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After a decade of playing the giant northern Twin Cities suburban high schools in all sports, Duluth East baseball coach Chris Siljendahl knows that the challenge facing the Greyhounds in football and basketball is even greater in baseball for one simple reason: The Greyhounds have springtimes that arrive notoriously late compared to the Twin Cities.
But this year, East is built to compete with anybody, and the ’Hounds earned the right to play at home against Coon Rapids in Section 7AAAA. That doesn’t mean Siljendahl planned on taking any chances. So when Caden Edwards struggled but pitched out of danger effectively, and East led 6-5 in the top of the seventh, Edwards, a tall, lanky junior left-hander, walked the leadoff hitter on four pitches, then got a fly out to left and a called third strike to eliminate a pinch-hitter. But Ian Wynn coaxed a walk, and Siljendahl strode to the mound.
He brought in a relief pitcher, who happened to also be a tall, lanky junior left-hander, and he got Jack Orlikowski to bounce back to the mound for an easy out and the victory.
The final out might have puzzled the visiting Cardinals. You relieve the lanky lefty with another lanky lefty, who looked almost like the same player. And with good reason. Caden Edwards’s reliever was Jaxon Edwards — his twin brother!
That advanced East to wait for the result between favored Anoka and Forest Lake. Had Anoka won, as anticipated, East would be heading for Anoka the next day for the next game. But Forest Lake upset the Tornadoes, which meant that Forest Lake would be on the road to Duluth and another game at East’s Ordean Field.
Siljendahl has a half dozen pitchers to call on at this point in the season, but the formula had worked so well, he decided to go with — you should pardon the expression — a tall, lanky left-hander. This time got was Jaxon Edwards, and Caden Edwards moved over to play first base. And hit.
Jaxon Edwards pitched a shutout, and Caden Edwards led the Greyhound charge that produced three runs in the first and three more in the second for a 6-0 victory. No relief was necessary.
“Caden moves the ball around well, while Jaxon throws a little harder,” said Siljendahl. “Jaxon had great stuff today, and Caden got some hits. He was 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs. Chris Sampson was also 3-for-3.”
Inevitably, it had to get tougher, and it did. East traveled to Blaine and lost 3-1 to the top=-seeded Bengals. Bouncing back in the double-elimination tournament, the Greyhounds moved to the 7AAAA championship site in Forest Lake and survived repeated rallies for an 11-9 victory.
That meant another crack at unbeaten Blaine on Tuesday night, where East faced the daunting task of beating the Bengals not once but twice to make it to the state tournament.
No matter how they end up, the Greyhounds proved some significant points this spring, all the ice, snowstorms and freezing temperatures notwithstanding. As the only Northern team facing Coon Rapids, Forest Lake, Anoka, Blaine, Andover, St. Francis and Cambridge-Isanti, East won three games before trying to beat Blaine, which nobody else in the section could do.
It goes back to that Coon Rapids game, which raged back and forth — a fan’s delight but a coach’s nightmare. Coon Rapids led 1-0 in the first, and 2-0 in the third. East rallied for three in the last of the third to gain a 3-2 lead, as Drew Grindahl beat out an RBI single to deep short, and Isaac Fugere singled in two more. But Coon Rapids came right back with a 3-run fourth to claim a 5-3 lead. But in the last of the fourth sophomore Joe Vos doubled over the right-fielder’s head for a run and a sacrifice fly tied it 5-5.
In the last of the fifth, Grindahl beat out another infield single to ignite a rally that saw Tyler Wapole sock a double over the left-fielder to break the tie and put East ahead 6-5.
One day later, the Greyhound offense dispensed with the drama, jumping to that 6-0 lead in two innings, and Jaxon Edwards overpowered the Rangers.
East hit the playoffs at a perfect peak. At the end of the regular season, Grindahl was hitting .487, while Nick Allen and Kyle Doup were both at .459, and Noah Winesett was at .417. And that’s not even getting to the Erickson twins, who could also alter the scouting report. Analyizing the Greyhounds, the report might say, if they throw a slick left-hander at you and you have trouble with him, beware. They’ve got another one.
Teams that faced East in football last fall might find the duo familiar. Caden Edwards was the left-handed quarterback for the Greyhounds, and Jaxon Edwards was the rangy wide receiver who kept catching his brother’s passes.
Marshall went into the 7AA finals on an amazing run. I drove to Proctor to get a look at the mighty Hilltoppers, who have a legitimate shot at a state title. Marshall eliminated Two Harbors 18-0 in a punishing 5-inning rout, as Ben Pedersen went 3-4, Tyler Johnson 2-4, Carter Sullivan 2-4 and Cole Maccoux 2-2, and the Hilltoppers tied a state record with their sixth consecutive shutout.
That night I watched the TV sports and saw highlights of a Marshall romp, but something looked strange. Sure enough, Marshall was playing Moose Lake-Willow River, and whipped them 19-1, also in five innings. Brett Benson threw a 1-hitter, striking out 9, but in the top of the fifth, Danny Whited drove in a run with ML-WR’s only hit of the game, ending Marshall’s shutout streak. Alex Busick went 3-3 with three doubles and four RBIs, Peter Hansen 3-4 with two doubles and 3 RBIs, Ben Pedersen was 3-4 with two doubles and three RBIs, and Maccoux was 3-3, scoring three times.
Those two amazing games on the same day put Marshall in position to advance, where the Hilltoppers hammered a very good Greenway of Coleraine team 11-1. Greenway eliminated Proctor in a 2-1 game that ended when the Raiders threw out the final runner at home to foil a double-steal.
Denfeld put the finishing touches on a great season by beating Princeton 1-0 and claiming a 2-0 victory at Chisago Lakes. in 7AAA.
All in all, maybe Northern baseball has advanced to the point where we can’t use a late warm-up and foul weather as our excuse. We’ll take it!