Baseball: Griebenow's hit saves Tigers from the brink
LAKE CITY - Between Logan Thomas pitching on two days' rest, Mitch Kuchinka coming through with the biggest hit of his baseball career, and Jake Griebenow's eventual game-winning run, Lake City's group of seniors were determined to see their final season last past Tuesday.
"Obviously as a senior, I didn't want this to be my last game," Thomas said. "I truly think we can make it far with this group of guys."
After losing 3-1 to Winona Cotter in the Section 1AA-East finals, the Tigers were on the brink of being ousted before taking out Dover-Eyota 7-6 in 10 innings in an elimination game in Lake City.
"It was kind of tough (after the Cotter loss)," Kuchinka said. "We did a good job of bouncing back."
Lake City head coach Perry Iberg added, "They don't want it to end. There's a lot of enthusiasm coming from those guys."
All it took for the Ramblers in the 1AA-East championship was one bad inning by the Tigers to pull away for a win. Lake City committed three errors in the first inning, resulting in three Cotter runs. Reid Lundell was able to reach home in the bottom half of the first on an RBI double by Griebenow, but the Tigers were never able to tack on another run, putting them in the loser's bracket.
And early in the elimination game with the Eagles, Lake City looked ready to roll over as the Ramblers put up three runs in the second. Lake City was unable to convert a double play, allowing Alex Williams to score. Then Kyle Dubbels, Dover-Eyota's No. 1 hitter, hit a two-run base hit to left field to make it a 3-0 game.
Two innings later, the Eagles bumped their lead to 5-0, knocking Lundell out of the game after going just 3 1/3 innings.
Before Tuesday's set of games, Thomas admitted he told the coaches he didn't think he could go on the mound after throwing seven innings against the Eagles on Saturday. But with the Tigers reeling, Thomas decided to give it a go.
"I told them (before the Dover-Eyota game) that I would throw if I needed to," Thomas said. "If I'd be able to help, it's worth having a sore arm tomorrow."
On two days' rest, Thomas went 6 2/3 innings, striking out six and allowing just one run on four hits and zero walks.
In the bottom of the fourth, Lake City's offense began to turn around, cutting the Eagles' lead to 5-3. Dylan Simonic drew a bases-loaded walk to score Griebenow. Thomas reached home on a fielder's choice, and Elliot Cox scored on a sacrifice fly by Kuchinka.
The Tigers' patience at the plate paid off again in the bottom of the sixth as Lundell and Ben Schramski each brought in runs on bases-loaded walks. Griebenow had a chance to tack on another run, but struck out to close the inning.
But like against Cotter, errors seemed to derail the Tigers at the worst time. In the top of the seventh, Dover-Eyota's leadoff hitter, Erick Osten, reached on a fielding error by Griebenow. Then with two outs, a chopper up the middle by Mitch Sanders was fielded by Schramski, but the Tigers' shortstop couldn't scoop the ball off the ground, allowing Osten to score and give the Eagles the 6-5 lead.
Three outs away from elimination, Thomas helped Lake City's cause with a leadoff walk, then reached second on a sacrifice bunt by Cox. After Simonic went down on strikes, Nick Oeltjen drew a walk on a full count to put runners at first and second. Then Kuchinka, who was 0-for-2 at that point, stepped into the box.
"I wasn't thinking too much about it being a big at-bat or anything," Kuchinka said. "I figured if I could just hit it, that's all I want."
Down two strikes, Kuchinka made contact, sneaking a grounder through the right side of the infield, scoring Thomas from second and giving the Tigers new life.
"That felt so good to get that hit," Kuchinka said. "That's definitely the highlight of my baseball career."
Thomas added, "I really had a feeling that we were going to win after Mitch tied it with the single. He's always joking about how he's not a good baseball player, so I was really glad to see him do that and to help him do that."
As Thomas continued to keep Dover-Eyota off the board, Lake City looked like it was moments away from victory in the bottom of the eighth. Schramski was hit by a pitch to open the frame, and Griebenow and Thomas were intentionally walked to load the bases with no outs.
Cox flew out to shallow left field, keeping Schramski stranded at third. Then Simonic hit a sharp grounder to the third baseman, who made the force out at home. Pitcher Tanner Allen finally got the Eagles out of the jam, striking out Ryan Pribyl for the final out.
"It was just frustrating," Griebenow said of the unsuccessful eighth inning. "Everyone thought for sure that we would win there. But that's baseball; the whole game is between the ears."
After striking out in the sixth, Griebenow got a chance to redeem himself in the bottom of the 10th. After Schramski got a leadoff single, Griebenow got the go-ahead to swing at an 0-1 offering from Allen. He delivered with a long shot into the left-center gap. As Schramski headed to third, Dover-Eyota's center fielder ran past the ball, giving Schramski just enough time to slide safely into home for the walk-off victory, keeping Lake City's playoff hopes alive.
"Everyone wants to be up for that kind of situation," said Griebenow, who went 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a run scored in the victory. "After striking out with bases loaded earlier, it was nice to get some redemption."
Iberg added, "Our guys did great battling back and really sticking in there."
Lake City (17-5) heads to Austin Monday to play Kasson-Mantorville in an elimination game at 5 p.m. The winner of the Tigers/KoMets game faces the loser of Cotter and Rochester Lourdes afterwards for a berth in the section championship game on June 4.