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Amateur Baseball: Aces one win away from state tournament berth

Kyle Blahnik tags out Payton Simon for a crucial third out in the eighth inning of Red Wing's 4-2 win over Owatonna in the Region 5C playoffs on Sunday at the Ath. Jake Pfeifer / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 4
Brady Schroeder throws a pitch during Red Wing's playoff game against Owatonna on Sunday. Schroeder pitched all nine innings for the Aces to earn the win. Jake Pfeifer / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
Dixon Irwin grabs a bunted ball and throws out the runner. Irwin was an impact player all game long with productive offense and strong play behind the plate by blocking numerous pitches in the dirt. Jake Pfeifer / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
Shorstop Zach Garner snags a ground ball and throws out the runner at first base. Garner also recorded Red Wing's only extra-base hit on the day. Jake Pfeifer / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

Hosting its first playoff game after getting a first-round bye, Red Wing was able to fend off Owatonna, 4-2, on Sunday at the Ath and get within one win of securing a state playoff berth.

Nearly all of the scoring happened early in the game, with Owatonna putting up both of its runs during its initial crack at offense in the first inning.

After a one-out single by Riley Thompson and double by Quinn Christenson, Benji Hager brought in two runs on a single with two outs.

Red Wing responded with three runs of its own in the bottom of the inning to take the lead, however.

Mitch Matter led off by getting hit by a pitch, and a perfectly placed bunt by Dixon Irwin down the third-base line put runners on first and second with no outs. In the next at bat, Brady Schroeder knocked a single to right field to score Matter.

Kyle Blahnik hit into a fielder's choice to give Red Wing its second out, but Irwin came in to score to tie the game. Seth Yeatman then brought home Schroeder in what ended up being the game-winning run.

"We set a goal before the game, that if we scored four or five runs, we're confident that we are going to win," Red Wing head coach Justin Plein said. "That first inning is huge, we gave up those two but for us to respond, and score three to win that inning, that was big and kind of set the tone for the game."

Although it appeared that both teams were in for a slugfest after the first inning, only one run would come across over the next eight innings as both pitchers settled into the game. In fact, Red Wing was only able to record one more base hit the rest of the way — a double by Zach Garner in the fourth inning.

Meanwhile, Owatonna put together six hits and 11 baserunners, but due to stellar defense, particularly behind-the-plate play by Irwin, Red Wing stifled any Owatonna scoring opportunities.

"(Irwin) saved probably six or seven bases tonight," Plein said. "He gives our pitchers the confidence to throw any pitch in any count. Defensively, he's one of the best catchers in the state of Minnesota."

Owatonna's most dangerous scoring threats came late in the game. In the eighth inning with runners on first and second with one out, Hager flew out to left field for the second out, but Payton Simon tagged and tried to reach third. A perfect throw by Matter and tag by third baseman Blahnik gave Owatonna its third out.

In the ninth inning, Owatonna put runners on first and second with no outs, but Schroeder struck out the next two batters he faced. After walking the next batter to load the bases, and put the winning run on first, Schroeder got another strikeout, ending the game.

Leading Red Wing offensively was Irwin, who went 1-for-3 with two runs scored and Blahnik, with one hit and two RBI.

Schroeder pitched all nine innings for Red Wing to earn the win. He struck out nine, walked two and gave up two earned runs on nine hits.

With the win, Red Wing advances to face Wanamingo with the winner earning a spot in the state tournament.

"When they came up here, it was a 1-1 game going into the eighth inning. We ended up winning 5-3, but it's going to be another close game," Plein said. "It's nice to have a week off and get Brady (Schroeder) rested again so we will have everyone available again next week."

Red Wing takes on Wanamingo at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 5 in Owatonna. The winner earns an automatic bid into the state tournament, the loser will move to the Region 5C elimination bracket.

Jake Pfeifer

Jake Pfeifer is a sports reporter and outdoors editor for RiverTown Multimedia. Previously, he worked at Detroit Lakes Newspapers.

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