danny makes a couple of catches on foul pops and Drake catches everything hit at him in center. Collin just did a marvelous job out there pitching, only giving up one walk the whole game and keeping our defense involved.”
Borsgard, Kneeland hustle home with two runs for Eagles
After Lovell worked the first of his four 1-2-3 innings to start the game, the Eagles jumped on the Tigers in the bottom of the first frame, taking a 2-0 lead which lasted until Springfield’s sixth-inning run.
A one-out infield single to deep second by the fleet-flooted Borsgard gave the Eagles’ the game’s first baserunner.
Kneeland was hit by Vogel’s first pitch and Windom had runners on first and second.
The switch-hitting Thongvivong (.387 batting average, 11 extra-base hits) tagged the ball hard, which was mishandled by Springfield’s second baseman and Borsgard (six stolen bases this season) read the play and sprinted home after seeing the error.
“Drake, he was speed and baseball savvy,” declared Schlomann. “He rounded third and just kept going. There wasn’t even a play at the plate.”
Kneeland hustled to third on the play and Thongvivong was safe at first.
With Holt (.327 average, three home runs) at the plate, Schlomann called for a double steal when there were two strikes on the Eagle power hitter.
Holt swung and missed (for the second out), but on the throw to second base — which was cut off short by the Tigers — Kneeland raced home with Windom’s second run.
“It was a heads up play by both teams,” explained Schlomann. “Springfield did what they had to do and made a good throw home, but Danny got a nice jump and made a great slide.”
After taking the early 2-0 lead, the Eagles never really threatened again.
Pfeffer smacked a leadoff single up the middle in the bottom of the third, but was thrown out — by Vogel — attempting to steal. Kneeland later drew a walk, but Vogel (seven strikeouts, three free passes, two hits) retired seven straight Eagles before giving the leadoff walk to Borsgard in the sixth.
Windom went down in order in the second, fourth and fifth frames.
But, thanks to Lovell (four strikeouts, one walk, four hits) and the Eagles’ superb all-around defense, those two “hustle” runs in the first inning were all that the “southern” Eagles needed to keep flying.
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Springfield 000 001 0 — 1 4 1
Windom 200 000 X — 2 2 1