BOLD got what it wanted: A crack at defending its Class A championship.
This season, the Warriors took a route back to the state tournament that, in many ways, was familiar and in others a little off the beaten path.
The 2013 champ will open its third-straight state tournament against Red Lake County at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Class A quarterfinals at Chaska Athletic Park.
The 21-3 Warriors got there in much the same way they tore through the postseason last season: Their big bats came through at big moments and Logan Sandgren pitched his brains out.
But it was the games Sandgren didn’t pitch that made this Warriors team unique from the two state qualifiers that preceded it.
Riley Kramer, staff ace 1A last season, hasn’t thrown a pitch this season as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury suffered in the fall.
In his place has stepped a collection of arms that weren’t vital to the team’s success a year ago, but will be should the Warriors hope to repeat.
During their 2013 run, Sandgren and Kramer were Koufax and Drysdale, winning all eight postseason games, posting five shutouts, three no-hitters and allowing just seven runs. Sandgren finished the season 6-0 with a 1.08 earned-run average and Kramer was 6-1 with a 1.92 ERA.
Sandgren has been even better this spring. He’s 9-0 with a 0.63 ERA, two saves, a perfect game and a no-hitter. Last year, the lefty averaged 1.3 strikeouts per inning. This year, he bumped that to 1.72 Ks per inning.
But with Kramer limited to an impressively productive spring playing third base, Brett Grund, Lane Stadther, Trevor Nissen and, in the last couple of games, veteran catcher Trent Athmann, have taken the ball and twirled it effectively.
“Trevor, Grund, they’ve stepped up huge,” said BOLD head coach Brian Kingery, who said Athmann will pitch the team’s second tournament game. “Athmann has done a great job with two starts in the playoffs. And for him to pitch, we need a catcher and Joel Erickson has been great stepping into that spot.”
Grund is 4-0 with a 2.78 ERA in almost 28 innings. Stadther is 2-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 11 innings. Nissen is 3-2 with a 2.20 ERA in almost 29 innings. Add in Athmann’s two wins and 2.80 ERA in 15 innings and the foursome is 11-2 with an ERA under 2.30 in 82.1 innings. And not to be forgotten is Austin Weis. The Warriors everyday left fielder, who didn’t pitch last season, is 1-1 on the mound this year but has a 1.83 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 7.2 innings.
Last year, Grund, Stadther, Nissen and Athmann were a combined, 3-2 with a 3.29 ERA in just 33 innings.
“It’s been tough (with Kramer sidelined),” Sandgren said. “But at the same time, we have a lot of guys who can come in and be good in the clutch at any moment.”
That was never more important than this season, when the Warriors suffered a loss to Sleepy Eye-St. Mary’s in the second round of the Section 2A playoffs. That setback in the double-elimination playoffs meant BOLD would have to win six elimination games in an eight-day span – including four games in three days – just to make it back to the state tournament.
“After that point, they knew there was no room for mistakes, for any defeats,” Kingery said. “They focused up and played their best baseball.”
Sandgren’s a horse but he couldn’t do that alone, even if pitching rules permitted it. But the Warriors’ pitching committee came through big.
The Warriors’ offense eased the load in the first two games, scoring 23 runs in wins over Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity and Janesville-Waldorf-Pembleton. Sandgren beat LPHT and Athmann worked the five innings needed to set down JWP 13-1.
Two days later, in the key game of the season to date, Sandren got revenge by bouncing No. 5-ranked Sleepy Eye-St. Mary’s from the tournament, allowing three hits and striking out 13 in a 1-0 win. Later in the day, starter Nissen and winning pitcher Grund both logged 3.1 innings in a 5-3 win over No. 11 Mankato Loyola. Sandgren got the final out for the save.
On June 5, needing two wins over Class A’s top-ranked team, New Ulm Cathedral, to keep the season alive, Sandgren struck out 10 in five innings and allowed one earned run in an 11-4 Game One victory. In the section final, Athmann went four innings and Grund two – with Sandgren working the final inning for another save – in an 8-6 win.
“We played a lot of quality opponents throughout the section tournament,” Kingery said. “Hopefully that will prepare us to make a run at another title.”
Experience might explain the cool calculus involved in such a pressurized run, but Sandgren figures it’s more rudimentary.
“I don’t think it’s so much being there before, it’s more about having great athletes,” Sandgren said. “It’s unbelievable how athletic the guys in out (top two) grades are. All the guys can play anywhere.”