JORDAN — The hopes of the Willmar Cardinals baseball team winning the Class AAA state title possibly could be described in the final out of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, soaring high in the cloudless bright blue sky, the Cards’ hopes dropped rapidly and into the glove of a St. Thomas Academy outfielder at the Mini Met Field.
The Cardinals saw their season come to a close against the defending AAA champions with a 16-9 loss to the Cadets on Tuesday.
St. Thomas (18-9) made the majority of its impact felt in the first three innings with the Cadets scoring a total of 11 runs. It helped put an end to the top-seeded Cardinals’ season.
“St. Thomas Academy came out and just hit the ball really well,” Cardinals coach Tom DeBoer said. “They put a lot of pressure on us on the bases and we were able to come up and answer that early and eventually (we) just kind of ran out of gas.
“We needed a couple more timely hits for us to fall early on but it just didn’t happen.”
Willmar seniors Andrew Baumgart and Hunter Magnuson attempted to keep the Cardinals close.
Magnuson was one of two Cardinals batters who went 3 of 4 at the plate. He recorded three runs, two RBI and a walk. The senior also pitched for the Cardinals in the ninth, giving up no runs or walks, strucking two batters.
“I feel like we could have played better. We made some mistakes and they capitalized on those mistakes,” Magnuson said. “But, we played a good game, scored nine runs on 13 hits; (we) couldn’t ask for anything better under the circumstances.”
Magnuson described what led to his success at the plate.
“I was just kind of staying patient and waiting for my pitch, waiting until I see the ball and put the barrel on the ball and hoping for a good outcome,” he said.
As for Baumgart, he pitched the first two innings before being replaced by junior Ian Koosman to start the third. Baumgart gave up nine hits and six runs, struck out two and walked one. At the plate, Baumgart went 2 of 4 and scored a run.
“I’m proud of the way we battled today,” Baumgart said. “Ideally, me giving up six runs in two innings wasn’t the plan that we were looking for. But, we put up five (runs) in those two innings. That felt good.
“We battled for most of the game. Even heading into the seventh we never gave up. Kind of the message being to not let this day define us because we are 22-3 and section champs, conference champs. So, there’s still a lot of good stuff for us to look at in terms of this year.”
The Cadets came determined to pull off the upset and make a run at re-claiming the title, notching three runs to start off the first inning.
Willmar answered with three runs of its own in the bottom of the first, firing up the Willmar fans and bringing back some spark into the dugout.
Heading into the second, the Cadets scored another three runs to take a 6-3 lead.
“(St. Thomas Academy) is just very solid at the plate,” said Baumgart, a North Dakota State recruit. “I mean, I didn’t have terrible stuff today. I was down at the knees most of the time. Even the pitching coach said: ‘You were at the knees, they were just hitting the ball’ ... It is what it is. Stuff like that happens. It’s baseball.”
The Cardinals would ignite another spark by scoring two runs and narrowing the deficit to 6-5 heading into the third inning.
With Koosman on the mound, things went south fast after his first official pitch hit Cadets’ batter Michael Miller in the back.
St. Thomas Academy notched five runs on three hits, two coming from a two-run homer by Gavin Englebert, to take an 11-5 lead.
Following the home run, DeBoer pulled Koosman for Sam Etterman, who pitched 3⅓ innings for the Cardinals.
“They just put the ball in play a lot and there were a couple of plays that we didn’t make in the field that cost us,” DeBoer said. “That five-run was a tough one to come back from, especially after we answered back in the first, answered back in the second. To keep looking up at the scoreboard and seeing yourself behind was tough.”
The Cardinals scored one run in the fourth but gave up two runs in the fifth before scoring two of their own to keep the deficit at five.
St. Thomas Academy widened its lead in the top of the sixth with three runs, taking a 16-8 lead.
The Cardinals attempted to make a late run, scoring once before the final out came on a catch in the outfield. The loss ended Willmar’s nine-game winning streak.
DeBoer talked about what being the head coach meant to him.
“You can’t say enough,” he said. “Conference champs, section champs. To come here and play here, it means a lot and it’s a great accomplishment. I’m happy for everything that we’ve done this year.”
For the five seniors; Baumgart, Magnuson, Dylan Arndorfer, Jett Salonek and Chase Dirksen, Tuesday’s loss brings an end to their Willmar Cardinal careers.
“I love those guys, they’re all my best buddies,” Magnuson said. “It’s going to suck not taking the field with them any more. But we definitely cherished this last game together.”
Baumgart added his own thoughts.
“I loved every second of it,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be a part of that 2018 state tournament team. And not having a season last year really kind of helped fuel a fire for this team. And these are some of the best times that I’ve ever had. I’ll cherish these days forever.”
To DeBoer, this group of seniors will go down as one of the best classes he has coached in his seven years as head coach.
“Our five seniors this year were good leaders and good ball players,” he said. “We’re going to miss them.”
However, DeBoer added that the future continues to look brightl.
“The future is looking really good,” he said. “Next year we’re going to have a roster full of seniors and we’re hoping to be back here again.”
St. Thomas Academy 16,
St. Thomas Academy 335 023 0-16 17 2
Willmar 320 120 1-9 13 3
Hitting - St. Thomas Academy: Tristin Thilmany 3-3 r-4 bb sb, Joseph Middleton 2-3 r-2 rbi-2 sb, Benjamin Taxdahl 4-4 rbi-2 r-5 bb 2b, Angelo Pacyga 0-3 r bb-2, Gavin Engelbert 3-4 r rbi-4 bb hr, Robert Cunningham 2-4 rbi-4 Asa Rapp 1-4, Michael Miller 1-4 r-2 hbp sb-2, Jordan Young 1-4 r 2b. Willmar: Jett Salonek 0-4 r bb, Hunter Magnuson 3-4 r-3 rbi-2 bb, Ian Koosman 1-4 r hbp, Andrew Baumgart 2-4 r, Sam Etterman 1-2 rbi-3 bb, Dylan Arndorfer 0-3 bb, Alex Schramm 2-3 rbi-2, Brandt Sunder 1-2 r-2, Cayden Hansen 3-4 r rbi 2b.
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - St. Thomas Academy: Michael Miller 2-3-5-2-4-1, Tristin Thilmany (W) 5-10-4-4-1-1 Willmar: Andrew Baumgart (L) 2-9-6-6-1-2, Koosman ⅔-3-5-4-1-2, Sam Etterman 3 ⅓-5-5-4-3-2, Magnuson 1-0-0-0-0-2
Class AAA tournament
(at the Mini Met, Jordan)
St. Thomas Academy 16, Willmar 9
Grand Rapids 6, Marshall 2
Sartell 3, Albert Lea 2.
Mahtomedi 2, Sauk Rapids 0
(at the Mini Met, Jordan)
St. Thomas Academy (18-9) vs. No. 5 Grand Rapids (18-7), noon
No. 2 Sartell (22-3) vs. No. 3 Mahtomedi (18-5), 2:30 p.m.
Semifinal losers, 5 p.m.
(at Target Field, Minneapolis)
Semifinal winners, 4 p.m.