Baseball: Rocori stuns Willmar in 8AAA playoffs
Spartans stay alive with 7-5 win, dropping Cardinals into 8AAA elimination bracket
WILLMAR — In a do-or-die situation, Rocori was going to go down swinging.
Two days after a 9-4 loss to No. 4 Sauk Rapids in the opening round of the Section 8AAA baseball tournament, the No. 3 Spartans weren’t happy with their approach at the plate.
“We thought on Tuesday that we weren’t aggressive and we talked about going up there today with an aggressive game plan,” said Rocori head coach Jeff Illies.
Putting up three runs in the top of the first inning against top-seeded Willmar set the tone for the rest of Thursday afternoon. The Spartans strung together 13 hits in a 7-5 victory against the Cardinals at Bill Taunton Stadium.
“I firmly believe that our section is the toughest in the state of Minnesota,” Illies said. “You never know what’ll happen, so we got to play and take care of business. That’s a dang good team over there (in Willmar) and it helped that we got up early and we found a way to hang on.”
Falling to the elimination bracket, the Cardinals face Sauk Rapids at 11 a.m. Saturday in St. Cloud, with the winner Alexandria at 2 p.m. at the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex. Rocori plays Little Falls, also at 11 a.m. Saturday in St. Cloud.
Swinging early in the count on Willmar starting pitcher Cayden Hansen, the Spartans strung together four straight singles from Joel Sowada, Brady Blattner, Brady Schafer and Peyton Randall. Sowada scored on Schafer’s hit, Blattner scored on a Cole Fuchs grounder, and Schafer reached home on a Cardinal error.
“Knowing who we were playing, we had to get on early pitches in the count and if you see something straight, you gotta put the ball in play,” Blattner said. “That’s what everyone was doing; they were putting the ball in play hard and aggressively.”
Some patience at the plate got the Cardinals a run in the bottom of the first when Mason Madsen drew a bases-loaded walk.
But hits were hard to come by for Willmar over the first three innings. Fuchs got the start for Rocori and got five strikeouts with seven walks over five innings. Four of those punch-outs came with Willmar looking.
“He’s deceptively quick and I think he hides the ball well,” Illies said. “He’d be the first to tell you that he didn’t have his best stuff. In four of the seven innings, we let the leadoff guy on and that’s usually a recipe for disaster. But both Cole and (reliever) Tyler Lardy, they hung in there.”
Hansen collected Willmar’s first hit with a leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth. He’d eventually reach home on a groundout by Sergio Fernandez. Later in the inning, Mason Madsen tied the game at 3-3 after scoring on a wild pitch.
Going into the top of the fifth, Blattner brought the momentum back to Rocori with a solo home run to left field. Two more runs came later in the fifth on Willmar’s third error of the game.
“He started me with a slider on the outer half and I had pretty good confidence that he was going to come with something hard on the inside half,” said Blattner, who finished 2-for-4. He’s set to play baseball at St. Cloud Technical & Community College.
“I predicted him right and jumped all over it.”
Said Illies, “For (Blattner) to go in and get the momentum back on our side … if you can keep it on your side, good things happen.”
Hansen got hit with the loss after striking out four with 10 hits and one walk allowed over five innings.
“Cayden pitched a decent game and battled back after falling behind, which was good to see,” said Willmar head coach Tom DeBoer. “They were able to come back with a couple and make us play from behind again.”
The Cardinals added two runs in the sixth with a Jason Malmgren sacrifice fly and an Alex Schramm RBI single. Down by two in the bottom of the seventh, Willmar had runners on first and second with no outs. But Lardy was able to strike out Madsen and Carter Schow, then force Fernandez into a popup for the final out.
DeBoer lamented the opportunities his team left out on the base paths. Willmar left the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, then had six runners stranded over the final three innings.
“We had opportunities to drive in runs and we didn’t do that today,” DeBoer said. “It’s important you put the ball in play and I don’t think we did that enough today. We gave them a couple extra runs by misplaying balls in the field and not knocking down balls when we needed to.”
In other Section 8AAA action Thursday, No. 2 Alexandria scored a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against No. 4 Sauk Rapids. Alexandria pulled ahead for good in the sixth inning following a leadoff solo home run by Jaxon Schoenrock. Then in an elimination game, No. 6 Little Falls beat No. 5 Detroit Lakes 12-8.
Rocori 7, Willmar 5
Rocori 300 031 0-7 13 2
Willmar 100 202 0-5 4 3
Hitting - Rocori: Jack Spanier 1-5 2b, Joel Sowada 2-4 r-2 sb, Brady Blattner 2-4 hr r-2 rbi, Brady Schafer 3-3 r-2 rbi bb, Peyton Randall 1-3 r, Cole Fuchs 1-4 rbi-2 sb, Evan Acheson 2-4 2b, Thad Lieser 1-3 bb … Willmar: Alex Schramm 1-2 rbi bb sb-2, Cayden Hansen 1-3 r bb, Mason Madsen 1-2 r rbi bb-2, Sergio Fernandez 1-3 rbi bb, Brandt Sunder 0-3 r bb, Carter Schow 0-2 r bb, Jason Malmgren 0-0 rbi
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Rocori: Fuchs (W) 5-2-4-3-7-5, Tyler Lardy 2-2-1-1-2-2 … Willmar: Hansen (L) 5-10-6-3-1-4, Sam Etterman 2-3-1-1-1-2