AMATEUR BASEBALL: Minneota takes home tournament
MINNEOTA – The fifth-annual Paul Larson Mudhen Classic got underway on Saturday at K.P. Kompelien Field with four teams representing four different town ball leagues battling it out for a chance to hoist the championship trophy.
In the end, it was the hosts of the tournament – the Minneota Mudhens – who would walk off the field victorious in back-to-back 8-7 wins over the Ruthton Royals and Searles Grizzlies to capture their third Mudhen Classic championship.
Though the scoreboard read the same after both games, the routes in which they got there couldn’t have been more different.
“You know it was kind of a tale of two different games,” said Mudhen manager Tyson Sonnenburg. “In the first game we got off to an early lead and they kind of came back on us and we fended them off at the end. In this game, we got behind, and we had to come back ourselves, so it was good to see us overcome some obstacles and also good to see us get to an early lead. It was kind of fun seeing both sides of the game. Baseball’s a crazy sport you just never know what can happen.”
The Mudhens appeared as if they were well on their way to a comfortable victory in the tournament opener against the Royals with an 8-2 advantage heading into the bottom of the seventh. The Ruthton ballclub had other ideas, as they came within one run of completing a monumental comeback but ended up falling just short.
Led by a five-RBI game for Sonnenburg, the Mudhens wasted little time settling in at the plate as they drove in seven of their eight runs in the first three innings. The offensive surge was highlighted by a two-run homer for Sonnenburg in the top of the second inning and a run-scoring base hit for Beau Buysse.
The Royals went on to score their first run in the bottom half of the second when Dain LaRock and Brent Wiering led off with a pair of singles before Ruthton’s leader at the plate, Dan Paluch, drove in his first of three RBIs on the day with a sacrifice fly.
The scoring stalled in the middle innings with Danny Hennen of Minneota and Brandon Veryly of Ruthton both finding their rhythm on the hill with only one run driven in between the two teams as Minneota was able to push their lead to 8-2 in the top of the fifth.
It wasn’t until the Mudhens elected to make a pitching change with Bryce Gorder taking over in the bottom of the seventh inning that things began to go awry. Gorder would only face two batters and walked both before consecutive wild pitches scored the Royals third run of the game and forced Minneota to switch back to Hennen.
With no outs and a runner on, the Royals loaded up the bases with their next two batters reaching with a single and a walk. Next up to the plate was LaRock, who would do his part to keep the rally alive with a single to score one run before another wild pitch drove in the fifth run for Ruthton.
Hennen would recover with a strikeout to the next Royals batter, but Paluch continued the offensive burst with a two-RBI double to make it 8-7 with only one out. Fortunately for Minneota, Hennen retired the next two hitters he faced to seal the victory for the Mudhens.
Though they were unable to complete the comeback, Royals manager Tylan Gilling came away pleased with their performance but acknowledged that missed opportunities earlier in the game came back to haunt them.
“Against Minneota I thought we played a pretty good game,” said Gilling. “We left a lot of guys on base though. We had the bases loaded with one out three innings in a row and we only scored two runs out of that. We ended up only losing by one, we put up five runs in the bottom of the seventh which I was happy with. The bats finally came alive and overall Brandon really pitched pretty good. It was his first start of the year so that was good to see.”
3rd place game (Castlewood 12, Ruthton 2)
After falling 13-1 in a five-inning drubbing at the hands of Searles in their first game of the tournament, the Castlewood Monarchs bounced back in the third-place game with a decisive 12-2 victory over the Royals to finish 1-1 on the day.
Much like their first game, the Royals were forced to play catch-up early on after the Monarchs drove in seven runs in the first three innings. It wasn’t until the fourth inning that the Royals would show life at the plate with a two-run frame highlighted by a pair of extra-base hits for Paluch and Wiering
After slowing down offensively in the fourth and fifth innings, the Monarchs put the game away for good in the bottom of the sixth by driving in five more runs on three hits to seal the 12-2 victory.
Gilling said that the disappointing finish came as a result of not being ready to play from the opening pitch.
“In the second game we just kind of came out flat,” said Gilling. “I think all of us were pretty tired and just did not play a good game and weren’t ready to play.”
Looking ahead, Gilling hopes to see more timely hitting from the club.
“I would say just keep hitting. We’ve been hitting pretty good, getting guys on base we just need to come up with timely hits with guys in scoring position,” said Gilling. “Pitchers (need to) keep the ball down, throw strikes and play good defense and we’ll be alright.”
The script was flipped for the Mudhens in their championship game with Searles as the Grizzlies would be the ones to jump out to a comfortable lead before Minneota was able to chip away at the deficit inning by inning and eventually win 8-7.
The fast start at the plate for Searles was set in motion by a single swing by Nick Dewanz, who crushed a grand slam to center field to make it 5-0 through a half inning. The Mudhens began their climb back into the game with a one-run frame in the latter half of the inning thanks to a Preston Nuy ground out with the bases loaded to score Sonnenburg.
After a rocky start, Minneota starter Peyton Nuy settled in on the mound and delivered four-consecutive scoreless innings for the Mudhens. Meanwhile, at the plate, the team generated another run in the third and two more in the fourth via a two-RBI double from the tournament’s MVP Jake Leighton to make it 5-4.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Mudhens knotted the game up at five apiece as a throwing error scored Alex Pohlen who had initially reached base with a single. An RBI double for Hennen made it 6-5 before Leighton continued his scorching-hot day at the plate with another two-RBI double to make it 8-5 after five.
After struggling at the plate since their big first inning, the Grizzlies came alive once more in the sixth with a pair of RBI singles to cut the deficit to a single run. Fortunately, the Mudhens were able to weather the storm and prevented any further damage to beat Searles in an 8-7 final.
Sonnenburg hopes that the Mudhens can use the momentum generated from the pair of hard-fought the rest of the way through the season.
“Yeah (we need to) just carry it over to the next one,” said Sonnenburg. “Obviously winning helps just build confidence in the boys especially, so just try to stay hot and keep attacking the league and go from there.”