WACONIA - Willmar third baseman Caleb Ditmarson doesn't remember throwing the ball across the diamond to end Wednesday's game, but it will be a moment—and a night—that will never be forgotten.
The Willmar Cardinals are bound for the state tournament for the first time since 1987 after topping Benilde-St. Margaret's 3-2 in the Section 6AAA championship Wednesday evening at Lions Field.
The Cards open the Class AAA state tournament on June 14 at Siebert Field on the University of Minnesota campus.
Ditmarson, who was magnificent in a one-hit shutout against Waconia Monday night to help the Cardinals reach the section championship, fielded the game's final two outs, bobbling the final before sending a strike across the diamond to first baseman and fellow senior Jack Baumgart.
"I was nervous and confident at the same time," said Ditmarson, who also drove in what proved to be the game's winning run with an RBI single in the first inning. "I wanted him to hit it to me because as a fielder that's how you feel. I wanted the chance and I bobbled the last one and kind of freaked out but I got it and from there it was all excitement. I don't remember throwing it. I remember right after throwing my glove in the air and everything, but during the play, I don't remember that really at all. It's just fun."
The on-field celebrations featured a seemingly endless supply of water coolers dumped on players and coaches. Starting pitcher Brady Bauman, however, took the brunt of the celebration from his teammates.
The senior starter has been limited to only pitching after tearing his ACL just days before the start of the season but came up big Wednesday, tossing five innings to earn the win from the mound in an efficient outing, allowing just four hits and two runs to the top-seeded Red Knights.
"Brady stepping his game up on the mound this year, that's something he didn't have a couple of years ago," Willmar head coach Tom DeBoer said. "He was more of just an outfielder and a spot reliever and him growing into that role of a good starting pitcher, that gave us the extra guy to get us through the section."
Bauman struck out one batter and relied on his defense, which showed up in full force. Center fielder Jayden Dierenfeld and left fielder Caleb Owens made back-to-back diving catches to start the fourth inning.
"Jayden and Caleb are two of the most athletic kids on our team and anytime I see a fly ball to the outfield I know I've got somebody under it," Bauman said. "To watch them make those plays, I know everybody is hooting and hollering but that's just another play for those guys. That's routine for them."
Those proved to be big outs for the Cardinals. Moments later Henry Wolfe hit a solo home run to bring the game to 3-2.
Pitching and fielding have been the keys for the Cardinals this season and DeBoer added that timely hitting has been one of the differences in the postseason. Wednesday afternoon it was catcher Drey Dirksen yet again.
Dirksen drove in the game's first two runs with an RBI single to the right side of the field, two days after driving in a pair of runs in a 3-0 win against Waconia. He scored the game's winning run on a hit-and-run from first that Ditmarson snuck past the second baseman who left his post to cover the bag.
"Drey carried us through the playoffs at the plate," DeBoer said. "The work he does behind the plate is worth 1,000 hits, but the hits he came up with in the playoffs were all clutch. Almost every one of his hits drove in runs. We wouldn't be here without him."
Bryan Weidemann tossed the game's final two innings and was lights out from the moment he stepped on the rubber. He allowed just one walk in two hitless innings while having to go through the middle of the order. He picked off the one batter that reached by a walk to end the sixth inning and the crowd was electric.
"I talked to Bryan at practice the other day and I told him, 'I want you on the mound to send us to the state tournament because you have been that guy for us all season and to deliver in the clutch on the mound,' " DeBoer said. "He kind of just nodded his head and accepted the challenge. He went out there focused and throwing strikes. He was so good."
Weidemann is one of a number of Cardinals who competed in the VFW State Tournament two years ago, also coached by DeBoer. The majority of the Cardinals have played together since youth baseball and are making their mark on Willmar High School by reaching the first state tournament for the school in 31 years.
"I was six years old," DeBoer said. "Thirty-one years ago. It feels good. I just think about the football team and the basketball team and they've been so close the last couple of years to going to state the last couple of years. Just to be able to represent our school and for these guys to make it there after all that we've been through: the practices, the five weeks in the gym this year, the number of games I've coached these guys in the summer, the pitches I've thrown in batting practice this week alone has to be over a thousand. I'm so proud and I'm happy."
Willmar 3, BSM 2
Willmar 300 000 0-3 7 0
Benilde-SM 100 100 0-2 4 4
Hitting - Willmar: Jon Broman 1-4 3b, Jack Baumgart 0-2 r, Andy Schultz 2-4 r, Drey Dirksen 1-3 rbi r, Caleb Ditmarson 1-3 rbi, Zak Madsen 2-3 ... Benilde-St. Margaret's: Henry Wolfe 1-3 hr rbi r, Zachary Carden 1-2 rbi
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Willmar: Brady Bauman (W) 5-4-2-1-2-1, Bryan Weidemann (Sv) 2-0-0-0-1-2 ... Benilde-St. Margaret's: Carden (L) 7-7-3-3-2-7
Thunder Bay 2,
For the second time in three nights, the Willmar Stingers ran into buzzsaw pitching and the results were predictable.
Thunder Bay's Alexander Nolan and Andrew Gross limited Willmar to three hits and they struck out eight Stingers in a Northwoods League game on Wednesday in Thunder Bay.
The Stingers managed just four hits in a 7-1 loss to Mankato on Monday.
Willmar's John Trousdale drove in Jaxon Hallmark for the Stingers' lone run in the seventh inning.
Willmar starter Trevor Divinski took a tough loss, allowing just two runs on six hits over seven innings. He didn't issue a walk and struck out six. Reliever Bryant Claunch worked a scoreless eighth inning.
Willmar dropped to 5-4 and wrap up a two-game set at Thunder Bay at 6:05 p.m. Thursday before moving onto Duluth for games on Friday and Saturday.
Willmar 000 000 100-1 3 0
Thunder Bay 000 110 00x-2 7 0
Hitting - Willmar: Jaxon Hallmark 1-4 r, Tyler Reichenborn 1-4, John Trousdale 0-3 rbi, Richie Garcia 1-3 ... Thunder Bay: Billy Cook 4-4 rbi r, Brady Gulakowski 1-3 rbi
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Willmar: Trevor Divinski (L) 7-6-2-2-0-6, Bryant Claunch 1-1-0-0-0-0 ... Thunder Bay: Alexander Nolan (W) 8-3-1-1-0-5, Andrew Gross (Sv) 1-0-0-0-0-3
Starbuck 5, Paynesville 2
Austin Versteeg's two-run home run in the top of the first inning set the tone and Starbuck defeated Paynesville in a County Line League game on Wednesday.
Starbuck's Mike Andreas also homered, and three Stars pitchers combined to keep the Pirates off the scoreboard until the ninth inning.
Starbuck 201 002 000-5 10 1
Paynesville 000 000 002-2 4 1
Hitting - Starbuck: Justin Amundson 1-5, Mike Andreas 2-4 hr rbi r-2, Austin Versteeg 3-4 hr rbi-2 r-2, Andrew Toop 2-4 2b r, Colin Richards 0-4 rbi, Jackson Hendrickson 2-4 rbi ... Paynesville: Brandt Hubert 1-4, Grady Fuchs 1-4, Zach Schroeder 1-2, Caden Spanier 1-1
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Starbuck: Richards (W) 7-1-0-0-1-7, Brian Gruber 1-2-0-0-0-1, Michael Gruber 1-1-2-0-2-2 ... Paynesville: Andrew Kerzman (L) 6-9-5-4-1-0, Austin Imholte 3-1-0-0-2-2
SH 6, Lamberton 4
Trent Novotny had two hits and drove in two runs and Jeremy Hinderks doubled and drove in two as Sacred Heart downed Lamberton on Wednesday night.
Dalton Struxness worked a complete game, allowing two earned runs and striking out five to get the win.
Lamberton 001 210 000-4 8 1
Sacred Heart 210 030 00x-6 10 3
Hitting - Lamberton: Neil Eichten 3-4 r ... Sacred Heart: Trent Novotny 2-2 2b rbi-2 r-2, Ryan Hebrink 1-4 2b r, Jeremy Hinderks 1-3 2b rbi-2 r, Jose Ortiz 2-4, Nate Hebrink 0-2 rbi, Shane Freiborg 3-4 r, Brady Holwerda 1-3 r
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Lamberton: Josh Hadley 2-3-3-3-3-2, Brady Bierl (L) 6-7-3-3-2-1 ... Sacred Heart: Dalton Struxness (W) 9-8-4-2-3-5
Hutchinson 11, SH/M 4
A seven-run fourth inning put Hutchinson in control of a Legion baseball game against Sacred Heart/MACCRAY on Monday in Hutchinson.
SH/M's Jack Howard had three hits and drove in three runs.
SH/M 000 040 0-4 7 2
Hutchinson 102 710 x-11 9 2
Hitting - Sacred Heart/MACCRAY: Jacob Grund 0-4 rbi r, Jack Howard 3-4 2b rbi-3, Tony Froland 1-4, Corbin Wohlman 1-2, Braden Hoekstra 1-2, Andrew Miller 1-2 r ... Hutchinson: Brady Zackrison 2-2 2b rbi-4 r-2, Dan Vandesteeg 1-2 hr rbi-3 r, Dan Lyons 2-2 2b rbi r
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Sacred Heart/MACCRAY: Eli Aaker (L) 3-4-3-2-4-1, Corbin Wohlman 1-4-7-3-4-0, Jacob Grund 2-1-1-1-3-1 ... Hutchinson: Dan Lyons (W) 4-2-0-0-1-5, Jordan Stenzel 2-3-4-0-2-1, Jeremiah Vandesteeg 1-2-0-0-0-0