LUVERNE -- Designated hitter Alex Petersen turned his back to the interviewer.
The back of his jersey told the story: 6.
Six years in a row the Hadley Buttermakers will compete in the Minnesota state Class C amateur baseball tournament by virtue of Sunday afternoon’s 6-0 victory over the Luverne Redbirds at the Redbirds’ own field. Petersen’s three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning put a capstone on the Buttermakers’ win in the deciding game of their best-of-three Final Four playoff series.
But before the state tourney gets under way on Aug. 21, there is more business to be done. Hadley and another state qualifier, Fairmont, will begin another best-of-three series tonight at Fairmont (Wednesday) to decide how they’ll be seeded. At the same time, the Milroy Irish begin a series in Luverne to determine the third state tournament team from Region 13.
The Buttermakers, who lost 8-2 to Luverne on Saturday after winning the opener 4-3 in Luverne last Wednesday, began Sunday’s game with a bang. Leadoff hitter Jacob Van Dam sent the game’s very first pitch from Redbird starter Derek Lundgren over the left field fence.
“I was hunting fastball,” he said later.
And he got it.
“Very big. Set the tone. Setting the mood for the game,” Petersen recalled it.
“It did help to score that run right away. Got everybody excited. Got our fans going,” said Hadley manager Myron Bennett.
“He didn’t know he was going to start until five minutes before the game,” Bennett added, saying that the team’s regular shortstop, Joe Larson, played in a golf tournament on Sunday. Van Dam, who graduated from Southwest Christian High School in the spring, had played shortstop several times before. On Sunday, he played it well and added more than his share of pop at the plate. He had hits in each of his first three plate appearances, in fact.
Hadley made the score 3-0 with two fourth-inning runs, chasing Lundgren from the mound in favor of Jake Haugen. The big hit in was a two-run double to left-center field by Kellan Johnson. Petersen’s ninth-inning home run was high and well left. It cleared the fence just a few feet right of the foul pole.
Luverne was unable to sustain its offensive threats against Erickson, who hurled six innings, and relievers Luke Drooger and Worthington Cubs draftee Tucker Sorenson. Sorenson pitched the final two innings and was impressive, getting two Redbirds out on called strikes in the eighth and putting down the home team 1-2-3 in the ninth.
In recent years, Hadley has been recognized as one of the better hitting teams in the area, but recently the team has had more than its share of fine pitching performances. On Sunday, Bennett was just as happy about the defensive side of things.
“We had defense all the way around today, and the pitching was exceptional,” he said.
The Buttermakers entered postseason play as the sixth seed among eight First Nite League and Gopher League combatants.
“It didn’t bother us to be that,” Bennett explained. “It’s just a little something (to add incentive). We always said, ‘Hey guys, we’re the sixth seed.’ … Before every game we say we’re still the sixth seed. We’re playing with house money.”
What, the Buttermakers worry?
“It’s just one of those things. We never give up. We keep on fighting to the end,” said Petersen. “Hadley doesn’t care what seed we are. We’re going to go out there and compete.”