With the Big Nine Conference title on the line, Red Wing knew it needed a win in the first game of Monday's doubleheader against Rochester John Marshall. A loss would likely mean a tie with Rochester Century and a split league championship.
The Rockets, sitting in the middle of the pack, were going to make it as difficult as possible for Red Wing to capture its first Big Nine crown since 1980. John Marshall's Alex Belch, a future Kansas State Wildcat, took the mound to unleash his Division I fastball against the Wingers.
It worked for the Rockets and Belch, who held Red Wing to five hits over 5 2/3 innings. But the Wingers got an RBI double from Tyler DeFore in the first inning, then rode Ben Domagala and Teddy Tauer the rest of the way for a 1-0 win and the conference championship.
“As a group we didn't talk about it all year long,” said Red Wing head coach Paul Hartmann. “We wrote down goals and daily habits we wanted to establish. Our goal was to be playing our best baseball at the end of the year and win a section championship and play in the state tournament.”
Having Domagala and Tauer available for Game 1, which is the one that counted in the standings, was happenstance. Hartmann said he did not set his rotation up to have that be the case. But it was, and with possibly the league's best defense, highlighted by Seth Cushing's leaping grab in the third, the Wingers' pitchers were able to hold the Rockets to one hit each. Domagala would get the win, logging five innings with two walks and a strikeout. Tauer got the two-inning save and struck out four.
JM did put some pressure on in the sixth, loading the bases on a walk, a hit batter and a single, But Tauer go out of it with a called strike three, then used two ground outs and his final strikeout in the seventh to seal the title.
“It's a testament to our kids, that they knew they would have to beat a DI pitcher to win the conference,” Hartmann said. “And rather than fearing that situation, they embraced it.”
Game 2, Red Wing bounced Rockets starter Sam Boysen after 2 2/3 innings with eight runs on five hits and six walks. Seth Yeatman covered the first three innings for the Wingers, giving way to Brodie Smith, who got the win by finishing the final four innings. Smith, who had three hits in the nightcap, and Teddy Lillico each had a pair of RBI.
The Section 1AAA tournament seeds Wednesday morning, and with the sweep, the Wingers are in good shape to be the top seed, with Northfield likely second. Red Wing beat the Raiders, 10-1, on May 13.
“The most significant thing about this championship is when the kids come back to the high school and they can see that in 2017 they won the Big Nine,” Hartmann said.