CLASS C ROUNDUP SUNDAY AT LITCHFIELD: As the field narrows, the storylines intensify

By Ryan Simonson

The 100th annual incarnation of Minnesota’s amateur baseball state tournament played out in much the same way as so many others have. The tournament’s single elimination format rarely produces repeat champions and creates ample space for the underdogs, upstarts and upsets that regularly define the event. Over the tournament’s three weekends, predictions are smashed, favorites are dismissed and brackets are busted with regularity.

Unpredictability is the only thing predictable about Minnesota’s annual townball showcase.

This drama is given life during the tournament’s first two weekends and is only amplified as the Class C field shrinks from 48, to 32, to 16 and then eight teams. When the final weekend Sunday win-two-or-go-home intensity unfolds, all bets are off and everything but the kitchen sink is thrown out in the name of winning and advancing.

Draftee pitchers who have often spent years as league rivals are suddenly laying it all on the line to help their traditional foes win a coveted state title, teams that have rarely or never crossed paths are suddenly faced with the challenge of game planning for one another, and fans travel hundreds of miles to support their beloved local baseball club featuring their neighbors and members of their own family.

It really doesn’t get any better than this.

On one side of the 2023 bracket, perennial contenders Jordan and Delano, seemingly on a collision course. On the other side, 2022 state finalists Nisswa and Buckman, coming head to head once again in the quarterfinal round. Asserting themselves in the mix: North Star League staple Maple Lake, once-again Cinderella Bluffton, Stearns County League stalwart St. Martin and draftee-loaded Bird Island. 

With storylines aplenty, only two teams would emerge from this bottleneck to face each other on Labor Day for townball’s ultimate prize.

Litchfield’s first game of the day featured Bird Island, once again employing  the services of top-tier draftee Josh Kingery of the Atwater Chuckers to reach Labor Day Weekend. Its opponent, the Martins of St. Martin. The battle-tested top seed from Region 15 survived one-run victories over Loretto and Avon to reach the quarterfinals and were the final representatives of baseball-heavy Stearns County. 

Bird Island 3, St. Martin 0

The Bullfrogs opened the scoring in the bottom of the first with a solo homerun by catcher James Woelfel. Bird Island starter Jared Dettmann left the game after two innings and was replaced by Marshall A’s draftee Mitchell Bowman, who held the Martins at bay for 3 1/3 innings. 

The Bullfrogs added to their lead in the sixth, after a Logan Swann mishit that traveled only a few feet before stopping just inside the foul line scored a run, immediately followed by a Dylan Gass RBI single. Gass took the hill for Bird Island in the seventh, getting the Frogs out of a two-baserunner jam. 

St. Martin continued to strand baserunners despite seven hits, two by starting pitcher Ben Schroeder. Scott Lieser provided 2 1/3 innings of shutout relief for the Martins, but they were unable to overcome Bird Island’s 3-0 lead. 

Buckman 7, Nisswa 2

The second quarterfinal game of the day was a much-anticipated meeting between 2022 tournament finalists and Victory League/Region 8C rivals Nisswa and Buckman. Defending state champion Nisswa handily defeated the Billygoats in Faribault to take home the title, but lost to Buckman three times in 2023. The Lightning looked to avenge their only three losses on the year and advance to the state semifinal. 

Nisswa started draftee Carter Patron from the Pierz Lakers and found itself immediately in trouble, as Buckman scored four runs on just two first-inning hits, benefitting from a pair of walks, a hit batsman, and a wild pitch. 

Buckman’s starter, draftee Drew Beier from Foley had no trouble getting through the early frames, sitting the first eight Nisswa batters down before a Matt Casperson single broke up his perfect stretch. 

Nate DeChaine took the mound for Nisswa in the second inning and kept the Goats from scoring again until the eighth inning. His RBI single in the sixth pulled the Lightning within three runs of Buckman. 

In the eighth inning, Billygoats’ second baseman Jack Suska was caught off of second base by a DeChaine move, but escaped safe at third base after a rundown. A string of hits followed, extending the Buckman lead to 7-1. 

Nisswa’s Kody Ruedisili hit a solo homerun in the eighth to close the gap, but it was the last of its scoring for the day, as the defending champs were put down by Buckman, who advanced to face Bird Island in the semifinal matchup.

Bird Island 7, Buckman 1

The “Goat Nation! Goat Nation!” chants of Buckman’s boisterous fans echoed throughout Optimist Park, carrying over from the Billygoats’ mid-day victory. Bird Island had been sitting idle for hours in sweltering heat, awaiting the day’s final game. 

Unfazed by the downtime, the Bullfrogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead with four first-inning hits.

Buckman catcher Matt Kummet put the Goats on the board in the second inning with a solo homerun and through five trips to the plate, the Goats were approaching double-digit hits but could not plate another runner, coming closest when Jack Suska was cut down at home for the first out of the third inning.  

A Shawn Dollerschell base hit, followed by a string of errant throws brought two more runs home for the Bullfrogs in the fifth. After a pitching change, a Swann flare and Gass RBI bunt pushed the Bird Island lead to 7-1. 

The Billygoats had several more chances to score, but would find themselves cut down on the basepaths each time, finally being shut down by Marshall draftee Mitchell Bouwman, ending their season.

Bird Island advances to its first state title game, to face Maple Lake in the Labor Day classic. 

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