LEGION BASEBALL: Pipestone falls in title game

LE SUEUR -- The final frame of the Division II championship game featured drama, tension, controversy, and heartbreak for Pipestone's American Legion baseball team.

Pipestone's Tyler Rieck
Matt Huss/Daily Globe Pipestone's Tyler Rieck connects for a two-run home run against Eden Valley-Watkins during the second inning of the Division II American Legion state baseball tournament championship game Sunday in Le Sueur. It was the first of two home runs by Rieck in the game.

LE SUEUR -- The final frame of the Division II championship game featured drama, tension, controversy, and heartbreak for Pipestone's American Legion baseball team.

Pipestone's nine-game postseason winning streak and its surprisingly successful season came to a sudden and disheartening end Sunday. Kevin Kramer tagged up from third base on a flyout to left field and scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning to give Eden Valley-Watkins a walk-off, 4-3 victory and a trip to the Division II Central Region tournament in Milbank, S.D.

Kramer's teammates engulfed him behind home plate, piling on top of each other in celebration. Meanwhile, Pipestone's players and coaches argued -- to no avail -- that Kramer should have been called out.

With one out and Kramer on third base, Eden Valley-Watkins cleanup hitter Tyler Geislinger hit a shallow fly ball into left field. Pipestone's Jaden Evans played it perfectly, getting behind the ball and charging toward the infield before making the catch and firing toward the plate.

The ball appeared to tip off the glove of third baseman Chris Dougherty, forcing Pipestone catcher Jon Gorter to move outside of the third-base line in an attempt to field it. Kramer also moved to the outside and plunged head-first toward the plate.


The ensuing collision appeared to deter Gorter from fielding the ball, sending him rolling backward onto his shoulders. Kramer, meanwhile, scrambled on all fours to touch home plate.

By rule, a player is not allowed to plow over a catcher in an attempt to knock the ball loose or prevent him from fielding a throw. In such a case, the baserunner is ruled out. But the umpire ruled that Kramer did not intentionally try to make contact with Gorter.

"I think he should have been (ruled out) -- but I don't want to make excuses," Pipestone coach Steve Moffitt said. "(The umpire) said the slide was over and that the collision happened after the fact, that it was on the reach back. You're not going to win those arguments. There's no way."

Instead, Eden Valley-Watkins celebrated. And Gorter, who was called up from the VFW team after Pipestone's regular catcher, Darrell Stout, injured his leg at work and was forced to miss the tournament, lay on his back in pain near home plate. He stayed down for nearly five minutes, while receiving medical attention, before being helped to his feet and off the field.

The play served as a dramatic, controversial and devastating way to end an unexpected and incredible run for Post 6, which left Le Sueur with a second-place trophy for the second time in five years. After suffering a 12-4 loss against Okabena in the first round of the sub-district tournament, Post 6 won nine consecutive games, including a 1-0 victory against Jordan, the four-time defending state champion, in the semifinals on Saturday.

Pipestone's players, some in tears, quietly accepted the runner-up trophy. When Pipestone's fans erupted, showering the field with cheers of approval, Brandan Alfson smiled.

"No one thought we'd go this far, but it was just awesome how everyone just put it together," said Alfson, who threw a complete-game shutout on Saturday to earn the win against Jordan and pitched the first three and two-thirds innings against Eden Valley-Watkins. "We were on a nine-game winning streak -- it would have been nice to get 10 and the championship -- and I was smiling when we got that trophy because we got second place at state. If you think about it, there are so many teams that could have been there and wanted to be there, and we were the ones that were there. That's why I was smiling. It was awesome to be there."

Many Pipestone players and coaches throughout the postseason said their team's playoff run was a pleasant surprise. That sentiment remained the same after Sunday's loss. Assistant coach Jeff Schelhaas repeatedly urged Pipestone's players not to hang their heads. Moffitt did the same, while trying hard to hide his disappointment.


"Nobody expected us to get to this game -- we didn't even expect to get to this game," Moffitt said. "We had a .500 season going. We had a lot of rainouts, a lot of games that never got made up. And we were just pleasantly surprised after starting off the sub-section with a big loss. We thought, 'Well, this will be an early out.' But what a run.

"I really am disappointed, but I'm trying not to show it, for them," he said, nodding in the direction of his players. "I really felt we had this game, when we jumped out 3-0."

Tyler Rieck belted a two-run home run over the fence in left-center field during the second inning -- giving Post 6 an early lead, and he followed with a solo shot to left field to lead off the fourth frame.

"(Saturday), he was kind of down and out; he wasn't feeling good," Moffitt said, referring to Rieck. "He was kind of out of sorts, but he got by and did his job. I've heard about (his power) on the VFW level -- VFW is a different level of pitching -- but, wow."

Rieck's second homer of the afternoon chased Kramer from the mound and appeared to have set the tone for yet another postseason victory for Post 6. But Alfson began showing some possible effects of throwing 119 pitches in a game that ended fewer than 24 hours earlier and Eden Valley-Watkins scored two runs on five hits in the bottom of the frame to get back in the game.

Pipestone's Cody Schulze entered in relief of Alfson later in the inning and stranded runners on first and second, but a lead-off walk in the fifth, followed by a balk, a stolen base and an RBI single tied the game and forced Moffitt to call upon Rieck to make his first pitching appearance on the Legion level.

Rieck stranded runners on third in both the fifth and sixth innings, but Eden Valley-Watkins finally broke through for the winning run -- with a little luck -- in the seventh.

Kramer led off the inning by hitting a shallow blooper that fell untouched to the outfield grass behind second base, and he advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. He moved to third on a hard single up the middle that short-hopped Pipestone center fielder Jon Schelhaas.


On the third pitch of his at-bat, Geislinger hit a foul pop near Eden Valley-Watkins' dugout, but Gorter and Dougherty crashed into each other, forcing the ball to pop out of Gorter's glove. On the next pitch, Geislinger delivered the game-winning sacrifice fly.

Eden Valley-Watkins pitcher Matt Geislinger, who was named the tournament MVP, scattered three hits, walked one and struck out three in four scoreless innings of relief to earn the win.

Alfson allowed two runs -- one earned -- on eight hits while walking none and striking out four. Schulze, who retired just one batter, allowed a run on one hit while walking one and striking out one. Rieck, who suffered the loss, allowed one run on three hits while walking none and striking out two in three innings.

Rieck went 2-for-3 with three RBI and two runs, and Dougherty went 2-for-3 with a double and a run to lead Pipestone, which stranded six runners on base and went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Carl Johnson, Sam Bauer, Schulze and Gorter each added a hit.

Alfson, who went 0-for-4, might have recorded the hardest-hit ball of the tournament, a frozen-rope rocket that Eden Valley-Watkins' left fielder caught without having to move. The out ended the seventh inning with runners on first and second base.

"We had opportunities," Moffitt said. "We had them right where we wanted them a couple of times. They hit the ball hard, but we just couldn't get the key hit."

Pipestone didn't need a hit to beat Jordan on Saturday.

Schelhaas drew a four-pitch walk -- the lone walk issued by Jordan starting pitcher Tanner Oakes -- to lead off the fourth inning, and he eventually reached second base on a passed ball. With two outs, Dougherty hit a grounder to Jordan's shortstop, who blocked the ball with his chest, recovered quickly and fired wildly toward first base. The throw forced Jordan first baseman T.J. Oakes to leave the bag and field the ball on a hop. Schelhaas, meanwhile, never slowed down. He sprinted around third base and scored standing up.


In one of the biggest games of his life, Alfson produced one of the best pitching performances of his career. He allowed two hits while walking three, striking out eight and outdueling Tanner Oakes, the son of University of Minnesota pitching coach Todd Oakes. Only seven Jordan batters reached base, with just three advancing as far as second. Alfson did not allow a baserunner to reach third, and he held Jordan to an 0-for-4 mark with runners in scoring position.

Johnson, Rieck and Dougherty combined to record Pipestone's three hits in the game, but neither player advanced to second base.


Jordan 000 000 0 -- 0 2 1

Pipe. 000 100 x -- 1 3 1


Pipe. 020 100 0 -- 3 8 3

EV-W 000 210 1 -- 4 12 2


Kramer scores game-winner
Matt Huss/Daily Globe Eden Valley-Watkins' Kevin Kramer (left) reaches to touch the plate and record the game-winning run after crashing into Pipestone catcher Jon Gorter (right) during the bottom of the seventh inning of the Division II American Legion state baseball tournament championship game Sunday in Le Sueur.

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