Red Wing can keep up offensively with Elko. But with the season on the line Sunday in the Section 1B playoffs, keeping up wasn't enough for the Aces. They needed to overtake the Express, and that proved problematic.
With two runs in the second inning, followed by a three-run third, Elko's early edge was enough to sweep Red Wing in the best-of-three series with a 5-2 win Sunday at the Red Wing Athletic Field. In Game 1 Friday in Elko, the Express opened the series with a 9-4 victory.
"We've run into that, where the hits will come but they're scattered," said Aces second baseman Adam Thygesen, who had two of the team's nine hits. "We need to come up with big hits."
Manager Justin Plein added, "We just couldn't bunch the hits together. We'd get a hit here, a hit there. It just didn't work out today."
The bottom of the Express' lineup provided the most firepower, with No. 8 hitter Ben Jensen and No. 9 hitter Kyle Kalina belting back-to-back RBI singles in the second inning. In the next frame, No. 7 hitter Jason Grimm cracked a two-run single, followed with a sacrifice fly from Jensen.
"They're just a really good hitting ballclub," Plein said. "One through nine, there's no easy outs in that ball club. The bottom of the order definitely hurt us today."
After the third, the Aces' pitching duo of Teddy Tauer and Trey Eckstrom held Elko to just three more hits the rest of the way. Tauer had five strikeouts in six innings in a losing effort, and Eckstrom retired the final eight batters in a row in a three-inning outing.
"Teddy bore down. The big thing with him, even as a junior going into his senior year, he's got that mentality," Thygesen said. "He bears down and fights through tough situations."
Mitch Matter drove in the Aces' first run in the bottom of the second, legging out an infield single that allowed Dixon Irwin to score. Irwin crossed home again in the sixth off a two-out single from Thygesen.
"We're always fighting. It's never the case that we're having a tough time," Thygesen said. "There's no give to the team, which is good."
Matter went 2-for-5 at the top of Red Wing's lineup, and Brodie Smith was 2-for-4 in the No. 9 spot.
For Elko, Dylan Thomas was 2-for-4 with a run scored, followed by a 2-for-3 effort from Jensen as the Express collected eight hits.
Red Wing closes out the year with a 12-19 record. The standings didn't show it, but the Aces believe the future is bright as long as the team's young core stays together.
"It's never the way you want to end a year, but you look at the young guys coming up, the future is definitely bright," Thygesen said. "As one of the older guys with me, Josh (Thygesen), (Kyle) Blahnik and Corey (Tauer), it's good to see these young guys here. They keep us feeling young."
Plein added, "At this time next year, we expect to beat Elko. With the young group we have, with the young nucleus, it's only going to get better."
Bears state bound
With wins over Randolph (6-1) and Waterville (5-2) this weekend, the Cannon Falls Bears will head back to the state tournament, clinching one of Region 4C's three state berths.
Against Randolph on Saturday, Cannon Falls broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning with a four-run frame, followed by another run in the bottom of the sixth. Alex Tauer scored twice in a 3-for-5 outing, and Luke Winchell was 2-for-4 with a home run, four RBI and a run scored. On the mound, Jared Woodward threw a complete game with eight strikeouts and five hits and no walks allowed.
Versus Waterville, the game remained scoreless until the Bears tallied four runs in the top of the seventh en route to the state-clinching victory. Cannon Falls got another complete-game effort, this time by Keith Meyers, who struck out 10 with eight hits and one walk allowed. On offense, Brock Peterson was 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a run scored, and Winchell and Tanner Jackson were both 2-for-4 with a run driven in.
At 8 p.m. Friday, Cannon Falls will host Hampton at John Burch Park in a game that will determine the region's top seed in the state tournament. The loser of the game will play back in Cannon Falls Sunday to determine the second and third seed to come out of Region 4C.