Worthington VFW team advances to state
GRANITE FALLS -- Mitchell Jensen sprinted toward home plate, leaped into his catcher's arms, pumped his fist and shouted toward the sky. Moments later, as airhorns screamed in the background, the rest of Jensen's teammates joined in celebration o...
GRANITE FALLS -- Mitchell Jensen sprinted toward home plate, leaped into his catcher's arms, pumped his fist and shouted toward the sky.
Moments later, as airhorns screamed in the background, the rest of Jensen's teammates joined in celebration of the Worthington VFW baseball team's first trip to the state tournament since 2001.
Moments earlier, Jensen induced a flyout to secure Worthington's 11-1, six-inning victory over Tracy in the District 3 VFW Final Four championship game.
After receiving a prolonged hug from his father, a teary-eyed Jensen was at a loss for words.
"I can't describe it," he said. "It's crazy."
In his second start against Tracy in three days, Jensen was phenomenal. He allowed just three hits and no earned runs while striking out four to earn the complete-game victory.
On Saturday, Jensen allowed six runs -- five earned -- on nine hits in Worthington's 7-6 win over Tracy in the first round of the Final Four.
Tracy had already seen Jensen, and it knew he was starting Monday.
It didn't matter.
Using an overpowering fastball and a sharp-breaking curveball, Jensen stifled Tracy's hitters Monday, allowing just two baserunners to advance as far as third base.
The lack of rest didn't seem to be a factor, either. The first thing Jensen did after Worthington's 6-5 loss to Tracy on Sunday was ask Worthington coach Ryan Weber for the start on Monday.
"He asked me right away after the game -- he even wanted it (Sunday)," Weber said. "I think when any ballplayer wants the ball in their hands, that's all you can ask. When a kid wants the ball, you have to trust them because they trust themselves."
A little bit of extra motivation didn't hurt, either.
After Sunday's game, a Tracy fan celebrated the victory by running around the stadium and blowing an airhorn. Worthington's players viewed the act as a sign of disrespect.
"I knew it was probably all in good fun, but the players felt disrespected because it was a good game -- it wasn't like they blew us out," Weber said. "I think it was some extra motivation, but I also think the players knew we had a chance (Sunday) night to close the door and we didn't.
"Tonight, they didn't want to leave any doubt."
After the first two Worthington batters went down in order in the top of the second inning, Justin Larson and Ethan Duffy were plunked on back-to-back pitches. Jensen followed by lacing the first pitch of his at-bat into the gap in left-center field for an RBI double.
In the bottom of the frame, Jensen retired the first two Tracy batters in order, but a walk, an error and back-to-back singles allowed Tracy to tie the score. Jensen then struck out Alex Jones with the bases loaded to end the threat.
Worthington answered with two more runs in the third. Kirk McBreen led off with a walk, advanced to second on a passed ball and moved to third on a Steven Kremer groundout. Cody Melendrez followed with an RBI single, and he moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Adam Munkel. Stuart Rogers hit a high pop fly into short right field, but it was dropped by Tracy's second baseman, allowing Melendrez to score from second.
After Jensen was hit by a pitch to lead off the fourth, Tracy starting pitcher Taylor Hoffbeck was relieved in favor of Eric Carter.
Carter then walked Octavio Jimenez and hit McBreen with a pitch to load the bases. Carter was pulled after facing just two batters in favor of reliever Zach Campbell, who hit Kremer, the first batter he faced, with an 0-2 pitch to allow a run to score. Melendrez followed with a sacrifice fly to drive in Worthington's fifth run.
Two walks, an error and a Jimenez double led to three unearned runs for Worthington in the fifth, and Larson delivered a two-run double in the sixth to give Post 3958 a 10-run advantage.
It was more than enough for Jensen.
"Jensen did a great job. He was around the plate, and I give him a lot of credit," Tracy coach Bob Dolan said. "But we gave the game away. It should have been a good game, but it wasn't. We played poorly. We just killed ourselves."
Five Tracy pitchers combined to issue four walks, hit seven batters and allow eight hits.
"It was do or die," said Kremer, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI. "We came in playing loose, and when we play loose, we play our best. And, how can't you be angry? They barely beat us (Sunday), and they're bragging about it. We were going to come back and do the same thing."
Melendrez went 1-for-2 with two RBIs, and Larson went 1-for-2 with two RBIs and three runs for Worthington, which will open the state tournament Thursday, Aug. 7.
Tournament information will be released today.
"They made a big mistake with that airhorn thing," said Jensen, who went 2-for-4 with two doubles, two runs and an RBI. "That's the kind of stuff that ticks me off, and it really motivated us."
While Worthington's victory definitely was sweet, Weber, who received a Gatorade shower after the game, said his team is far from satisfied.
"When we got fully loaded after the high school season ended, I said we could beat anybody; I knew we were good enough to go to state," Weber said. "Right now, we're one of the nine best teams in the state, but we're not satisfied yet by any means."
Worthington advanced to state in both 2000 and 2001. It lost all three games in 2000 and won its first game in 2001 before losing its next two.
R H E
Worth. 012 233 -- 11 8 2
Tracy 010 000 -- 1 3 3