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St. Paul Park Legion baseball: Parkers' run ends game short of state

Jordan Jeske and the 13th-seeded St. Paul Park Legion Post 98 Parkers' went from a play-in game to one win away from a trip to the state tournament by going 4-2 in the District 3 playoffs last week.

The clock struck midnight on the St. Paul Park Legion baseball team's Cinderella story.

The 13th-seeded St. Paul Park Legion Post 98 Parkers went from a play-in game to one win away from a trip to the state tournament by going 4-2 in the District 3 playoffs last week.

St. Paul Park opened the District 3 playoffs by beating 20th seed New Prague 11-0 to reach the double-elimination, 16-team tournament. The Parkers then upset fourth-seed Lakeville North 11-7 and beat 12th-seeded Inver Grove Heights 6-1, before losing to No. 1-seed Eastview 5-4. Following the loss, though, St. Paul Park stayed alive with a 10-9 win over eighth-seeded Woodbury. However, just a win away from the state tournament, Post 98 fell 14-1 to Lakeville North.

"We played very well through districts," St. Paul Park head coach Matt Doornink said. "We brought some, and every team that saw us play took notice of the team we had. As unfortunate as it is to fall one win short, and one or two plays short, we got father than any other team in League F and finished fourth in the hardest district in the state."

The St. Paul Park Legion baseball team has qualified for the state tournament only six times in its history. The last time Post 98 went to state was in 2009, when it was the surprise winner of the District 3 championship.

The postseason run helped this year's team finish above .500 - at 23-20 on the year. The 23 wins were the most by St. Paul Park since 2009.

"Overall, we had a very good season," Doornink said. "We were at 5-9 in early June and things were not looking good. To win 23 games, that's a lot of wins, and to do that with only 11 guys, that's real successful. We had a great group of seniors that I enjoyed having the last two years, and I like what I have coming back for next year."

Lakeville North ends Parkers' season in third-place game

In the playoff opener, a win-or-go-home situation, St. Paul Park walloped No. 20 New Prague 11-0 behind a gem by starting pitcher Drew Flack. St. Paul Park scored three runs in the second inning, three runs in the third inning, a run in the fifth inning and four runs in the sixth inning to 10-run their opponent. The runs were more than enough for Flack, who threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout, striking out 8, while only issuing one walk. The Parkers' J.T. Bickel hit a three-run home run in the win, which advanced St. Paul Park into the double-elimination, 16-team tournament.

In its first bracket-play game, St. Paul Park upset fourth-seeded Lakeville North - which was ranked 10th in the state - 11-7.

Down 5-2, St. Paul Park put together a six-run fourth inning to take Lakeville by surprise, then held on for the win. In the big fourth inning, the Parkers' Jordan Jeske walked and was doubled home by Flack. After Spencer Diedrich was hit by a pitch, St. Paul Park put together four straight singles - by Bickel, Joe Cocchiarella, Russ Damsgard and Fletcher Rheault to blow the game open.

St. Paul Park amassed 16 hits in the victory. Flack was 3-for-5, Bickel was 4-for-6, and Damsgard was 2-for-4. Kyle Fritz earned the hard-fought win on the mound, going seven innings, allowing eight hits and seven earned runs while striking out five. Flack got the save, pitching the eighth and ninth innings, allowing two hits and no runs while striking out three.

"This was a fun win," Doornink said. "It felt great to knock off one of the top teams. I think they were looking past us."

St. Paul Park carried its momentum over against Inver Grove Heights - a fellow League F team that was 2-1 over the Parkers in the regular season. However, in the playoff game, starting pitcher Jeske and St. Paul Park were too much to handle as Post 98 won 6-1. The Parkers jumped on top on Inver Grove Heights early - taking a 5-0 lead in the first inning.

Jeske lead off the first inning getting hit by a pitch, Jake Carrigan sacrificed him over, Flack and Diedrich followed by singles, Cocchiarella added a RBI single, and Max Stedt capped the inning with a two- RBI single. St. Paul Park added another run in the fourth when Diedrich hit a big double to plate Flack.

That was more than enough for Jeske, who threw a complete-game, allowing one run on seven hits, while striking out 14.

"Jeske was very dominating with his off speed pitches and Inver Grove couldn't handle them," Doornink said. "It was exactly the performance that we needed. We needed someone to go the distance, win a ball game, and save our pitching for the rest of the way."

The win streak came to an end, however, as St. Paul Park lost to No. 1-seed and second-ranked Eastview 5-4 for a chance to play in the championship game. Eastview had won the District 3 championship the past two years - and went on to win this year's title as well.

Eastview's tournament was mired by controversy as it won its opening-round game over Hastings by forfeit - allowing the team to save its pitching. Hastings was forced to forfeit because of issues with the players' birth certificates the day of the game.

"I agree rules are rules, but this situation shouldn't happen," Doornink said. "The rules were not enforced properly, these things should be checked well prior to the games being played. This didn't hurt Hastings, it hurt the remaining 14 teams in the tournament, and especially the ones who played them. To give a team a free win and let them save nine innings worth of pitching, is complete garbage."

In the game, St. Paul Park led 4-3 going into the final frame, but Eastview scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to steal the win. Diedrich had a gem on the mound for St. Paul Park, going seven innings, allowing three hits and striking out five. St. Paul Park outhit Eastview 10-7 in the game but stranded 13 runners on base. Jeske was 3-for-6 and Rheault went 3-for-5 to lead the way at the plate.

"It was a very exciting game," Doornink said. "Spencer carried us, he was lights-out. He gave us a great chance and an opportunity to pull off the upset. It was one heck of a performance by Spenny. Unfortunately we missed a lot of opportunities through the game to add more runs. But for as many missed opportunities we had, if we didn't do a lot of the things right that we did, we could have lost by five."

The loss put St. Paul Park in the consolation round, where it was able to stay alive with a 10-9 win in a slugfest with Woodbury. The Parkers had 20 hits and Woodbury had 16 hits in the game. Tied 9-9 in the ninth inning, St. Paul Park's Fletcher Rheault knocked in the game-winning run on an error. Flack started the ninth with a two-out double, Diedrich was intentionally walked then Bickel drew a walk to load the bases. Rheault then hit a grounder to second base, however, Woodbury's second baseman short-armed his throw to first, and the first baseman was unable to pick it up before Rheault got to the bag.

The win gave St. Paul Park a chance at one of three spots in the state tournament out of District 3. However, Lakeville North avenged its loss to the Parkers just days earlier with a 14-1 defeat of Post 98.

The game was pretty much over after the first inning as Lakeville North went up 7-0.

"Lakeville North is a very, very good team, and they can hit as good as anybody I've played against," Doornink said. "We hit well in the game, we just hit everything right at them. Overall, we had a very good tournament. We had great pitching performances every game, we had 78 hits in the six games and we saw good pitching every game. Our defense stepped it up as well."