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Amateur Baseball: Bears secure state spot

Ryan Brintnall (center) leads a line of Cannon Falls players to congratulate teammate Luke Winchell (7) after a two-run home run in the third inning of Saturday's Region 4C elimination game in Hampton. The Bears beat Waterville 3-1 and are headed back to state for the third straight season. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)1 / 2
Cannon Falls pitcher Keith Meyers struck out 15 over nine innings in helping the Bears beat Waterville 3-1 Saturday in Hampton. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)2 / 2

HAMPTON – Forced to win or go home, Cannon Falls is packing its bags for state for a third straight season.

In a Region 4C elimination game Saturday at Hampton, the Bears railed behind a 15-strikeout effort by Keith Meyers to secure a state berth with a 3-1 victory over Waterville.

“It was not necessarily the road we wanted to take (to state),” Cannon Falls first baseman Luke Winchell said after winning the elimination game, “but we’ll take it.”

Cannon Falls will be the No. 3 seed from Region 4C after a 4-2 loss to Hampton immediately following the victory against Waterville. As a result, the Bears will open the Class C state tournament against the Nisswa Lightning at 11 a.m. Saturday in Belle Plaine, Minnesota.

The Blue Earth Pirates secured the region’s top seed after beating Hampton 5-3 Sunday in Cannon Falls.

With a state bid on the line early Saturday, the Indians struck first. After leadoff batter Brandon Johnson was hit by a pitch to lead off the third inning, he eventually scored on an RBI double by Brian Welch.

Then with one swing of the bat by Winchell, Cannon Falls went up for good. With Meyers on after a leadoff double, Winchell drove a pitch by Waterville starter Rich Rients over the wall in left-center to give the Bears a 2-1 advantage.

“Luckily, Keith got on, and all I thought was, ‘I have to move him over,’” said Winchell, who went 3-for-4 in the game. “It was just one of those pitches I was able to take deep. It was really big for us; we kind of had some pressure on us after they scored the first run.”

Zeke Williams scored an insurance run in the fifth, reaching home on a sacrifice fly by Rich Burr to make it a 3-1 game in favor of Cannon Falls.

That was all the cushion Meyers believed he needed to put the game away.

“Our goal was if we scored three, then I could help give us a chance to win,” Meyers said after the complete-game victory.

The ace lefty held Waterville to just two hits over the first seven innings before the Indians gave Meyers one last threat. After Meyers struck out the leadoff batter, Welch and Sam Stier hit back-to-back singles before both runners were in scoring position after a stolen base by Stier.

But even on a day where he admitted he didn’t have his best stuff, Meyers hunkered down and struck out Nolan Grose and Josh Berndt to get out of the inning unscathed.

“I was effectively wild out there,” Meyers said. “They were coming up swinging, and I was all over the place at the start. It proved to be effective out there. … We had great defense throughout, and Luke’s two-run homer was huge.”

Winchell added, “You have nerves in a situation like (the eighth inning), but with Keith, you know he’s going to throw strikes. He got out of that inning and it settled those nerves.”

Meyers, Brandon Voth and Taylor Pagel each had a hit apiece as the Bears finish with six knocks. For the Indians, Welch went 2-for-3 with an RBI, while Rients was charged with the loss after allowing three runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts in five innings of work.

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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