Lac qui Parle Valley (Minnesota) wins again to reach Class A baseball final
CHASKA -- So many dramatic twists and comedic turns have been played out in the Lac qui Parle Valley baseball team's season that it was fitting that head coach Bart Hill would liken the Eagles to a popular yet fictional band of misfits and believers who came out on top in the end.
"Never, never, never would have believed it would come down to this," said a jubilant Hill after his Eagles defeated Browerville 4-1 on Friday to secure a spot in Monday's Class A championship game at Target Field.
"We're like the 'Bad News Bears'," he said. "We're not flashy but we keep working and getting the job done. I don't think you could script everything that's happened with this team this year. It's crazy."
The latest episode, which aired Friday at Chaska Athletic Park, involved Hill having to rewrite his take on one of his starting pitchers, and one of his long-running main characters -- a hard-working, stocky catcher who seems like he sweats infield dirt -- playing the star once again.
LQPV right-hander Ben Morken worked a solid seven innings, allowing five hits and striking out five, and working out of jams in the fourth and fifth innings after the Eagles had built a three-run lead.
Eagles catcher Preston Kraft singled in two of his team's three runs in the third, and he "drove" in an insurance run in the top of the seventh, taking an errant delivery from Browerville's Mitch Heid off his left arm with the bases loaded to make it 4-1.
"I never thought we'd make it to this point," said Kraft, who led the Eagles into the state tournament with a .459 average, 31 RBIs, 12 doubles and tied teammate Sam Haas with 5 home runs. "We weren't playing well at times during the season but once the playoffs started, we started clicking."
After Morken threw a no-hitter to open the season, LQPV won just three times in its first eight games, prompting Hill to send some starters to the bench and some younger into the regular lineup in a search for offense. But the team psyche didn't crack and the Eagles took off.
But Haas, expected to be one of the team's top pitchers, injured his arm and had to stay off the mound. That left the bulk of the work to Morken and Brandon Bornhorst, a 2-1 winner over Ely in Thursday's opening round.
"We knew we were a good team but we got off to a shaky start," said Morken, who perhaps personified the team's struggles, entering the state tournament with a 4-3 record and a 4.33 earned-run average. "I thought maybe our sails would deflate, but Bart switched things around and that gave us confidence. We go into every game knowing we can win."
With the offense revived, Bornhorst and Morken settled in, posting two shutouts and allowing just a run in two other games in the section playoffs.
"I told Ben that his (5-0) win over Windom in the sections (last week) was the best game of his life," Hill said. "Who knew that a week later, in the biggest game in this school's history, he'd give up only one run. Unbelievable."
Morken kept the Tigers off balance with a biting curveball and a dipping change up. Both Kraft and center fielder Haas, who had the best looks a Morken's work, said his performance was exemplary.
"The last four games he's been dead-on," Kraft said. "He never misses his mark. I set up and he hits it 95 percent of the time."
"Before the game, he said he was calm and relaxed ... unless he was lying to us," Haas said with a smile. "He blew me away today. He was on fire, controlling the mound."
"I just learned to relax, take deep breaths and not get too hyper and bent our of shape," said Morken, who threw 111 pitches, 72 for strikes. "Right off the bat, my curve was dropping for strikes and my changeup was just dying."
Even as late as May, Hill wasn't convinced his Eagles had come together sufficiently to make a strong playoff run. He talked to his team leaders about ways to spark the team, and he decided to vow to shave his hair into a Mohawk if the Eagles won their section.
So there he stood, the sides of his head buzzed to the scalp, as removed his hat during the National Anthem.
"It seemed like a safe bet at the time," Hill said. "I don't know how to explain this, honest to God."
Hill, who has coached the Eagles for 17 years, had taken teams to six section finals before finally winning a title this season. Now, he has the Eagles one step from an even bigger prize.
"It was a sad deal for Bart, I guess," Morken said. "This year, we made it and we've just kept it rolling."
Class A semifinals
LQPV 4, Browerville 1
LQPV 003 000 1 -- 4 6 1
Browerville 000 100 0 -- 1 5 2
HITTING - LQPV: Colby Siegert 2-for-4 r, Dylan Erickson 0-2 r, Sam Haas 1-for-2 rbi sf, Preston Kraft 1-for-3 rbi-2, Paul Blom 1-for-3, Brandon Hill 1-for-2 r ... Browerville: Austin Host 1-for-3, Mitch Heid 1-for-4, Kyle Petermeier 2-for-3 rbi
PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) -- LQPV: Ben Morken (W) 7-5-1-1-2-5 ... Browervile: Heid (L) 7-6-4-4-4-7
Class A consolation
New York Mills 5, BOLD 1
The BOLD Warriors' state tournament run came to an end Friday in a 5-1 loss to New York Mills in the consolation semifinals at the Mini Met in Jordan.
New York Mills broke open a scoreless game with four runs in the third inning on pitcher Brandon Kupfer's grand slam. BOLD broke up Kupfer's shutout with a run in the seventh.
Riley Kramer, Zach Remillard, Tyler Seehusen and Trent Athmann had the Warriors' four hits. Nick Steffel drove in Remillard with a sacrifice fly. Pitcher Logan Sangren took the loss.
BOLD 000 000 1 -- 1 4 1
N.Y. Mills 004 100 x -- 5 4 2
HITTING - BOLD: Riley Kramer 1-for-3, Zach Remillard 1-for-2 r, Tyler Seehusen 1-for-3, Nick Steffel 0-for-0 rbi sf ... New York Mills: Brandon Kupfer 1-for-4 rbi-4 r
PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) -- BOLD: Logan Sangren (L) 4-4-5-5-5-5, Kramer 2-0-0-0-0-3 ... New York Mills: Kupfer (W) 7-4-1-0-1-3