After winning just three games in the regular season, the No. 7 seeded Mayer Lutheran baseball team is turning heads in the Section 4A tournament, going 3-1 so far and knocking off the No. 2 and No. 3 seeded teams last week.
The Crusaders’ tournament began May 25 by defeating No. 10 PACT Charter 12-2. But the success didn’t stop there. Mayer Lutheran turned around last week and defeated No. 2 New Life Academy of Woodbury by the same margin, 12-2, this time making quick work of New Life in five innings.
Senior Tanner Luebke took the mound for LHS and threw all five innings, striking out nine batters. He allowed two runs (both earned) on two hits.
At the plate, the Crusaders tallied 12 runs on 13 hits. Junior Joel Burfeind was 3-4 with four RBIs against New Life, while Luebke was also 3-4. Senior Aaron Luehrs was 2-2 with an RBI, while junior Cole Buttenhoff was 2-4 with four RBIs. Junior Mitchell Baumann, senior Philip Burfeind, and freshman Sam Schlueter each had a hit as well.
Facing off against the No. 3 seeded Aggies of St. Agnes School on May 30, the Crusaders won 7-3 and continued their streak in the “winners” bracket of the tournament. Mayer Lutheran scored seven runs on 10 hits, while holding the Aggies to just three runs.
Buttenhoff pitched for LHS, picking up his fourth pitching win of the season. He threw all seven innings and allowed three runs (two earned) on 10 hits, striking out three and walking three.
While the Aggies were able to pick up double-digit hits, it was the Mayer Lutheran defense that stayed tough and got the Crusaders out of a few jams.
At the plate, Mayer Lutheran picked up seven runs on 10 hits. Schlueter was 3-3 at the plate with two RBIs, while Luehrs and Joel Burfeind were both 2-4. Luehrs picked up an RBI, while additional hits came from Baumann, Buttenhoff, and Luebke (2 RBIs).
With the top four seeded teams kicked to the “losers” bracket and two of them already eliminated (No. 1 West Lutheran and No. 4 Legacy Christian), the Crusaders advanced to battle No. 5 Heritage Christian in the section semifinals on June 3.
The game was mostly a pitching battle between Luebke and HCA’s sophomore pitcher Mark Franz. Luebke accounted for most of the outs of the game, throwing 14 strikeouts.
In the bottom of the third inning, Heritage Christian scored one run on two hits to take a 1-0. It would be under a Mayer Lutheran rally in the top of the seventh that LHS would get on the scoreboard.
Struble and Phil Burfeind both reached the bags with one out to put a runner in scoring position. Luebke then came up with a clutch base hit to left field to score Struble and tie the game at 1-1.
In the bottom of the seventh, Luebke struck out the first two batters, but then Eagle No. 3 of the inning reached on an error and No. 4 was hit by a pitch. Luebke walked the fifth batter, so with bases loaded and two outs, the game came down to one final batter. And with a deep hit to center field, Heritage Christian won the game 2-1.
Mayer Lutheran head coach Dave Lane said that Luebke threw a great game, but that small defensive miscues led to the two Eagle runs.
“When you score 12, 12, and seven, those little tiny miscues don’t add up so much, but when they lead to the two runs and you only score one, it becomes a problem,” he said.
Lane said both teams played really well.
“Heritage played a good ball game and we really thought we would hit this guy (Franz) a little harder,” he said.
With just the one tournament loss, the Crusaders have moved to the “loser” bracket, but still have a chance at the section finals, if they were able to defeat St. Agnes on Tuesday, June 4. Lane said he hopes to throw Buttenhoff, who has been successful on the mound this season, but worries about the mindset of the Crusaders, as they are coming off a heartbreaking loss, while St. Agnes is coming in on two wins.
“It will be one of those things that we’ll have to work a little harder to make sure we’re mentally in it,” Lane said.
Results of that game were not available when this issue went to press. The winner of the Mayer Lutheran/St. Agnes game will play in the Section 4A finals on Thursday, June 6 at Midway Stadium in St. Paul, beginning at 12 p.m. Since it is a double elimination tournament, the advancing team will have to defeat Heritage Christian twice (at 12 and 2 p.m.) to win the section and advance to the state tournament.
Contact Melissa Marohl at email@example.com