Baseball: Shocked, settled, state bound
The dugout was shell-shocked. But pitcher Kyle Hawe was unfazed.
Things looked bleak for the Red Wing baseball team as they gave up three errors in the top of the first inning of the Section 1AAA championship against Northfield, allowing three Raiders to cross home in the process.
Save for a few swear words, the Wingers' dugout was uncomfortably silent. And yet, Hawe didn't lose faith in the defense behind him.
“I wasn't worried at all about them,” Hawe said. “I still have the best defense in the state and I know that in my heart and in my brain. It wasn't a problem. I knew we'd come back with the bats.”
Red Wing had just one more error in the game. And the bats came up clutch with three runs in both the fourth and sixth innings. And when Seth Yeatman snagged the final pop fly of the game, the Wingers knocked out the two-time defending section champs with a 6-4, come-from-behind, state berth-clinching victory at the Red Wing Athletic Field.
“In one sense, it was so uncharacteristic for us to perform the way we did in the first inning,” said Red Wing head coach Paul Hartmann. “In another sense, it was typical of this team to continue to battle back and pick each other up and play with a lot of heart.”
Senior right fielder Tyler DeFore added, “This was our dream since we were little, and it was well deserved.”
But it came with plenty of early frustration. A pair of bobbled balls and a throwing error put Northfield ahead 3-0. It nearly became 4-0 if not for catcher Teddy Lillico tagging out Nic Zabel at the plate for the second out of the inning.
Things tightened up on the defensive end but the bats couldn't get started. The Wingers had no hits the first time through the lineup.
“We joked after the top of the fourth where we couldn't have played any worse and we're only down 3-0,” Hartmann said. “We just have to relax and play. To our guys' credit, they stayed in the moment, played off each other and got it done.”
Yeatman led off the bottom of the fourth with a single for the team's first base runner. Then DeFore belted a deep shot to right-center over the fielder's head for the Wingers' first run. With a double steal putting runners on second and third base, Seth Cushing brought DeFore home on a sacrifice fly while Seth Morem tied the game on a two-out Teddy Tauer bloop single.
“(The first inning) was very unnerving but it took a lot of deep breaths, a lot of talking, a lot of communication with each other to calm ourselves down,” Tauer said. “We knew we could put some good swings on this pitcher (Derek Albers).”
The Raiders retook the lead in the top of the sixth with a Ross Beumer RBI double to left-center. That would be the last blemish on Hawe's day as he gave up four runs (one earned) on nine hits and four walks with three strikeouts.
Even late in the game, Hawe never lost faith in his teammates.
“I kept thinking we'd get it back,” he said. “I knew we would win no matter what.”
DeFore was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the sixth, eventually reaching third after a Morem single and a misplayed bunt by the Raiders.
“I couldn't take another minute of being down to these guys. I was having flashbacks of the hockey season,” DeFore said, recalling the boys' hockey team's double-overtime loss in the section finals to Northfield. “We needed to turn this thing around. Luckily, my teammates helped put me in scoring position.”
With runners on second and third, Tauer hit an Albers pitch to the opposite field for what ended up as the game-winning two-run single. Lillico added an insurance run with a bloop single later in the inning.
“I had to make a couple of adjustments in the at-bat because my first swing I thought I was going to put it over the right-field fence,” said Tauer, who finished 2-for-3 with three RBI. “I had to stay within myself and talk myself down and say, 'If you can get this one over second or short, you'll be good.”
With one on in the top of the seventh, Yeatman came in for the save and got the next three hitters out, sending Red Wing to its third state tournament, and its first since 2012.
“This whole year, this team has just grinded out wins and it's so special to do it with these guys,” Hawe said. “I know it's cliché, but I wouldn't want it with anyone else.”
State seeding will take place this weekend, and the Class 3A state quarterfinals will be played on Thursday, June 15 at Siebert Field in Minneapolis.