WACONIA - The only thing standing in Willmar's way of a trip to the Section 6AAA finals was Waconia, the defending Class AAA state champions. No big deal, right?
Caleb Ditmarson certainly wasn't fazed. The senior right-hander tossed a one-hit gem to help the Cardinals top the Wildcats 3-0 and remain undefeated in postseason play.
The Cardinals will take on the winner of the losers bracket final between Benilde-St. Margaret's and Waconia at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Waconia.
Catcher Drey Dirksen provided the highlights at the plate with a pair of RBI doubles off the big blue wall at Lions park in Waconia. He drove in the game's first run, which proved to be the winning run, as well as the third run for insurance in the sixth inning.
Ditmarson maintained an air of control throughout the entire game and he set the tone early, setting down the first nine hitters he faced in straight order. The Wildcats lone hit came in the fourth inning on dribbler up the middle that snuck past the diving glove of shortstop Jon Broman. Waconia attempted to take advantage of the baserunner to start the inning by laying down a bunt, which ultimately landed runners on first and second base after a bobble from Ditmarson and a close call at first base.
Ditmarson was able to get three straight outs, however, to end the threat and keep Waconia off the board.
"My mindset was just to figure it out," said Ditmarson, who struck out nine batters. "Before, in the past couple of years, I'd complain about it in my mind a little bit, like 'Why is this happening?' But I just realized the best mindset is, whatever is happening, whatever the ump is calling, you just have to figure it out."
The rare times when Ditmarson had runners on the basepaths, he was efficient with his pitches, hitting the strike zone and forcing ground ball outs and easy pop flies.
"(Our goal was to) just hit the mitt, hit the spots, play defense and give it our all on the field," Dirksen said. "Ditty worked them, he worked on throwing strikes and our defense was just outstanding tonight."
Though the Cardinal offense has shown flashes of excellence this season, it hasn't always coincided with Ditmarson's starts.
"I was looking at a few stats earlier this year and the times I've started, we've scored seven runs and the other times our pitchers have started it's been in the twenties or thirties," Ditmarson said. "I've been getting on the guys like, 'Score me some runs,' and they came through big today. There's nothing better than that."
Waconia's Ethan Swanson was sharp on the mound for stretches of Monday's game but Dirksen proved to be his kryptonite. Swanson finished the game with the loss despite going the distance and allowing just five hits. He struck out nine batters and walked two.
Despite delivering the game-winning run in the fourth inning and another insurance run in the sixth inning, the stoic Dirksen remained calm as he trotted into second base and his teammates screamed and hollered from the dugout. Well, on the outside anyways.
"Inside I was happy," Dirksen said with a grin. "I don't really show emotions on the field but I was really happy. A lot of excitement."
The Cardinals have plenty of reasons to be excited as they head to the Section 6AAA final where they are one win away from reaching the Class AAA state tournament. Whoever Willmar's next opponent is will need to beat the Cardinals twice in order advance, which means Willmar is in the driver's seat.
Willmar 3, Waconia 0
Waconia 000 000 0-0 1 1
Willmar 000 201 x-3 5 1
Hitting - Waconia: Jaden Vanderhoff 1-3 ... Willmar: Jack Baumgart 1-3, Andy Schultz 0-2 r bb, Drey Dirksen 2-3 2b-2 rbi-2, Caleb Ditmarson 2-2
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Waconia: Ethan Swanson (L) 6-5-3-2-2-9 ... Willmar: Ditmarson (W) 7-1-0-0-2-9