Pitching and defense, it's how Red Wing got to the Section 1AAA semifinal, and how they planned staying unbeaten in postseason play. Both of those facets of the game faltered at times on Saturday at Red Wing Athletic Field, but the Wingers once again found a way to win, beating Northfield, 3-2, to move into the section championship.
"This team has done a great job of just sticking to what we need to do to win," said Red Wing head coach Paul Hartmann. "Earlier in the game we didn't catch some breaks and we hit some at-'em balls, and we left (too many) men on base. But this group just has a will to continue to play."
With just five hits as a team, Red Wing needed the pitching and defense to be stellar. Starter Teddy Tauer labored through six-plus innings, but got some big strikeouts, and his defense turned two double plays, including one that ended the fourth and preserved some of Tauer's pitch count.
"(Northfield) was putting good swings on the ball and fouling off a lot of pitches," Tauer said. "They made me work, and the defense kept us in the game."
The best of the defense may have come in the top of the seventh inning. After taking a 3-1 lead on Seth Yeatman's sixth-inning double that plated two, Tauer allowed a single and a walk. Kyle Hawe came on in relief due to Tauer hitting the pitch-count limit of 115, and immediately got a Raider to pop up a bunt. But an error in foul territory kept the at-bat alive.
On the next pitch, the bunt was placed. But another error, an overthrow to third, allowed a run to score, and set up a scenario where Northfield had the go-ahead runner on second.
With no outs, Hawe and the defense would need to be at their best to escape without surrendering the lead.
The next batter gave the Wingers some hope with a short fly to right field that Tyler DeFore caught and threw back in quickly enough to keep the tying run at third. Hawe's reflexes were on display next as he gloved a sharp grounder, glancing to third before getting the second out on a throw to first.
Then Jim Vivito came to bat, carrying an 0-for-3 and the hopes of the Raiders on his back. A full count and three foul balls later, Zach Harding came flying out of nowhere to snag a foul ball that looked as though it would fall and prolong the game.
"Honestly, that was the most nervous I've been, pitching, ever," Hawe said. "Brodie (Smith) coming up and telling me to 'trust it, trust the defense,' that really helped. I looked back and saw the best defense in the state, and that helped me so much, knowing they have my back."
Red Wing got on the board early, taking advantage of two of several Raiders' miscues. Yeatman hit a ground ball to first base to open the game, then advanced to second after two errors, one fielding and one throwing, on the same play.
Yeatman advanced to third on a ground out, and Seth Morem walked to give the Wingers runners at first and third. Morem then broke for second during the ensuing at bat, and when the catcher popped to throw out Morem, Yeatman dashed home to score the game's first run.
Morem would be stranded at second, the first of three times that would happen. Red Wing left eight men on base, including seven in scoring position. Northfield also failed to capitalize, leaving 12 on base, seven on second or third.
Despite all the things that happened, especially late, Red Wing escaped, its playoff run extending to at least Tuesday, when, at 5 p.m., the Wingers will again face the Raiders. Northfield beat Albert Lea, 7-0, in an elimination game later on Friday. With the win on Friday, Red Wing needs to win just one game on Tuesday to earn a spot in the Class 3A state tournament. The Raiders would need to win the 5 p.m. game to set up a second, winner-take-all game, which would be played at 7:30 p.m.
"Both teams knew this was a big game, but there's a bigger one on Tuesday," Hartmann said. "We have to have the mindset that, yes, we won this game and did some things late to get it done. But we're going to have the same opportunities to get it done Tuesday night."