Watertown-Mayer’s magical and unexpected run came to a disappointing end with a pair of losses at the Class AA tournament in St. Cloud on Friday, June 15.
The Royals, who beat Minnehaha Academy 1-0 in Thursday’s quarterfinals, were denied a chance to play for the state championship by a 5-3 loss to Perham in the semifinals. The Royals also fell in the third-place game, 5-0, to the state’s top-ranked team, St. Cloud Cathedral.
For the Royals, who were riding high on momentum for the last several weeks, the finish was a bit short of the ultimate goal, an appearance in Monday’s state finals at Target Field. But their fourth place finish in the state was certainly a lot higher than anybody would have anticipated for a team that entered the playoffs seeded fifth in its own subsection.
“The amazing part of our run is that each game brought a new way for the boys’ to find a way to win,” Watertown-Mayer coach Justin Stohs said. “The players used grit, heart and desire to play their best ball at the end of the season.”
The Royals faced elimination from the playoffs for several weeks after a second-round loss to Holy Family in a double-elimination tournament, but won six straight elimination games to advance to the state tournament. That included the section finals against St. Peter, when the Royals had to win twice in a row in order to qualify for state. They squeaked out a win in Game 1 after being down to their final out. They won Game 2 in extra innings.
And in the first round of the state tournament, the magic continued when the Royals pulled off a 1-0 win against one of the state’s top pitchers when they scored their only run on a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded. The Royals found a way to win despite not recording their only hit until the seventh inning.
“We always talk as a team that the true test of a person’s character is what they do when their back is against the wall,” Stohs said. “Well, our boys’ showed a lot of character throughout the playoffs and found ways to come together.”
Some of the magic that carried the Royals for several weeks seemed to finally run out in the state semifinals, however, with a 5-3 loss to Perham.
It looked promising early, when the Royals took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Joe Reinert reached to open the inning when Perham pitcher Austin Erickson fielded a comebacker, but, in a break that seemed fitting of the Royals’ recent run, threw way over the first baseman’s head, allowing Reinert to get to second.
Reinert moved to third on a groundout, and he scored on Mark Sandquist’s slow roller to third. The third baseman couldn’t field the ball cleanly, but it appeared the run would have scored anyway.
The Royals’ lead didn’t hold up for long, though, as Perham got two runs in the bottom of the inning thanks in part to, of all things, a catcher’s interference call following a leadoff single, which put two on with nobody out. A walk followed by a single and then a suicide squeeze bunt gave Perham a 2-1 lead.
Perham added to the lead in the fourth when two errors and a single led to two runs, and gave the Yellowjackets a 4-1 lead.
Watertown-Mayer cut into the deficit with two runs in the fifth, cutting the Perham lead to 4-3, but the Royals missed out on a golden opportunity to do even more damage. After singles from Jordan Berrios and Brett Johnson to open the inning, Nick Tschida’s fly ball to right field ended up scoring a run when the throw to third to try to get Berrios tagging up skipped past the third baseman.
Matt Elsenpeter followed with a one-out RBI single to cut the deficit to 4-3, and he moved to second on Brendan Weege’s single. Reinert followed with another bloop single to left, but Elsenpeter, who had to wait to see if the ball would be caught, got a late break from second and wasn’t able to score. Perham’s Erickson then managed to get a strikeout and a groundout to get out of the inning with the lead still intact.
Perham added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, and Erickson worked around back-to-back one-out singles from Elsenpeter and Weege in the top of the seventh to preserve his team’s 5-3 win and send the Yellowjackets to the state finals Monday at Target Field.
Elsenpeter was 2-for-3 with an RBI in the loss, and Weege was 2-for-4. Andrew Nichols started on the mound for the Royals and went four innings, allowing four runs, only two of which were earned. Elsenpeter gave up one earned run in two innings of relief.
The Royals had the unenviable task of facing the state’s top ranked team, St. Cloud Cathedral, in the third-place game after the Crusaders were upset by Kasson-Mantorville in the semifinals.
Cathedral plated one run in the first and added four more in the second to pull away for an easy win over the Royals. Crusaders’ starter Brian Minks struck out three and walked only one in a complete-game one-hitter.
For the Royals, that lone hit came from Weege, a single to lead off the fourth inning. Weege took the loss on the mound, giving up five runs on six hits in four innings. Zach Iten allowed just one hit and struck out three in two scoreless innings of relief.
Contact Matt Bunke at email@example.com