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Carlton, South Ridge face off for title

When Carlton beat South Ridge 3-2 on Tuesday, June 5, in the winners bracket of the Section 7A baseball tournament, there were more than a few people who were surprised. The Bulldogs had to beat one of the state's top-ranked teams, Ely, as well as No. 2 seed Wrenshall, to get into the game. The Panthers had a tough road as well in having to beat both Silver Bay and Deer River.

"The game against Wrenshall was big for us because they are a much improved team this year and had 10-run-ruled us in the Polar League Championship game," Carlton coach Ryan Schmidt said. "Against Ely, everything came together and we got a great pitching performance from Ryan Gray."

The significance of the Ely game was the fact the Timberwolves had been ranked most of the season in Class A's top 10 in the state.

For their part, the Panthers had wins over Silver Bay behind Mason Lane's pitching, and then South Ridge rode the arm of Nick Carlson to an impressive win over Deer River.

"We played as good a game as I could have hoped for," Panthers head coach Tyler Olin said. "They've been great for years and have had our number, but Nick was impressive."

Also impressive is the continued late-season surge by Carlton, which struggled during the regular season and finished with a record under .500.

On Tuesday, the Bulldogs fell behind 2-0 to the Panthers, but rallied back as sophomore pitcher Kaden Crane held the South Ridge bats in check long enough to allow his team to rally for the victory.

"Kaden Crane pitched a gem by allowing only three hits to a strong hitting team," Schmidt said. "Our boys kept their heads up even when we were down by two runs and they knew we were still in the game."

Crane also played a huge part of the comeback by smacking out a triple late in the game that scored Jackson Mickle to tie the game at 2-2. In the bottom of the seventh, the Bulldogs won the game when Chase Parker hit a grounder to second and beat the throw to first with two outs, allowing Ryan Gray to score the winning run in walk-off fashion.

"Carlton played a great game," Olin said. "We got off to an early lead, but we let them stick around and gave them a few extra outs with errors and that gave them life."

South Ridge then faced the enviable task of trying to take out an Ely team that was fighting its way back out of the losers bracket. The Timberwolves had been ranked as high as No. 4 in the state Class A rankings during the regular season, but fell into the losers bracket following their earlier loss to Carlton. The Panthers didn't disappoint their fans by coming up with a dramatic 5-4 win.

"The Ely game was another nail biter with the season on the line," Olin said. "I'm very proud of my guys to get a win in that spot against a great program."

Now? Well, the Panthers have to figure out a way to slow down a Carlton team that has gained confidence and momentum, and a team that appears to have destiny sitting on their shoulders. The two teams will do battle at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 7, at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior.