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This is the weekend for the state girls fast-pitch softball tournament down in Mankato, where all four classes convene to decide their state championships. We are fortunate up here in the recently-frozen North that somehow we keep producing and developing elite players and teams.
Hermantown moved up to Class AAA and made it to state anyway. Esko made a spirited run to capture the 7AA berth at state. And Cherry made it in class 7A. All three have a chance to do something against the southerly teams that benefit from a longer season.
In baseball, the high school guys are finishing off double-elimination sectional play this weekend, with the state tournament following next week. It’s been a tougher grind for Northern baseball.
Duluth East had an excellent team, and I thought they might well make it to state and do something once there. The Greyhounds seemed to be having fun this season under first-year coach Chris Siljendahl. This team had an uncanny ability to win the games they should, but to find a way to win those they had no business winning.
It carried over to the Section 7AAA tournament, where East opened against Cambridge-Isanti. East was No. 1 seed and played at home at Ordean Field but Cambridge had no respect for the seeding variation, and grabbed an early 2-1 lead against East pitching ace Casey Aplin.
The game boiled along intensely, with both teams showing great defense and pitching to blunt every chance that came along. When the game reached the sixth, it looked as though this time, luck was not going to be on the side of the Greyhounds.
Nathaniel Benson flew out to left, and Jake Dubla grounded to short. Two out, nobody on with only one more inning to come. But junior Blake Bergquist walked and Tyler Seymour singled to right. Bergquist didn’t hesitate and raced to third, sliding in to narrowly beat the throw. Seymour alertly took second on the strong throw.
John Chmielewski was next, and he hit a soft infield chop that looked like it would end the threat. But Chmielewski’s speed beat the throw, which was low and eluded the first baseman’s stretch. Bergquist scored the tying run, and when the throw got by first, Seymour also ran home.
Suddenly East had vaulted from a 2-1 deficit to a 3-2 lead. Then it was up to Aplin, who worked through the seventh swiftly, and the Greyhounds had won a key victory in the double elimination tournament.
Blaine came to Ordean next, however, and inflicted a 9-2 setback on East, with the rest of the tournament shifting to Anoka. East, with Aplin fresh, faced old rival Grand Rapids, another team with a rich baseball history. The Thunderhawks got a three-run home run in the first inning, and even though Aplin was superb after that, East’s tournament run ended 3-1.
That was only in class AAA, and the other strong Northern teams were hot into their tournaments as the week progressed. If you get a chance, get to a game because it is fast, fun and exciting ball.
Twins Still A Mystery
The Minnesota Twins keep showing signs of progress, but in the strangest ways. Byron Buxton, for example, was sent down for inept hitting, and so was Eddie Rosario, who seemed hopeless at hitting and also seemed to completely forget the brilliant defensive outfield he played last season.
Joe Mauer seems to be hitting again, if we could get him above .300, but the bright lights have been shining from Eduardo Nunez, Robbie Grossman and Max Kepler – three guys who weren’t even pencilled in for anything at spring training. Kepler looks like he can play, and has started adjusting to big league pitching. Nunez is hitting .335, and Grossman .327 as the Twins top two hitters, ahead of Mauer’s .281.
But wait, there’s more. When Miguel Sano went out with a pulled hamstring, the Twins brough Buxton back up from AAA ball, where he had been hitting. Amazingly, he brought his new-found confidence up with him and has been ripping the ball, even while batting ninth in the order.
On top of that, Rosario socked his third home run in five games for the Class AAA Rochester farm, and in an 11-game stretch he hit .417 with 11 RBIs.
Around here, we’re accustomed to players who are sent down falling off the far end of the earth, but Buxton, and maybe Rosario, are proving that a little more seasoning can help bring along young prospects who have exceptional skills.
Of course, when the hitting comes alive, the Twins still need to get some consistent pitching. Tampa Bay came to town and Evan Longoria hit home runs in all four games, totalling five for the series. Anytime Tampa needed a run to squelch a Twins threat, they just swung for the fences. Longoria and Logan Morrison hit two homers apiece in Tampa’s 7-5 victory.
Maybe it hasn’t turned into victories yet, but at least the Twins have become entertaining for more reasons that simply to arm the arsenals of sarcastic critics.
Anderson NHRA Winner
Greg Anderson of Duluth broke through to win the rain-delayed New England Nationals.