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State Baseball: Pitching and prowess on bases leads Bulldogs to win

ST. CLOUD - In today's baseball, in which the home run is king, baserunning doesn't get its due. But in postseason games, smart plays on the bases are often the difference between winning and losing. In the 2004 postseason, Dave Roberts' baserunn...

Paynesville pitcher Grady Fuchs, left, and catcher Eric Johnson celebrate the Bulldogs' 3-2 win over Perham in the Class AA state quarterfinals on Thursday at Dick Putz Stadium in St. Cloud. Tom Larson / Tribune
Paynesville pitcher Grady Fuchs, left, and catcher Eric Johnson celebrate the Bulldogs' 3-2 win over Perham in the Class AA state quarterfinals on Thursday at Dick Putz Stadium in St. Cloud. Tom Larson / Tribune

ST. CLOUD - In today's baseball, in which the home run is king, baserunning doesn't get its due.

But in postseason games, smart plays on the bases are often the difference between winning and losing.

In the 2004 postseason, Dave Roberts' baserunning helped bring the Boston Red Sox their first World Series title since 1918. On Thursday, astute work on the base paths earned Paynesville its first state tournament win in 13 years.

Luke Johnson's bases-loaded bloop double in the third inning set in motion a series of throws and baserunning decisions that cleared the bases and helped the Bulldogs edge Perham 3-2 in the Class AA quarterfinals at Dick Putz Field.

"In playoff baseball, picking up that extra base, every base, means a lot," said Bulldogs head coach Brad Skoglund, whose team plays Duluth Marshall at noon Friday in the semifinals. "It's important during the season, too, but in the playoffs, against top-notch opponents, that extra base is huge."

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On Thursday, the third-inning chain of fortunate events was enough for Paynesville starting pitcher Grady Fuchs, who worked all seven innings and allowed one earned run on four hits and struck out seven.

Fuchs needed to be that fine against Perham left-hander Noah Rooney, who surrendered just the three third-inning runs and struck out 11.

Fuchs had trouble locating his fastball so he relied on breaking balls and guile.

"They have great hitters; they're a great-hitting team," Fuchs said. "I thought if I could mix up my slider with my curveball, fastball and two-seamer, I could get the job done and that's what I did."

"Grady is such a great competitor," Skoglund said. "He's always going to give it his best."

While Fuchs and Rooney were tearing through the batting orders, the Bulldogs were resting on Skoglund's advice before the season started.

"The goal all season was getting back here (to state), and to enjoy playing more than our opponents," said Skoglund, who led teams to state most recently in 2018 and 2016 but lost both games each of those years.

Those teams didn't practice well in the week leading up to the tournament and it showed in the Bulldogs' performances, he said.

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"This week, we had very good practices," Skoglund said. "The kids were dialed in this week."

So Paynesville players didn't panic after Rooney struck out the first four hitters he faced and Perham erased the Bulldogs' lone baserunner with a double play to end the second inning.

With one out in the third, Max Weidner walked, Zach Schroeder singled and both moved up on a passed ball. Levi Bast's ground ball to first froze the Perham first baseman, who ate the ball to fill the bases.

After a strikeout for the second out of the inning, Johnson came to the plate.

"It was an outside fastball that hit off the end of the bat, just poked it out there. It was lucky," Johnson said of the soft popup down the right field line. "I thought it was a foul ball but I was running down the line and saw that it was fair by literally six inches."

Weidner and Schroeder scored, and when the ball got loose on the play, Bast read the situation and dashed for home, diving under the tag of Perham catcher Carter Mulcahy.

"Taking that home plate from third by Levi was huge," Johnson said.

Perham got a run back in the bottom of the third when Sam Still tripled and scored on Mulcahy's double.

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In the seventh, a Perham double and a Paynesville error led to a run and put the tying run on third. Fittingly, Fuchs struck out his counterpart Rooney to end the game.

"We wanted to make sure to get the first (win) and keep rolling," Fuchs said. "We're not done yet."

Class AA

Quarterfinal

Paynesville 3,

Perham 2

Paynesville 003 000 0-3 6 2

Perham 001 000 1-2 4 2

Hitting - Paynesville: Luke Johnson 2-3 2b rbi-2, Grady Fuchs 2-3, Zach Schroeder 2-3 r, Max Weidner 0-2 r bb, Levi Bast 0-4 r ... Perham: Sam Still 1-3 3b r, Carter Mulcahy 1-3 2b rbi, Chayse Solberg 2-3

Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) - Paynesville: Grady Fuchs (W) 7-4-2-1-1-7 ... Perham: Noah Rooney (L) 7-6-3-3-1-11

Related Topics: BASEBALLPAYNESVILLE
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