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Raptors fall one game short of state

Drew Molin fires in a pitch during the Raptors 5-4 loss in the sub-state final to Lakeville North in Dundas on Sunday. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)1 / 5
Luke Ringhofer makes contact during the Raptors 17-1 win over Eagan in the legion playoff opener last Wednesday in Dundas. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)2 / 5
Sam Kastner slides in safely during the Raptors 17-1 win over Eagan in the legion playoff opener last Wednesday in Dundas. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)3 / 5
Thomas Mueller successfully lays down a suicide squeeze bunt during the Raptors 4-3 loss to Eastview in Dundas last Sunday. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)4 / 5
Cal Kellner, Sam Kastner and Sam Cobbs converge on a fly ball during the Raptors 5-4 loss in the sub-state final to Lakeville North in Dundas on Sunday. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)5 / 5

Sam Kastner hopped on his horse at the crack of the bat.

The Raptors center fielder flew toward the left-centerfield gap and dove at a ball that had no business being caught.

And inexplicably, Kastner was able to get the tip of his glove on a ball that in most instances lands for a double more than 10 feet away from the nearest outfielder.

Yet despite his herculean effort, the tip of the glove was all Kastner could get on the line drive and the ball rolled to the wall, Kastner rolled to the ground and top-seeded Lakeville North rolled into the state tournament via a 5-4 walk off victory over the East Ridge legion squad in Sunday’s sub-state final in Dundas.

For an East Ridge team that included many players from the school squad that also lost in the game to advance to the state tournament, it was a tough pill to swallow twice in a span of just a few months.

“You’re so close and you can’t get over the hump,” Luke Ringhofer said. “We’re one hit away or one play away from the state tournament, so it’s tough. It is what it is but we tried and it didn’t work out. It hurts.”

But Kastner’s effort, similar to East Ridge’s performance throughout the sub-state tournament, was spectacular.

And a 3-2 record, a win and a one-run loss to a Lakeville North team many consider to be the best in the state and the best sub-state finish in school history all in a week’s time proved one thing -- East Ridge is among the state’s elite.

“They proved they belonged with the top teams in the state,” Raptors coach Tyler Welch said. “[Lakeville North] is one of the best teams in the state and the teams in our district are some of the best teams in the state. They proved that they belonged.”

From the outside it might have been an unexpected run to the title game. East Ridge was up and down, then down and up en route to an 11-12 regular season. The Raptors entered the nine-team sub-state tournament as the No. 5 seed.

But East Ridge knew it was capable of much more, and it finally showed it when it mattered most.

“It feels good to finally play to what we think is our potential,” Ringhofer said. “Obviously it sucks to not get to the next level and the state tournament, but I thought we had a good run.”

The end of this run marked the end of an era for East Ridge baseball, as the legion club’s two seniors -- Ringhofer and Drew Molin -- played their final games with the East Ridge name across their chests.

The two have played together since they were nine years old. They served as one of the most dominant battery tandems the area has ever seen. They led the high school team to a Suburban East Conference championship this spring. They came up just one game short of the state tournament in both the high school and legion seasons in 2014. They were the second and third Raptors to ever be named all stars by the Minnesota State High School Baseball Coaches Association.

They put East Ridge baseball on the map.

“I wasn’t expecting to do this well,” Molin said. “Going into high school I wasn’t expecting to play college baseball, I wasn’t expecting to get to the section finals and the regional finals or whatever you call this. ... It’s just a great feeling to know that I stack up really well in the state.”

Both will play collegiately next year -- Ringhofer for South Dakota State, Molin for St. Thomas. After 10 years of playing side-by-side, they now go their separate ways. 

“It’s hard to describe when you play with someone for 10 years,” Ringhofer said. “It’s weird to have it come to an end and know that we won’t be in the gym next early spring and winter and practicing. It’s going to be a lot different. It’s something that’s hard to describe. It’s sad.”

Still, while the end has come, their friendship will last on, as will their legacies they have cemented into Raptors baseball lore.

Molin called Ringhofer the best catcher he knows, better than all of the opposing Division-I catchers they’ve come across.

He wasn’t too shabby himself.

And for both individual stars, the best may still be to come.

“It’s been a pleasure to coach both of them,” Welch said. “They both have good things lying ahead of them at the college level with their work ethics and the talent that they have. It’s going to be fun to watch and follow their college careers.”