By James Howell
After a solid 4-2 win in the opening round over Delano, the Saints faced league leader Maple Lake.
The early innings of the game played out as expected. Both lineups struggled against 2 of the better pitchers in the NSL. Then in the 5th, the Lakers touched up Jordan Flick for 4 runs. A 4-0 lead against Mitch Wurm and the Lakers may have seemed insurmountable, but the Saints responded immediately in the sixth.
After Jon DeRock walked with the bases loaded, Brent Opsahl hit a 3 run single to right to tie the game.
The Lakers regained the lead in the 6th on a single by Luke Fobbe.
Pitching with a 5-4 lead, Mitch Wurm settled down and retired the Saints in order in the 7th.
In the 8th, Wurm unraveled again, this time in a big way.
A lead off walk to Kyle Johnson started the wild inning. After John Hohenstein was retired, Reid Nelson singled and DeRock walked bringing up Brent Opsahl.
Opsahl came through again, this time with a bases clearing double to right to give the Saints a 7-5 lead.
A single by Lucas Larson put runners on the corners for Karsen Forsman and he smacked a double to left center to extend the lead to 9-5.
Eric Hanson’s RBI single made it 10-5 and with Jordan Danielson warming in the bullpen, things looked bleak for Maple Lake.
DeRock started the 8th on the hill after taking over for Flick in the 6th.
A walk to Nate Johnson followed by back to back singles by Brian Redemske and Riley Decker brought the score to 10-6.
Danielson came in at this point, and the first man he faced was Luke Fobbe. With 2 men on, Fobbe hit Danielson’s 2-1 pitch over the center field fence bringing the Lakers within
Graham Brown hit a single to center, and then Matt Bergstrom sacrificed him to 2nd.
Chad Raiche brought home Brown with a sharp single to center to tie it at 10.
Hohenstein led off the 9th for the Saints with a single to left, and promptly stole second. Nelson grounded to 2nd, but Hohenstein advanced to 3rd to bring up DeRock.
DeRock went down on strikes, bringing up Opsahl. The Lakers elected to walk him, but on the 4th intentional ball Laker reliever Ben Jungers sailed the pitch over Bergstrom’s head, scoring Hohenstein and giving the Saints a 1 run lead.
Leading off the Laker 9th, pinch hitter Derek Rachel flew out and Riley Decker was retired on a ground out. With 2 away, Danielson got Fobbe to 0-2, but Fobbe laced a single to center, turning the lineup over.
Graham Brown bounced to short, but Brice Berggren had the ball glance off his glove, giving the Lakers new life. Matt Bergstrom tied the game with a base hit to center, bringing up Raiche.
Raiche laced another single to center, bringing home the speedy Brown, giving the Lakers a dramatic, come from behind win, clinching a spot at state.
After the tough loss, the Saints find themselves back where they’ve been 3 years in a row. Win and in, lose and go home. The last time the Saints made it to state was in 2011. The Saints can return this year with a win against the Howard Lake Orphans, a team that beat the Saints twice this year. Tyler Zweihbohmer will not start on the mound after throwing 128 pitches on Friday in the 1st round against Delano. Instead the Saints will turn to another lefty, Andrew Carlson. On the surface it may seem unconventional, but Carlson was the last Saints pitcher to beat the Orphans, a 2-1 regular season win last year in which Carlson pitched brilliantly. Carlson’s junk ball style may be just what the Saints need to finally break through to state.
As for the offense, the case can be made that the Saints lineup is now better than their pitching staff. After getting 14 hits against Delano and getting 12 hits against Maple Lake, the Saints offense is as good as it’s been in a long time.
The Saints hope that this run of success against good pitching can continue on Thursday when they will likely see either Adam Koch or Shane Kahn.
It won’t matter who pitches if the Saints keep hitting.