St. Paul Park Legion baseball: Parkers' back against the wall
The ball bounced the wrong way for the St. Paul Park Legion Post 98 baseball team last week.
The Parkers lost five of their last seven regular season games to finish 19-18 overall and earned the 13th seed in the District 3 playoffs. The stumble down the stretch means St. Paul Park Post 98 will have to beat 20th seed New Prague in the single-elimination play-in round in order to reach the 16-team, double elimination tournament.
"I don't want to throw out any baseball clichés about what could have happened," St. Paul Park head coach Matt Doornink said. "We're just going to show up and give it our best."
A win over New Prague on Monday, after the Bulletin went to print, would earn St. Paul Park a date with No. 4 seed Lakeville North on Wednesday, July 25, at 8 p.m. in Red Wing.
"Our pitching will be set up well and we're still hitting the ball pretty good," Doornink said. "If we want to get some, we got to bring some. We will be ready. I wouldn't want to play us. Our record is an illusion -- we are better than that. Hopefully, that works to our advantage."
After improving to 17-13 overall, St. Paul Park Post 98 split a double-header with Stillwater, lost to Woodbury, lost to West St. Paul, split a double-header with East Ridge and got walloped by No. 1-ranked Burnsville in a non-league game in the regular-season finale. St. Paul Park finished 9-7 and in fourth place in League F. Forest Lake (16-4; 12-2 League F) won the regular-season title.
To start the week, Post 98 traveled to Stillwater on Monday, July 16, to complete a pair of games postponed by weather. The teams picked up the first game in the bottom of the sixth inning with St. Paul Park down three runs. Post 98 was unable to make up any ground and lost 8-5.
However, in the second game, Post 98 won 10-4 over Stillwater (14-12; 9-7 League F).
The Parkers put up seven runs off five hits and two walks in the bottom of the sixth inning to blow the game open. In the big inning, Russ Damsgard opened with a walk, Fletcher Rheault singled and Kyle Fritz drew a walk, setting up Andy Sammon to drive in two runs with a single. The Parkers' Jordan Jeske then drove in Fritz and Sammon with a triple and Joe Cocchiarella followed up with a single, before Spencer Diedrich capped the inning with a three-run home run. Diedrich was 4-for-4 in the game with the homer and three RBI and also picked up the win on the mound, going 5 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits, while striking out four. In addition, Sammon was 3-for-4 with two RBI and J.T. Bickel was 2-for-4.
St. Paul Park was unable to carry the momentum to its third game of the day, however, as the Parkers fell 8-3 at rival Woodbury Blue in the nightcap.
In the game, Woodbury (13-10; 9-5 League F) got on the board in the first with a big three-run homer off starting pitcher Kyle Fritz. Woodbury added three more runs in the third, and two runs in the sixth to go up 8-0 on St. Paul Park. Post 98 finally got on the board in the top of the sixth, however, when Sammon doubled home Max Stedt and Russ Damsgard. Post 98 added another run in the top of the seventh on three straight singles from Diedrich, Bickel, and Jake Carrigan, but that was the last run of the game for either side. Fritz took the loss on the mound going the distance.
"He left a few balls up in the zone and Woodbury took advantage hitting those balls a long ways," Doornink said. "Defensively we had a few errors that didn't help Fritz out. It was a tough loss to take, as we could have jumped them in the league standings."
Following the loss to Woodbury, St. Paul Park fell 4-0 at West St. Paul (33-17; 5-11 League F) on Wednesday, July 18.
Cocchiarella got the start on the mound, going the distance, allowing two earned runs and seven hits in a tough-luck loss.
Post 98 couldn't get any offense going. The Parkers only had four hits, didn't get a runner past second base and went down 1-2-3 in four of its six at-bats.
"We ran into a pitcher that, on that night, had our number," Doornink said. "He beat us pretty good. It sucks, but we'll tip our hats, good pitching beats good hitting, West St. Paul had an ace in the hole for us, so we have to just move on to the next one."
The Parkers went down swinging however, splitting a double-header at East Ridge on Thursday, July 19, in the final League F games of the year. Post 98 won the opener 4-2 and lost the second game 9-6.
In game No. 1, Jeske picked up the win on the mound, going seven strong innings, giving up two hits, while striking out seven. St. Paul Park got on the board first as Bickel started the second inning with a single and Cocchiarella sacrificed him over to second before Damsgard drove him in. Diedrich then doubled in two more runs in the fifth, which was more than enough for Jeske.
"We played a very solid game of baseball all-around, but this win made the next game more important, as a win in the nightcap would very likely give us a first round bye and clinch the third seed in the league."
However, in the second game, East Ridge (15-21; 7-9 League F) scored all of their nine runs in the fourth and fifth innings on just five hits. Diedrich started the game on the mound, giving Post 98 three strong innings before making way for Fritz. Post 98 scored four runs in the first inning -- Sammon singled, Diedrich walked, Bickel doubled in two, Carrigan tripled down the right field line to score Bickel, and Cocchiarella scored Carrigan with a ground out. But, after that the wheels fell off the Parkers' bus.
"Our infield was hard to watch play, but we will get some fundamental work in before playoffs and play like we were earlier in the year," Doornink said.