Barnum bows out, South Ridge’s season-saving rally continue
Leading Littlefork-Big Falls 5-2 with Vikings runners on second and third base with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Barnum Coach Tony Bender debated about walking a batter to create a force out with first base open.
Choosing not to do so on the next pitch, the floodgates opened.
Like a seventh-seed would only do, LFBF took advantage of ensuing Barnum miscues and rallied past the top-seeded Bombers 6-5 in a wild Section 7A winner's bracket game last Tuesday at Terry Egerdahl Memorial Field in Proctor.
"We came unglued," said Bender, not blaming his boys, but rather thinking back to his late-game decision making. "We were fully in charge. A little coaching mistake there."
Barnum senior third baseman Tory Slater admitted mental mistakes occurred among him and his teammates during the Vikings' charge back. He described a short hit to the outfield allowed LFBF to score, while the incoming throw back in was cut off and then sent back over second base, past the centerfielder, and nearly all the way to the fence, clearing the bases for the Vikings.
"As soon as I saw that throw, I lost my breath," said Slater, watching from his third base corner. "I knew we had bats coming up [in the bottom of the inning], but we weren't able to come back.
"It was hard to swallow," Slater added.
As if the crushing defeat wasn't hard enough to take, the Bombers (9-6), were then beaten by third-seeded South Ridge 9-7 the same evening, a game they once led 4-0 said Slater, until another elongated inning led to elimination.
Losing pitchers were sophomore Christopher Carlson in game one and junior Mitchell Weller in game two, said Bender.
Bender also said long innings weren't a problem for his team this spring, but rather his squad was playing well both in the field, at the plate and on the mound.
"We had games where we were just stellar," he said. "A couple mistakes just got to us in one or two games and that turned out to be the difference."
A difference will occur now without Slater, a varsity member since his freshman year, whose baseball career is now complete. Although the 6-foot-1, 330-pound lineman will play collegiate football at the University of Minnesota-Crookston next fall, Slater said he's still going to miss the diamond.
"It was tough," Slater said.
subhed: South Ridge
Perhaps the toughest small school team remaining is South Ridge (11-8). Since losing to Silver Bay in last week's second round, the Panthers have produced four straight win-or-go-home victories and are now playing top-seeded Ely (19-2) for the Section 7A championship today, Thursday, at 5 p.m. in Hibbing.
South Ridge will need to topple the Timberwolves twice today to advance to their school's first-ever state baseball tournament.
The Panthers’ post-season play has been quite a ride so far. A 12-6 win over Chisholm preceded their two-run clipping of Barnum last week, while South Ridge ripped by Cook County 10-4 and then LFBF 13-0 in five innings Tuesday in Hibbing.
Co-Coach Tony DeLeon said freshman Vinny Wood and sophomore Reid Clark pitched past each of the Vikings' teams Tuesday. On top of that, their bats are hot, now totaling 44 runs in their four-game tear.
"We seem to be swinging the bats pretty well these last four games," said DeLeon late Tuesday. "We knew if we got here, anything could happen. Ely is No. 1 — it'll be a tough task. But why not us?"
"Right when we lost to Silver Bay to get in the loser's bracket, I told the kids, ‘Now the fun begins,’" added Panthers Co-Coach Tom Spaniol. "All that [loss] did was give us more baseball games to play.
"They've played really well with their backs against the wall," Spaniol added.