Wingers, Cunningham advance
Red Wing left-hander Justin Cunningham started the year 6-3 with a 1.83 ERA, but in the final game of the regular season he and catcher Cole Kelly started to experiment with a different approach.
Cunningham embraced the new game plan in the Section 1AAA tournament opener Saturday and struck out a season-high seven batters in the fourth-seeded Wingers' 7-3 victory over No. 9 Northfield. He entered the game with 19 strikeouts on the season.
Over five innings, Cunningham surrendered seven hits and two earned runs. He walked one batter.
"If guys hit the ball, it was just me not hitting spots," Cunningham said. "Pitches that were called were good. As long as I hit the spot we're gonna get the job done."
Cunningham declined to provide specifics on the adjustments he's made, but Kelly said one reason to mix things up was familiarity. Cunningham also started the two conference games between the schools this season.
"We got to keep them all on their toes," Kelly said. "And J.T. mixes it up enough as it is. Now he's really a threat."
Wingers coach Jim Bohmbach said the variety is what made Cunningham so effective.
"He can throw any pitch at any time," Bohmbach said. "He gets down 2-0 and he comes back with his changeup and they're sitting on a fastball."
The Raiders scored an unearned run in the fourth -- opponents have scored 16 unearned runs this year when Cunningham is on the mound -- but Red Wing more than made up for it at the plate.
Ryan Boldt led off the bottom of the first with a solo home run to right field. In the third, Zach Garner stepped to the plate with a runner on second and two down. Northfield coach Peter Maus wanted starter Alex Robideau to go after Garner so Pat Kelly would lead off the next inning.
Instead, Garner hit a run-scoring triple and Pat Kelly followed with a two-run home run to put the Wingers up 4-0.
"That is the key, those guys they're going to see some good pitches (in front of Pat Kelly)," Bohmbach said. "That's why we got Zach there. He's a great hitter."
Maus elected to intentionally walk Pat Kelly his next time up and had Robideau pitch to Cole Kelly. Pat Kelly proceeded to steal second, putting runners on second and third with one out.
"I like being in that position," Cole Kelly said. "I like scoring guys, make them pay."
Cole Kelly said his goal was to drive the ball out of the infield because a hit would score two runs. He did just that when Robideau hung a pitch. Cole Kelly's hit pushed Red Wing's lead to 7-3.
The Wingers improved to 16-5 and will play host to No. 5 Owatonna at 1 p.m. Monday with a berth in the Final Four on the line. The Huskies defeated Red Wing 4-3 on May 7 at the Owatonna wood bat tournament.