Baseball: East Ridge heads to Target Field to play for state title
East Ridge 6, Stillwater 5 (8 innings)
When East Ridge head coach Brian Sprout came into the semifinal game against Stillwater, he knew it was going to come down to the little things. Those things included baserunning, errors and playing small ball to score the runs.
The Raptors started off the game on the right foot, which led to a 2-0 lead after the first inning. Stillwater showed its No. 1 seed as the Ponies came back to take the lead in the fourth.
It became a back-and-forth game in the later innings, but East Ridge has done what they've done for the past two games.
That mentality has been to fight and battle each inning, which resulted in East Ridge defeating Stillwater in eight innings with a 6-5 final score.
East Ridge will be heading to Target Field next Thursday to play in the state championship game.
"When you play a team like that, who has pitchers on the mound like that, it's whoever makes the fewest mistakes," Sprout said. "It's can we force the issue and try to take advantage of some things and we were able to do that a few different times."
Blake Ritzer said the East Ridge players were trying to shake up Stillwater's starting pitcher Will Frisch in the opening innings. That worked in the Raptors favor.
After a couple walks to start the game, Ben North came up and executed a sacrifice bunt to move Max Moris and Cam Hunter to second and third. Then, Roman Newinski hit a liner to right field and scored Moris for a 1-0 lead.
Hunter was at third waiting to score and had the opportunity when Frisch threw a wild pitch. Hunter scored and it became a 2-0 lead in the opening inning.
Ritzer came onto the mound and shut out the Ponies for the first three innings and kept the batters off balanced. It was a good thing for the Raptors because Frisch started getting into his zone and struck out five batters in the next three innings.
"Those two runs were crucial and gave us momentum for the rest of the game," said Joe Trollen. "We knew Frisch was a good pitcher and we wanted to score early."
After three scoreless innings, Stillwater came to life as the Ponies scored three runs and took the lead in the bottom of the fourth. That ended Ritzer's day on the mound as Sam Szymanski came into relief, while East Ridge's offense was battling back.
Once the bottom of the fourth ended, the Raptors came back to tie the game at 3-3 with a base hit by North. The hit scored Carter Seidl, but Weber Neels was thrown out at the plate on a close play to end the inning.
There was frustration in the call, but East Ridge came roaring back in the sixth inning to take a 4-3 lead when Newinski scored on an error by Frisch on the mound.
"We knew if we kept up the aggressive baserunning that something would happen in our favor," Ritzer said. "We did and we were able to score a couple key runs at the end of the game."
The Raptors went into the bottom of the seventh with a 4-3 lead and were only three outs away from a spot in the state championship. Stillwater never quit though and started the inning with a double that became a triple due to mishandling of the ball.
Szymanski had a strong three innings on the mound for East Ridge and used what he learned from yesterday's game into today's game.
"You grow up wanting to be in this position and on the mound," Szymanski said. "I just wanted to help the team out in any way possible."
Eventually, that run scored and it became a 4-4 tie. That meant extra innings for the two teams.
Trollen said that the team focused on the inning ahead and put the rest of the game in the past. That mentality helped as North started the eighth inning with a base hit. Newinski moved him over to second with a sacrifice bunt.
Then, Trollen came up and had another base hit to put runners on first and third when Tanner Stafne coming up to the plate. He reached on a fielder's choice as Stillwater was trying to throw out North at home plate.
The ball came to the catcher ahead of time, but he wasn't able to control the ball and North slid in safely to give East Ridge a 5-4 lead. The scoring wasn't over as Neels hit a line drive back to the pitcher to record an out.
The pitcher decided to throw the ball to third to try and get Trollen out. Instead, the ball went past the third baseman and Trollen came in to score and made it a 6-4 lead for East Ridge.
The drama continued in the bottom of the eighth when the leadoff hitter scored to make a 6-5 game. There were Stillwater runners on first and second with two outs and Frisch, the cleanup hitter, was up to bat.
"I knew Frisch wasn't going down with a strikeout and he would put the ball in play," Trollen said. "We played him deep and I just made the play."
Frisch connected on the sweet spot of the bat and the ball carried out to deep center field. Trollen, the center fielder, backtracked quite a bit and made the catch on the run. When he made the catch, the student section jumped on top of the dugout and the East Ridge players ran from the dugout to second base to celebrate the victory as a team.
"I can't describe it," Ritzer said on his feelings of winning. "It's amazing. We wanted to represent our conference with Stillwater and Mounds View. We're happy to be the one heading over there next week."
This is the first time East Ridge has reached the state tournament for baseball and this is the first time the Raptors will be playing in the state championship. They aren't afraid though as they've battled to reach this point in the season.
It's been two familiar opponents in the first two rounds with Stillwater and Mounds View, but it'll be a new opponent for the Raptors in the championship. East Ridge will either face New Prague or Rogers, two teams the Raptors have never faced.
Ritzer, Trollen and Sprout all agreed that they need to keep playing their game of baseball. Even though the two teams are ranked in state, they beat ranked opponents to get to this point so they can't be looked at lightly.
East Ridge will head to Target Field on Thursday, June 20 at 7 p.m. to play for the Class AAAA state title.
"This is a great venue for the state tournament and I love playing games here because the atmosphere is great," Sprout said. "Target Field is a whole other experience that they get to be a part of, something they get to take with them."
"It's amazing," Trollen said on reaching the state championship. "I've never felt anything like it."
East Ridge 9, Mounds View 5
The East Ridge baseball team could feel a sense of deja vu on Friday in the opening round of the Class AAAA state baseball tournament.
The No. 5 seed Raptors were trailing No. 4 seed Mounds View heading into the sixth inning. East Ridge scored a couple of runs in the sixth to make it a 5-3 deficit, but the Raptors were facing three outs from either heading to the semifinals or the consolation bracket.
"We never give up as a team and it's shown during our run through sections and now," said Cam Hunter. "We just aren't ready to quit until the final out is over."
That was put on display in the seventh inning as the Raptors kept fighting every pitch to tie the game and, eventually, take the lead. East Ridge faced a similar situation in the section finals game against Eastview when the Raptors came back with six runs in the sixth to win the game and advance to the state tournament.
Those six runs moved from the sixth to the seventh today for East Ridge as Roman Newinski started it off with a single. Joe Trollen and Tanner Stafne followed with singles as well to load the bases up for Carter Seidl.
Seidl smacked a single into left field and scored two runs to tie the game up at 5-5. The East Ridge dugout erupted when Seidl made contact and tied the game up.
Weber Neels came up next and put down a sacrifice bunt to advance the two runners. Instead, the Mounds View third baseman couldn't handle the ball and the bases became loaded for Anthony LaValle.
After a strong at-bat, LaValle was walked and East Ridge took the lead 6-5 when Stafne stepped on home. It looked like the lead was only going to be one after Max Moris hit into a double play, but the Raptors didn't stop fighting.
Hunter was intentionally walked and Ben North came up and was focused on making contact. North had struck out twice prior to this at-bat in the seventh.
He waited on a fastball and sent it to center field for a double to make it an 8-5 lead. Newinski came up again in the seventh and hit another single to score Hunter and make it a 9-5 final score.
"I had a 2-0 count and I was waiting on the fastball," North said. "He left a fastball high and out and I was able to get my bat around to make good contact. That was a huge confidence boost for us heading into the bottom of the inning."
Those six runs brought the energy and momentum up as Hunter went onto the mound for the final three outs to capture East Ridge's first state tournament win in program history.
"It's really special to get this win for our program and our school," Moris said. "It also gets us ready and confident for tomorrow's game against Stillwater."
Moris started off the game on the right foot for East Ridge as he smashed a leadoff home run over the left-center field fence to give the Raptors a 1-0 lead. Moris said he could see the energy that home run brought to the team as the entire team surrounded home plate and celebrated with Moris.
"Max is a strong leader for this team," Hunter said. "He's a junior captain and shows those leadership skills both on and off the field."
Mounds View came back to tie the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the inning and took a 5-1 lead in the third inning after a grand slam by Robert Hogan. Sprout used three pitchers in the game and he said he was happy with all of their outings. It was just a couple of hits that caused the five runs to be scored.
Ryan Thelen started the game for the Raptors and pitched five innings giving up three earned runs on six hits and added seven strikeouts. Sam Szymanski came into the game in the sixth inning and finished off Mounds View with a one, two, three inning.
Finally, Hunter came in the seventh to close out the game and get the win for East Ridge. There was a scary moment in the seventh when one of the Mounds View batters cracked a line drive down the middle.
The ball connected on Hunter's right arm and created a sound that echoed throughout the ballpark. The field became silent for a little while, but Hunter told the umpires and coaching staff that he was fine and wanted to continue in the game.
He recorded the final out after the injury, but had ice and a bandage wrapped around his arm while he was speaking to the media after the game.
Sprout was proud of the way this team fought until the very end to get this historic win for East Ridge baseball.
"I think it's huge," Sprout said on winning the first game. "I mean these kids want to walk away with something and that's a start. There's more work to do obviously, but that's a huge start to take that away with you."
Like Sprout said, these players aren't settling with just one win. East Ridge will take on No. 1 seed Stillwater on Saturday, June 15 at noon at CHS Field in the state semifinals. These two conference teams are familiar with each other as they've played twice this season in the regular season.
Stillwater has won both games, but each game has been close. East Ridge lost 2-1 in the first matchup and later lost 5-0 to the Ponies in the middle of the season.
The Ponies have two Division I pitchers and the Raptors understand that one of them will be on the mound for Saturday's matchup.
"We know we're going to see a good pitcher," North said. "They have two great guys over there throwing in the 90's, so we just have to do what we did today. We need to battle and stay positive and hopefully the results will follow."
"I've been at the state tournament a few times and this atmosphere is always something I remember," Sprout said. "To be in the thick of it with your crew, with your people there, that's what makes it everything you want to experience."