DELANO — Litchfield was in prime position to advance to its first state baseball tournament, but Delano, its Highway 12 neighbor to the east, beat the Dragons twice Thursday on their home field to advance to state for the fifth straight year and ninth time overall.
The Tigers edged Litchfield 4-2 in the first game of the Section 5AA final before outslugging the Dragons 8-6 at a near full house at City Field, which hosted the state amateur baseball tournament last year.
“Tonight, we ran into a team that just played better than us,” said Litchfield Jeff Wollin. “We had a nice run. At the beginning of the season this wasn’t expected due to graduation losses.”
Delano will take a 16-9 into next week’s Class AA State Tournament at St. Cloud. The Dragons finish the season 14-10. Litchfield had won its first four games of the tournament, including a 6-4 win over Delano on Monday to reach the title game.
Delano 9, Litchfield 3
The Tigers put up five quick runs facing junior Ross Wendlandt, who had handcuffed them in the winner’s bracket final three days earlier. Austin Larson, who threw six innings in the opener, returned to the hill and wore out after a couple innings. Jake Schultz took over and after pitching out of a jam he inherited, he gave up a double to University of Minnesota Gophers recruit Toby Hanson, who hit six home runs in the section tournament. Hunter Hart followed with a two-run homer to Hunter Hart in the sixth for a 7-3 lead.
Brandon Behnke hit a shot over the fence in right-center in the second and Eddie Estrada homered to right in the fifth, his fifth round-tripper of the spring. Riley Johnson walked in the fifth and came around on a Schultz double to cap the Litchfield scoring.
Tyler Hannan went the distance for Delano, a four-hitter with two walks four strikeouts.
“They were more fired up than us,” said Behnke, who had his first home run of the spring. “We tried to get our two best pitchers out there today. Austin pitched really well (in the first game), but Ross was a little tired and didn’t have the pop like he did on Monday.
“But on the season, we couldn’t ask for more. It’s the best team I played with, skill-wise and personality-wise.”
Wollin added, “After seeing this team and how many good hitters they have and it makes it even more impressive what Ross did Monday. Delano has a tough lineup, hard to get through too many times. Ross came in and really battled today, even though he was probably tired, and Austin came back in to pitch in the second game and gave it his all.”
Delano 023 004 0 — 9 9 0
Litchfield 010 110 0 — 3 5 2
HITTING – Delano: Nate Meyers 1-3 rbi, Toby Hanson 1-3 2b runs-2, Hunter Hart 1-3 2-run hr rbi-2, Christian Triplett 2-5 rbi, Noah Stone 1-3 rbi, Ben Meyers 1-3 rbi, Brett Norling 3-4 2b rbi-3 … Litchfield: Eddie Estrada 2-3 solo hr rbi, Brandon Behnke 1-3 solo hr rbi, Jake Schultz 1-4 2b rbi, Andrew Schneider 1-3, Dylan Kotzer 0-1 sac fly
PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Delano: Tyler Hannan (W) 7-5-3-3-2-6 … Litchfield: Ross Wendlandt (L) 2.1-3-5-4-4-1, Austin Larson 2.2-4-1-1-0-2, Schultz 2-3-3-2-1-3
Delano 4, Litchfield 2
Toby Hanson led off the bottom of the sixth with a home run over the vines in right-center to snap a 2-2 tie that had held since the second.
The Dragons loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the seventh, but left them filled with no damage for the second time when Tigers’ reliever Hunter Hart whiffed Braeden Wahl, Hart’s third strikeout in his one inning of relief. The win went to freshman Jordan Schrammel, who silenced the Litchfield line-up on three hits over six innings.
Two of the hits came in first when the Dragons scored both their runs with two outs. Estrada singled sharply to center and after Wahl reached on the first of the Tigers’ seven infield errors scored on a Behnke single. Wahl took home on a wild pitch.
But that would be it. After that the Dragons would manage only a two-out infield single by Wahl.
Despite the 10 errors on the scoreboard there were some super defensive plays. Litchfield’s Cody Klabunde made an over-the-shoulder running catch nearing the left field fence to start a double play in the third and then made a diving catch to rob Christian Triplett of probable double to start the bottom of the fourth. Delano’s freshman second baseman Ben Meyers robbed Litchfield lead off hitter Jake Miller of a hit with the bases full in the third, stabbing a bouncer headed for right field.
Austin Larson kept the Dragons within striking distance. The senior lefty gave up seven hits to a powerful Tigers’ lineup, walked none and fanned three. Two of the Delano runs were unearned.
Litchfield 200 000 0 — 2 3 2
Delano 020 002 x — 4 7 5
HITTING – Litchfield: Eddie Estrada 1-for-2, bb, run; Braeden Wahl 1-for-3, run; Brandon Behrnke 1-for-3, rbi … Delano: Justin Oja 1-for-3, Toby Hanson 1-for-3, solo HR; Hunter Hart 2-for-3, 2b; Christian Triplett 1-for-3, run; Brady Miller 2-for-3, rbi; Noah Stone 0-for-2, SF, rbi
PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Litchfield: Austin Larson (L) 6-7-4-2-0-3 … Delano: Jordan Schrammel (W) 6-3-2-1-1-4, Hunter Hart (S) 1-0-0-0-1-3