PREP BASEBALL: Waconia stuns Marshall with walk-off in semis, Tigers take third at state tournament

Photo by Sam Thiel Marshall’s Jacob Hess fires a pitch during their game against Waconia on Friday in the state semifinals. The Tigers would fall to the Wildcats 7-6 but beat Alexandria 10-9 to take third place.

MINNEAPOLIS – After ousting Red Wing in the opening round of the Class AAA state tournament, the Marshall baseball team faced a tall task when they squared off against Waconia in the semifinal matchup Friday afternoon at Siebert Field on the University of Minnesota campus.

The Wildcats entered Friday as the No. 1 seed with a perfect 24-0 record and were fresh off a walk-off win against Mahtomedi in their first-round game. The Tigers had used a late rally in the sixth inning during their game against Red Wing to advance to the semifinals, and looked to continue its postseason magic with a trip to the state championship at Target Field on the line.

After a back-and-forth battle, timely hitting and close plays on defense, it came down to a thrilling finish, with the Wildcats coming from behind to earn its second walk-off win in as many days with a 7-6 victory over the Tigers.

Just like their previous games the day before, neither team could get any offense going until the middle stages of the game, with the contest remaining scoreless after the first two innings. The Tigers had an opportunity to break open the scoring in the very first inning, as they loaded the bases with nobody out, but squandered that opportunity with three consecutive strikeouts.

Both teams’ starting pitchers would settle into their respective zones in the first few innings, and Marshall’s Jacob Hess and Waconia’s Jack Stoddard appreared to be locked in another pitcher’s duel.

Waconia would strike first in the bottom of the third after getting a pair of RBI singles to take a 2-0 lead and forcing Hess off the mound. After a scoreless top of the fourth by Marshall, the Wildcats extended their lead to 3-0 in the bottom half of the inning when a pickoff attempt by Marshall reliever Kenny Morris froze a runner between first and second. The leadoff runner, who had gotten on base with a triple earlier in the inning, started to lean towards home, forcing the Tigers to throw to third to try and tag the runner. But the throw got past the third baseman’s glove, scoring the run in the process and giving Waconia a three-run lead.

The Tigers wouldn’t go away without a fight, however, as they got a pair of baserunners on thanks to singles by Joe Blanchard and Ryan VanMoer with two outs. Dylan Criquet-Danielson then stepped up and got a single to reach the outfield, scoring Blanchard and putting Marshall on the board. Logan Tomasek would then come up with a big two-run single to tie the game at three and put new life back into the Tiger faithful.

Waconia would attempt to quiet the Tigers with another run in the bottom of the fifth to take a 4-3 lead, but Marshall had other ideas.

In the top of the seventh, again with two outs, VanMoer started the thrilling finish with a triple after the rightfielder couldn’t get to the ball in time. Criquet-Danielson then hit a ground ball toward the shortstop, who briefly bobbled it and threw it to first, but the speedy Marshall centerfielder beat the throw on a close play, scoring VanMoer to tie the game.

Tomasek would then reach on an error by the second baseman to put runners on first and second and Hess at the plate. The senior connected on a pitch and lined a bullet down the first base line, scoring both baserunners and ending in a triple for Hess and a 6-4 lead for the Tigers.

Marshall came on to play defense in the bottom of the seventh, just three outs away from reaching the state title game. Morris got the Wildcats’ first batter to ground out for the first out of the inning. But a walk and a hit by pitch would put runners on first and second for Waconia, and the Wildcats would capitalize on the opportunity, getting an RBI single to pull to within a run.

The next batter would then get another RBI single to tie the game and put the winning run on second base. Waconia’s Robert Smith came up to the plate and connected on a Morris pitch for a deep fly ball that landed over the head of Blanchard, propelling the Wildcats to the state final and delivering heartbreak for Marshall.

Marshall coach Chace Pollock said they played hard right until the end, and the Wildcats showed why they are the No. 1 team in the state.

“It was a good ballgame for us. Going into the seventh inning with two outs, we found a way to score three runs. We had the game there until the end, and a good team like that is why they’re ranked No. 1 in the state,” Pollock said. “They’re an unbelievable team and to finish you’ve got to play all 27 outs.”

VanMoer led the way for the Tigers with a 2 for 3 day at the plate while Tomasek and Hess both picked up two RBIs. Hess went three innings on the hill, giving up two runs on six hits while striking out one while Morris took the loss, going 3.1 innings and allowing five runs on six hits with one strikeout as well.

Pollock said their key on the offensive end was their ability to finally break through and get after Stoddard in the late stages.

“We finally were able to get to their pitcher. He did a really good job all game; he was painting the outside corner and we couldn’t get to him,” Pollock said. “For him to do that is impressive, and we were finally able to get to him and get him out and eventually get a couple of more runs in there.”

The Tigers would then face Alexandria in the third-place game later in the afternoon, where the Cardinals had lost to Hibbing 8-7 in the second game of the day on another walk-off.

After seeing their championship hopes slip on a game-winning hit, the two teams looked to bounce back in the final game of the day. It would only be fitting that the game went into the final inning and another walk-off situation, and this time it was the Tigers who would be on the winning side as they defeated Alexandria 10-9 thanks to a game-winning hit by Tomasek to earn third place.

The Cardinals would strike first with a trio of runs in the opening inning to take an early 3-0 lead, but Marshall countered in a big way, scoring seven runs in the bottom of the second to regain the lead at 7-3.

Alexandria cut the Tigers’ lead to 7-5 in the third inning before tying the game at seven in the fourth. The Cardinals would take the lead again at 9-8 heading into the bottom of the seventh, setting the stage for Marshall’s final at bat of the 2017 season.

The Tigers (20-6) would go home with a little excitement, with Tomasek delivering the game-winning single to score two runs and give Marshall its second third-place finish in three years.

Tomasek led the way with a 3 for 5 day at the plate with four RBIs while Criquet-Danielson also went 2 for 4 with two RBIs. Morris earned the win in relief for the Tigers, including striking out the side in the top of the seventh to keep the game at 9-8 and giving Marshall a chance to win in grand style.

Waconia 7, Marshall 6

Marshall 000 030 3 — 6 9 2

Waconia 002 110 3 — 7 12 1

HITTING: Marshall (VanMoer 2-3, 2 R; Tomasek 1-3, 2 RBI; Hess 1-4, 2 RBI; Criquet-Danielson 1-3, RBI, 2 R).

PITCHING (IP-H-R-ER-BB-SO): Marshall (Hess 3.0-6-2-2-0-1; Morris 3.1-6-5-4-3-1).

Marshall 10, Alexandria 9

Alexandria 302 202 0 — 9 10 1

Marshall 070 001 2 — 10 13 3

HITTING: Marshall (Tomasek 3-5, 4 RBI; Criquet-Danielson 2-4, 2 RBI).

PITCHING (IP-H-R-ER-BB-SO): Marshall (Schmidt 3.1-6-7-5-2-0; VanMoer 2.0-3-2-2-1-1; Morris 1.2-1-0-0-0-3).