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State Class AA baseball: Luverne captures consolation title

The Luverne Cardinals celebrate with the Class A state baseball tournament consolation championship trophy after defeating Delano 8-4 Friday in St. Cloud.1 / 3
Reed Skattum of Luverne connects on a pitch during the opening game of Friday's consolation cracket against Hermantown.2 / 3
Luverne's Josh Slieter throws a pitch against Hermantown during a Class AA state baseball tournament game.3 / 3

ST. CLOUD -- Luverne's Skyler Wenninger struck out six batters in the sixth and seventh innings of the Class AA State baseball tournament consolation championship game to help the Cardinals hold off the Delano Tigers in an 8-4 victory Friday afternoon at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud.

The Cardinals defeated the Hermantown Hawks 2-1 in the first game of the day to advance to the consolation championship.

"I haven't pitched in a year, so I just tried to focus on the mit and throw strikes," Wenninger said. "In that final at bat, I decided that I would go out with a bang like I did in VFW last year, so I threw it as hard as I could and hoped that it would be a strike."

Even though the Cardinals won the game, they trailed early after allowing Delano to string together three hits in the bottom of the inning to push across three runs, with the help of an error on a pickoff attempt to third, to put Luverne in a 4-1 hole after three innings.

But the Cardinals responded with a three-run inning of their own in the top of the fourth to tie the game.

"We started a little slow today, but I'm proud of the way the guys put the ball in play," LHS coach Mike Wenninger said. "We came up with big RBIs when we needed them, so I'd say we turned out a lot of quality at bats today."

Jonny Solma led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Delano relief pitcher Taylor Larson. Larson then hit Matt Overgaard with a pitch to put two runners on the bases. In the next at bat, Reed Skattum advanced the two runners on a bunt down the first base line. Then Brett Heronimus lined a single to the outfield, scoring Solma and Overgaard to cut the Tigers' lead to one.

Delano changed pitchers after Luverne's pair of runs, but it did little good, since Wenninger doubled on the next pitch, scoring Heronimus from first and tying the game.

"(Delano) was throwing a lot of strikes at us today, so we knew we had to sit back and just drive the ball," Skyler said. "Their pitchers were just throwing fastballs, so we just sat back and drove them up the middle."

In his second inning of relief of starting pitcher Zane Hiller, Skattum allowed just one hit while recording a strikeout, a pop out and a ground out to get out of the fourth unscathed.

In the fifth, Solma and Overgaard took their turn at driving in runs, with both batters knocking in one runner to give the Cardinals a 6-4 lead.

The Tigers loaded the bases with one out after a triple and a pair of walks in the bottom of the inning, but Skattum forced back-to-back outs to end the inning and avoid giving up a run.

"Coach has preached that this is the state tournament and we made it here, so we have to go out and have fun while were are here," Skyler Wenninger said. "There are no nervous feelings because we are here to have fun, so I think that really helped us with our defense."

A one-out walk proved costly for the Tigers in the top of the sixth when Slieter knocked single to the outfield to score Skyler from second. From there, Slieter stole second, reached third on a throwing error at second and then stole home when Delano's infielders allowed the overthrown ball at second trickle into the outfield. The run put the Cardinals up 8-4 with just one and a half innings left to play.

Despite starting off the inning with a strikeout, Wenninger, who relieved Skattum in the sixth, found himself in trouble after giving up a one-out walk, then a single and then hitting a batter with a pitch to load the bases.

"I thought that I should just let (Skyler) get into the groove of things pitching-wise," coach Wenninger said. "I wanted to let him shake the rust off a little bit, but you have to bulldog it and be a pitcher and get yourself out of that spot. When he is your son, sometimes the words that your dad says don't take the same meaning as they would otherwise."

And find his groove he did. Wenninger struck out the next two batters to leave three runners on the bases at the end of the sixth.

After Delano's Sam Harris forced Luverne to pop out three straight times in the top of the seventh, Wenninger came in to finish off the game in the seventh. Wenninger allowed a leadoff single to the Tigers' Schepler, he struck out the final three batters to secure the win for the Cardinals.

"We started off a little slow this season, but then we got hot and went on a long winning streak," Wenninger said. "To cap it off with a couple of wins at state is a great feeling."

In the first game of the day, Slieter pitched a complete game, striking out nine batters and not allowing an earned run to lead the Cardinals to the consolation championship game later in the afternoon.

"My plan for the game was to throw strikes and let me defense make plays behind me," Slieter said. "We tried to keep them from scoring too many runs and make sure we could stay in the ball game."

Hermantown scored its only run on an error in the bottom of the first. The Cardinals tied the game in the second when the Hawks committed an error of their own.

The game remained tied until the top of the sixth when Wenninger led off the inning with a double, which was followed by single by Kendall Meyer. In the next at bat, Wenninger scored on a sacrifice fly by Slieter to give the Cardinals the only other run they would need.

"On offense, we played our small ball and that worked great today," Slieter said. "We got down a few bunts and were able to score on a sac fly as well. With their pitcher, we tried to go with the pitch instead of trying to pull it the other way."

Slieter picked up three strikes in the last two innings to close out the game and allow Luverne to save its arms for the Consolation Championship game later in the day.

"I didn't try to think too much [in those last few innings] on the mound," Slieter said. "I just tried to focus and keep doing what I was doing, because if you over think things it becomes a big mess. I trust our defense, so I knew I could throw strikes and let [Hermantown] hit it if they could."

Luverne finishes the season 22-5 and losses six seniors in Wenninger, Solma, Heronimus, Skattum, Overgaard and Wyatt Aubert.

"We had a fantastic season and a great group of guys this year," coach Wenninger said. "Our lowly, podunk Luverne, Minnesota, showed a good representation of the Southwest Conference. We have a very good conference and a very good section we play in. Winning like this at the state tournament is something these guys can take with them forever."

vs. Hermantown


LHS 010 001 0 -- 2 4 1

HHS 100 000 0 -- 1 4 1

vs. Delano


LHS 010 322 0 -- 8 9 1

DHS 103 000 0 -- 4 7 2