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South Ridge roars back to 7A baseball final

South Ridge eighth-grader Elias Tuominen gets one of his two hits against Mesabi East during Tuesday's Section 7A playoff game at Wade Stadium. Dave Harwig/ 1 / 2
South Ridge sophomore Christian Houle throws a pitch against Mesabi East in Tuesday's Section 7A playoff game. Houle one-hit the Giants in an 11-1 win to advance to Thursday's championship against Deer River. Dave Harwig/ 2 / 2



In baseball, to win games, teams will generally click on the mound, in the field and at the plate. When all three major facets of the sport are on together, it is fun to watch.

Much like the South Ridge dugout Tuesday night at Wade Stadium. The Panthers proved a livened-up bench of teenage boys can find different ways to win in times of need.

That was the scene Tuesday under the lights. After a 13-5 loss to Deer River in the winner’s bracket, South Ridge rode the energy from their sideline with their backs against the wall by eliminating Mesabi East in an 11-1 victory in six innings to advance to the Section 7A baseball championship tonight (Thursday, June 4).

The Panthers (16-7), playing in their second final in two years, will get a much-wanted rematch with the Warriors (13-10) when the teams play at 5 p.m. at Wade. If South Ridge wins game one, a required second game will be played afterward, with a trip to next week’s Class A state tournament on the line — a potential first for any Panthers.

History would not have had a chance to be made tonight, however, if it weren’t for the loud-hollering, constant-chatting and energy-boosting dugout against Mesabi East. Many teams might pack it in after an eight-run loss in a game in which they allowed two runs in every inning except one (when they gave up three), but that wasn’t South Ridge. The boys in blue and black rallied.

“I could just hear the bench roaring,” said sophomore Christian Houle, the winning pitcher against Mesabi East, who tossed a one-hitter. “The energy in the first game wasn’t there, but we really stepped it up. We knew we had to win.”

Houle and junior Zach Johnson, the losing hurler against Deer River, not only pitched, but combined for eight hits on the day. The story, however, was the team’s resiliency, something they’ve had all year, said co-coach Tony DeLeon.

“We responded, but we were loose and having fun — we play better then,” said DeLeon, who coaches from the dugout for games, noting its noisiness Tuesday. “We like it that way.

“I’ve been known to lead a cheer or two,” DeLeon continued, sarcastically. “We told the kids when we lost [to Ely] last year in the final, we expected to be back here. We’ve made it and we are here, but that’s only half of our goal.”

The other half is tonight. Against the red-hot Warriors, who have won eight of their last nine, nothing is guaranteed.

“We just have to focus in on that first game — we can’t worry about game two,” said co-coach Tyler Olin, who coaches at third base. “If we get one, it’ll put some pressure on them.”

“We’re good with our backs against the wall,” Johnson said, adding their dugout will be ready. “It can get louder.”