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Baseball: Wingers find a way

Red Wing outfielders Grant Rolen, Seth Cushing and Tyler DeFore celebrate after the Wingers defeated Kasson-Mantorville, 11-5, in Monday's Section 1AAA playoff game. Kyle Stevens / Rivertowns Multimedia1 / 2
Red Wing second baseman Brodie Smith turns a double play during the Wingers' 11-5 win over Kasson-Mantorville in Monday's Section 1AAA playoffs. Kyle Stevens / Rivertowns Multimedia2 / 2

The top of the first inning was about as bad as Red Wing could imagine. Ben Domagala had to battle a strike zone that eliminated anything at the knees, and the Wingers' defense could only watch as Kasson-Mantorville laced line drive after line drive in front and between each defender.

But there was no panic for the top-seeded team in the Section 1AAA tournament. Red Wing came back and tied the game in the bottom of the first, then took advantage of the same limited strike zone, and three K-M errors, for an 11-5 victory that sends the Wingers to the semifinals on Saturday, June 3.

"Our guys know that we have to stick with it," said head coach Paul Hartmann. "We've been in a lot of close games, and we have to play one pitch at a time. And to our guys' credit, it was a 3-0 game and it could have been a lot worse. Credit to Kasson, Ben left some balls up because of the strike zone, which we had to adjust to. We had to counter punch, and we stayed even and we slug-fested one out today."

After a line-out to center field, the KoMets ripped six-straight singles to start the game, giving fourth-seeded K-M a 3-0 lead after the first inning.

Domagala made quick work of the second, but the third saw the bases loaded with one out. And that's when the defense truly shined. A ground ball to first baseman Seth Morem was fired to catcher Teddy Lillico, who returned the ball to Morem for a 3-2-3 double play that got Red Wing out of major trouble.

The fourth also produced some drama, with a single and a double scoring a run for the KoMets. A two-out single made it a one-run game, but another flyout to Seth Cushing in center field got reliever Kyle Hawe out from under a waterfall.

"We have a lot of great fielders, and our pitchers believe in us," Morem said. "As soon as you get that double play, you believe."

From there, only two base runners, both in the fifth, would pressure Red Wing. Hawe set down nine of the final 11 batters he faced, including two ground balls to third baseman Seth Yeatman in the seventh to secure the win in relief.

Seth Cushing and Morem both doubled in a run in the first, with Grant Rolen knocking in the tying run with a single a couple batters later. In the second, two errors led to two runs, with Cushing driving in a third with a sacrifice fly to center.

A 1-2-3 third preceded a fourth that Brodie Smith started with a ball to the backside, and Yeatman ended with a flyout to left. In between, Morem, Teddy Tauer and Zach Harding picked up an RBI, and the Wingers were well on their way to a berth in the Final Four.

"It's a good feeling knowing we have three solid pitchers to get us through," Cushing said. "We feel confident that we'll get through the next game."

Tauer singled home Smith in the sixth for the final margin, but it was the defense that stole the show in a game that featured 16 runs and 25 hits.

"A game like this, we've won a lot of 2-1, 1-0 games, but the defense was just as important in this one," Hartmann said.

Red Wing, which celebrated in a pouring rain that fell just after the final out, will face second-seeded Northfield in the semifinals at 1:30 p.m. back at the Red Wing Athletic Field. The loser faces elimination at 4 p.m. that same day, while the winner moves onto Tuesday's final. The championship is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 6. If a second game is necessary in the double-elimination tournament, it would immediately follow Game 1.

Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at kstevens@republican-eagle.com, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
(651) 301-7879
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