CLASS C TOURNAMENT NOTES: Maple Lake’s crazy first-round game and other storylines

By Nick Gerhardt

news@mnbaseball.org

Each state tournament title run involves a crazy scenario or challenge for a team to face. Maple Lake faced its share of them in 2023.

The Lakers nearly lost in the first round against Union Hill despite holding an 8-0 lead after four innings. Union Hill had the game-winning run on third base in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings but Maple Lake escaped each time. The Lakers eventually scored four runs in the top of the 11th inning for a 12-8 victory. 

Union Hill had a runner on third with two outs in the eighth inning. In the ninth, the Bulldogs loaded the bases with nobody out before Maple Lake got a strikeout, popout and a strikeout to end the inning. In the 10th, Union Hill had runners on second and third with nobody out but the Lakers got a ground ball, strikeout and a popout to extend the game. 

Matt Bergstrom delivered the go-ahead base hit in the 11th. 

“We just don’t have that type of firepower like one of the elite teams,” Bergstrom said. “We always gotta battle so we’re used to it. They just find a way to fight back and win games.”

Maple Lake rallied to defeat Courtland in the next round. After leading 2-1, the Cubs took a 4-2 lead in the sixth. But the Lakers rallied in the seventh with four runs and added two more in the ninth for good measure in an 8-4 win.

The Lakers defeated Sartell 3-1 to start the final weekend and even scratched across a couple of runs off Muskies ace David Deminsky, who came on in relief.

The next day Maple Lake beat Jordan 3-0 with Dassel-Cokato draftee Jordan Flick outdueling Nate Beckman to send the Lakers to the semifinals to meet Bluffton.

Maple Lake led 6-2 heading into the eighth inning when the Braves got a pinch-hit grand slam from Austin Redemske to tie the game 6-6. Unfazed, the Lakers got two runs in the bottom half of the inning after Logan Orazem singled. After a pair of walks loaded the bases, an error allowed two runs to score to put Maple Lake ahead for good.

NORTH STAR LEAGUE LOVE

With three North Star League teams hosting the state tournament it became only fitting for a member of the league to win the state title. Maple Lake became the first league representative to claim a championship since the Lakers accomplished the feat in 2012.

“I felt like the whole North Star League was pulling for us so it was a really fun atmosphere to play in,” Ben Clapp said. “Our fans are really great fans.”

As a three seed out of the North Star League, Maple Lake is the lowest seed to claim a state title since Sobieski did so in 2014 as the fourth seed out of Region 8.

SWEET STATE TITLE

Several Maple Lake players played on the 2018 high school team that won a state title. That team included Ben and Brock Goelz, Clapp, Ben Reilley, Grant Mergen and defeated Duluth Marshall 8-4. Not on that team? Hunter Malachek, who graduated a year earlier after Maple Lake lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Minnehaha Academy. Minnehaha Academy defeated Pierz that year, which features many members of the Buckman Billygoats.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this one,” Malachek said.

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING

Clapp and Malachek helped carry the lineup throughout the tournament with Clapp earning the MaxBat Maple Slugger award and Malachek earning Fred Roufs MVP honors. Clapp batted second in the lineup and Malachek third.

“I swear to God when he gets a hit, that’s when I get a hit,” Malachek said. “A big bat like that and I have to follow it up. I’m just doing my best. He’s got the pop, he can have all the show. I’ll just get on base somehow.” 

Clapp went 15-for-24 for a .625 batting average and had an on-base percentage of .645. He slugged .909 and drove in nine runs, scored eight runs, hit one home run and four doubles. He had two or more hits in each state tournament game.

Malachek went 14-for-23 for a .608 batting average with four RBI, nine runs. He had a .625 on-base percentage and slugged .850.

“To hear those stats, you’re in the game and you know their hitting well,” manager Casey Pack said. “It’s just one thing and hear it afterward. Everything was on a barrel. You never felt like they were going to get out. They’re confident in themselves and their ability.” 

Donnie Mavencamp, the No. 4-hitter, drove in eight runs and went 10-for-26 with three runs, too, to earn an all-tournament selection.

FLICK FIRES ZEROS

Dassel-Cokato draftee Jordan Flick earned an all-tournament selection for his work for Maple Lake. He threw a five-hit shutout against Jordan and had thrown 15 scoreless innings coming into the state championship game. He went 2 2/3 innings Monday and allowed two runs — one earned — on four hits and struck out two. He went 2-0 with a save for the tournament with an ERA of 0.51, allowing 14 hits, walking five and striking out 10.

BREAKING THROUGH

Maple Lake has reached the state tournament every season from 2011 to 2023, except for 2015.

In that span, the Lakers have only lost twice in the first round. Maple Lake has lost four times in the second round, three times in the third round and once in the quarterfinals.

Bird Island has a similar history in the state tournament. The Bullfrogs lost in the third round in 2012, second round in 2019, quarterfinals in 2020, first round in 2021 and the quarterfinals in 2022. Bird Island made its first trip to the state championship game this season.

“I know how hard it is to win this tournament and to get this far is a blessing and a gift,” Bullfrogs manager Mike Nagel said. “Our program is on the map and I don’t think people will take us for granted. I think our guys now believe that we can beat anybody. The teams like Jordan and Delano go into games knowing they’re going to win, not hoping. Now I think we’re into that spot where we believe we will win.” 

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