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After Marshall had breezed through the Section 7AA field with an amazingly dominant couple of weeks — winning by scores like 18-0, 19-1, 11-1, and 9-0 for example — I had an interesting discussion with Joe Wicklund, the Hilltoppers coach.
Going into the Class AA state tournament, I thought Wicklund was playing politics when I suggested his team was liable to hammer anybody they played, and he disputed it. Firmly.
Turns out, Wicklund knew his opposition as well as he knew his own team’s capabilities. Without any letdown in confidence or optimism, he calmly said the teams at the state tournament are simply too good, and you don’t “10-run” anybody.
“OK,” I said. “Tell you what. You can play it as cautious as you want, but I can be optimistic on your behalf. And when you blow out a team or two at the state tournament, you can be surprised, but I won’t be.”
He just laughed and said, “No way.”
As if to prove their coach’s instincts, Marshall opened the tournament by falling behind Glencoe-Silver Lake 3-0, then dramatically rallied at the finish to win 4-3.
Same thing in the semifinals, also at St. Cloud. Paynesville got ahead 2-0, but Marshall got its bats untracked late and pulled out a dramatic 3-2 victory to reach the finals, at Target Field.
Minnehaha Academy presented an interesting challenge, because the Redhawks had beaten Marshall by a run in the third game of the season. Sure enough, in the state Class AA final, Minnehaha jumped to a 2-0 lead. It was the third game, out of three, that Marshall had spotted its foe at least the first two runs — but for the third straight game Marshall came back. This time the Hilltoppers won the game 4-2 with a run in the top of the sixth and three more in the top of the seventh.
The Hilltoppers were amazingly patient, and all through the lineup they’d take a strike, and maybe two, while waiting for their pitch. But waiting until the sixth or seventh inning to come from deficits may be carrying patience too far.
Carter Sullivan went 3-for-4 and drove in the game-winning run. Sullivan had a single, double and triple, and scored twice in addition to his two runs scored. “He had a really good tournament two years in a row, and he ends his high school career making all-state his last two years,” said Wicklund.
“Ben Pedersen, Carter Sullivan, and Charlie Kleinschmidt made all-tournament. It was great for Charlie, because he was our only non-senior starter.”
Pitching, which is all-important any time but particularly in the state tournament, was a dazzling combination led by Pedersen and Brett Benson. Everybody knew about Pedersen, a big, fireballing pitcher who could dominate any game. “But Brett is the polar opposite,” said Wicklund. “For two years now, he’s been our secret weapon No. 2 starter. No matter when I put him in, he gets outs, and quickly.”
Pitchers have a pitch-count limit of 115 pitches in a game, and Pedersen, who started, was pitching well, but after the Toppers rallied to go ahead 4-2, Pedersen struck out Minnehaha’s leadoff hitter in the last of the seventh.
“He got a called strikeout on a 3-2 pitch, but that was his 115th pitch,” Wicklund said. “He gave up two runs early, but nothing was hit hard. He got better, later, with strikeouts in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and leading off the seventh. We brought in Brett, and he threw seven pitches — with one ball — to get the last two outs. He got a grounder to Maddux Baggs, and then ended the game with a called third strike on their last batter.
“What a great way for Brett to end his senior season. He doesn’t have Ben’s velocity, but he has great control and good movement. He pitched 9 2/3 innings in the tournament without allowing a run.”
Bringing the championship home to Duluth was a huge achievement for the Hilltoppers, but Wicklund is aware of the challenge that lies ahead next year. Having eight senior starters is great, but that means eight pairs of spikes to fill next season.
“Charlie Kleinschmidt will be our leader, and Matt Erickson will probably be our top pitcher, but I’m really excited to see how many of our younger players can move in and do the job,” said Wicklund.
If everything falls together, Marshall could make another run at the state tournament next spring. If they do, they’ll be well-prepared if they have to come from behind every game.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” said Wicklund.
There is no break for baseball players, who go directly from high school to American Legion ball. And there’s no rest for Wicklund, either, because he is a strong influence as assistant of the West Duluth Cubs Legion team, which is comprised of players from Marshall and Denfeld — another Duluth team that made it to the state tournament, in Class AAA. Kleinschmidt is on that team.
TWINS BATTLE INJURIES BUT JUST KEEP WINNING
OK, so the Twins seemed to hit a little flat spot, but it didn’t come until mid-June, and it came because several key players — Byron Buxton, Martin Gonzales, Ehire Adrianza, and Mitch Garver — missed time or went on the injured list. Despite that, the Twins won 6-3 at Kansas City last Saturday in a game where the bullpen bailed out the victory after seven strong innings by Jose Berrios.
The significance of that victory was that it made the Twins 50-26 atop the Central Division, and the first team in the entire American League to get to 50 victories.
The Twins came home, took on Tampa Bay, and Kyle Gibson was brilliant through seven innings, allowing just one hit as the Twins went up 8-0, and even though he got two outs in the eighth and then was thumped for a bunch of hits and four runs, the Twins won 9-4, for win No. 51.
The Twins hammered 16 hits around Target Field to start the homestead off right, with Eddie Rosario going 4-5, Mitch Garver 3-5 and Willians Astudillo was 3-4 and made a homer-stealing catch leaping up against the wall as the right-fielder.
For those of us guilty of assuming that a collapse had to be inevitable for the rebuilding Twins this season — and that includes me — it’s time to go the other way. We need to appreciate the brilliant pitching, particularly from starters Berrios, Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Martin Perez, who all have impressive records and have eased the strain of a still-questionable bullpen.
That bullpen, by the way, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli used nine pitchers before subduing the Boston Red Sox 4-3 in a 17-inning classic last week, which indicates the bullpen can do the job on occasion. Whatever, it’s getting close to All-Star Game time, so let’s enjoy the amazing amount of entertainment this homer-happy Twins team has been so far.
And what happens if Miguel Sano, and Byron Buxton, play regularly and find their form for the second half of the season? Onward and upward.