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The turning point for the Lakeview “Tropics” in their march to the Sub-State 10 Regional American Legion baseball championship might have come, ironically, when they lost a stirring 4-3 game to Brainerd in a 12-inning marathon at Cloquet.
It helped, of course, that the regional was double elimination, and despite the setback, Lakeview came back strong to beat Grand Rapids 4-1 in the final, with a three-run rally in the sixth inning and a highlight video pitching performance by Joe Vos.
Winning the Sub-State 10 regional thrusts Lakeview — comprised of Duluth East players who fell one game short of the Class AAAA state tournament just two months ago — into the American Legion state tournament this week.
“The tournament is hosted by Cold Spring,” said coach Steve Plesha. “We open against Rosetown at noon Thursday at St. Martin, which is a little town near Cold Spring. If we lose, we come right back and play at 2:30, and if we win, we play at 5 p.m., also on Thursday.”
If that seems like a hectic schedule, welcome to American Legion ball, and its tough double-elimination set-up. “We’ve got double elimination just like last week, only with 16 teams this time,” Plesha said.
Lakeview, just like East, needed great pitching depth to survive post-season playoffs, but Plesha found out that he had more pitching depth than even he realized.
“In the final, we had a 1-1 game with Grand Rapids until the sixth, and we got three runs in the last of the sixth to win it 4-1,” Plesha said. “But Joe Vos was outstanding for us. He went all the way, and threw 97 pitches. It helped that we turned three double plays, in the first, second and third innings.
“Tyler Wapola came through with two hits, and one of them was for two RBIs in the sixth inning. He was probably our top hitter throughout the tournament, because he had multiple-hit games in our first three games, and then again in the final. But we had great performances all down our lineup.”
The game with Brainerd was another case in point. The Brainerd team had been beaten by the West Duluth Cubs in the first round of the tournament, at Wade Stadium, but then worked their way back to face Lakeview in a do-or-die challenge. Plesha knew his team was unbeaten at the time, so he could save the pitch-count tally of his top couple of pitchers and go with some others he had used in relief roles.
“Ethan Neveau threw the first six innings against Brainerd and did a really good job,” Plesha said. “Then Isaac Fugere came in and when the game went 12 innings, he ended up going six innings, too. So even though we lost the game, our hope was that we might put the pressure on our opposing teams to use up their pitching.”
In their third game of the tournament, Lakeview and Grand Rapids matched unbeaten records at Cloquet, and Lakeview ace left-handed Jaxon Edwards blanked Grand Rapids until the sixth. Lakeview had scored twice in the top of the fifth, when Fugere smacked a hit up the middle and the second run scored on a Grand Rapids double play.
In the last of the sixth, Edwards walked the first two hitters, and a ball hit down the right-field line bounced into foul territory and drove home both runs for a 2-2 tie. A ground-rule double was called, or Rapids would have gone ahead 3-2. Instead, Edwards came back to register two strikeouts and keep the game 2-2.
In the top of the seventh, Lakeview threatened with baserunners on an error an a walk, and Fugere singled sharply to left, loading the bases with nobody out. Jaxon Edwards lifted a fly to left, and Joe Vos dived in to score on the sacrifice fly for a 3-2 lead. Tyler Wapola singled next, scoring Edward for the 4-2 cushion. Grand Rapids threatened in the last of the seventh, because Edwards got two strikeouts, but the second one concluded with Edwards reaching his pitch-count limit.
Tyler Wapola came in to relieve Edwards, and an error put runners on first and third before Wapola came through with a called strikeout to end the game.
Sure enough, however, Grand Rapids came back to eliminate both the West Duluth Cubs and Brainerd to get back to the championship game, where both Rapids and Lakeview matched one-loss records, making it a one-game showdown. Vos got the call, and Wapola came through with his usual clutch hit, and Lakeview won 4-1 to reach state.
“I’m thinking we’ll probably start Jaxon Edwards against Rosetown Thursday,” Plesha said. “But really, we’ve got eight or nine guys who could pitch for us.”