Area Baseball: Finally, a blue ribbon
Last season, Randolph was in the same position; one win and they were Section 4A champs headed to state for the first time in school history. However, their state plans were spoiled by Heritage Christian Academy. The Eagles needed two wins over the Rockets and did just that, pulling off 5-1 and 7-5 wins to advance to state.
Rocket catcher AJ Weidner, who was apart of last year's section run, said the team knew they had a more developed roster capable of winning the big game.
"A lot of our guys grew up," Weidner said. "(We) got bigger, they stronger, faster. While other teams are doing the same thing, we were this good last year. Just getting that much bigger and stronger got us to this point."
To help ease the nerves going in, Chris Stanton told his starting pitcher Andrew Wenstrom to just pitch like it's any other baseball game. Even if though the game happened to be one with the team's chance at its first state baseball berth in school history, Stanton said the advice worked.
"You've won many games before, don't make (this one) too much. Just play the game and that's what he did," said the Rockets head coach.
Wenstrom tossed a complete-game, one-hit shutout while striking out eight batters. Weidner said after the game it was the best performance from Wenstrom.
"I think it's the best he's been in the playoffs," Weidner said. "From the first pitch I caught from him, I was like 'wow, he's throwing harder than usual.' His pitches were all working. He was hitting spots."
Two RBI-doubles and the pitching of Wenstrom helped the Rockets not only build a lead, but maintain it too as the Rockets won 5-0 over Goodhue in the Section 4A final on Thursday.
The Rockets didn't let scoring chances go by the wayside, taking advantage of an aggressive play that didn't work in the Wildcat's favor.
With Wenstrom on first, Joey Erickson laid down a sacrifice bunt in the third inning. The Wildcats attempted to get Wenstrom out at second instead of throwing to first. Wenstrom beat the throw and after another sacrifice bunt from Weidner, Dane Ehleringer drove a two-run double to left field.
Up by a pair of runs, the Rockets doubled its lead in the fourth. Isaac Stoesz walked to lead off the fourth. After back-to-back strikeouts, Wenstrom doubled him home. Wenstrom then scored on Erickson's single to left.
In the sixth, the Rockets added an insurance run. Nick Drinken doubled and scored three batters later on Erickson's sacrifice fly to center field.
The extra-base hits from Ehleringer, Drinken and Wenstrom all led to or resulted in runs. In section play, getting extra-base hits have been a source of most of the Rockets offense.
Stanton said the extra-base hits will boost the confidence of the hitters. The section championship, however, means so much more.
"Last year, we lost two close ones and this year our goal was to win a blue ribbon," Stanton said. "We've gotten a lot of red, so getting a blue ribbon puts a stamp on our run."
A two-day semifinal
To get to the section final, Goodhue needed to beat Legacy Classical Academy in the consolation semifinal. On Tuesday the two teams began play, but severe weather halted action in the bottom of the third with Goodhue leading 1-0.
On Wednesday, the game resumed. The Wildcat pitchers escaped trouble in the fourth inning. S Franzen doubled with one out. B Horn walked, but during his at-bat Franzen was thrown out at third base trying to steal. C Dahlstrom walked to put runners on first and second with two outs. In came Ethan Schafer to pitch for the Wildcats. He struck out S Demer to end the threat.
A single in the sixth led to another Wildcat pitching change. Schafer, who struck out three of the eight batters he faced, was relieved by Carter Danielson. Dahlstrom walked, then Danielson struck out Demer to strand runners on first and second.
Needing three outs, still leading 1-0, Danielson struck out two in the seventh to secure the win.
The only run of the game came in the second inning before the rain came. Wildcat Conor O'Reilly tripled to lead off the top of the second. Carson Morken drove him in on a ground out.