NISSWA KNOCKOUT: DeChaine’s return helps bring Nisswa first state title

By Nick Gerhardt

ScoreMonster Contributor

Nisswa’s Nate DeChaine made up for lost time. 

After four years away from baseball, DeChaine decided to return to play for Nisswa this season. He and the rest of the team are glad he did after helping lead the Lightning to their first-ever state title Monday in a 12-3 victory over league and region rival Buckman at Bell Field in Faribault. 

DeChaine earned the Fred Roufs MVP award for his play, which included a performance to remember Sunday against Jordan and Delano. DeChaine tied two state tournament records in hitting three home runs and driving in eight runs in a 14-2, eight-inning win over Jordan to reach the semifinals. He also threw all eight innings, allowing two runs on five hits, walking two and striking out five. That was just the start of his day. He started against the Athletics and went the first 5 1/3 innings after giving up four runs, three earned on five hits, walking one and striking out four. He threw a total of 198 pitches in the two games combined. He finished the tournament with 11 RBIs and five runs while going 3-0 on the mound with a 2.93 ERA in 15 1/3 innings, allowing five earned runs and striking out 11.

DeChaine played at Morningside College where he became the program’s all-time leader in home runs and RBIs and graduated in 2018. He remained down there to begin a teaching career but returned to play with Nisswa with the hometown rule. He last appeared at the state tournament in 2018 as a draftee with Buckman as the Billygoats made a run to the final eight with DeChaine starting several games.

DeChaine’s performance once he returned to the Lightning lineup didn’t take his teammates by surprise.

“This didn’t surprise me,” said teammate Jeremiah Piepkorn. “He’s been doing this all year. He was about due to hit a few out of the park.”

Piepkorn did much of the hitting Monday with his 4-for-5 performance where he drove in four runs as part of a 13-hit onslaught. Aaron Jenkins blasted a two-run home run in the eighth inning as part of a four-run frame and finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs. 

Nisswa hit throughout the tournament and hit five total home runs against Jordan. Aaron Jenkins also had a home run against New Ulm in a 4-2 victory Saturday. On the season, the Lightning won seven games by 10 or more runs and ended the year on a 17-game winning streak to finish with a 23-3 record.

It didn’t all come easy for Nisswa en route to a state title. The Lightning faced a 2-0 deficit and were down to their last strike with the bases loaded against Randall in their region playoff opener before Kody Ruedisili sent a ball to left field that bounced off the left fielder’s glove and allowed three runs to score for a walk-off victory.  

“We knew we had a rabbit’s foot with us,” said Lightning manager Paul Jenkins. 

Nisswa would’ve met Foley in the loser’s bracket of the region tournament and need two wins to reach the state tournament. Instead the Lightning went on a run to claim the region title with a 6-4 win over Avon where they scored three runs in the top of the ninth for the win.

Nisswa rallied from a 5-1 deficit against Raymond in their first game of the state tournament by scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth for a 6-5 win when DeChaine hit a walk-off double to left field.

The Lightning fell behind 3-0 after the top of the first inning to Buckman Monday, a team they defeated 15-3 June 12 and 10-4 July 24, but remained confident they’d find some offense against Drew Beier, a draftee from Foley, who started for the Billygoats.

“I think the best thing about it is every single game as soon as we get down in our dugout, nobody gets on anybody,” said DeChaine, who went 0-for-5 in the championship game. “We all have a ton of confidence in each other and it just comes down to that. We just need to keep getting guys on base and everyone understands the mentality, things we’ve got to do to come back and win games.”

Drew Boland scored in the bottom of the second after leading off with a double and scoring on a ground out following an error in center and a sacrifice bunt to cut the Buckman lead to 3-1. 

Nisswa took the lead in the bottom of the third with a four-run rally that included a clutch two-out double from No. 9 hitter Matt Casperson to put the Lightning up 5-3. 

Brett Kramer, a draftee from Fort Ripley, came on in relief of Lightning starter Chris Pederson, who didn’t record an out in the first inning. Kramer kept the Billygoats off the board for six innings of one-hit ball. He walked two and struck out four to earn the win.

“Luckily I had command so I could stay ahead in the count and that made life easier,” said Kramer, who threw 3 2/3 innings against Delano Sunday in a 10-8 win where he allowed four unearned runs on five hits. “Matt Casperson called a good game. We mixed a lot. Didn’t really get any tendency going, starting offspeed, starting fastball, mixing the ball around so that worked well.”

Buckman went hitless for six innings until Noah Boser singled with two outs. After the first inning, the Billygoats had just three base runners. 

“The first inning we had three quick runs,” Buckman manager Matt Kummet said. “I did figure we were going to need more than that to win but it was a great start to the game. The momentum was in our favor for a few innings until they got on the sticks.”

After grabbing a 5-3 lead, Nisswa added three runs in the sixth behind a two-run double from Piepkorn and an RBI single from Aaron Jenkins.

The title is the first of any kind for Paul Jenkins, who has remained involved with amateur baseball for 48 years. The Lightning previously finished third in 2015 after running into eventual champion Plato and Tony Kley, a draftee from Winsted. Nisswa missed the previous two state tournaments.

“It was a wonderful feeling after all these years,” Jenkins said.

The 99th annual Minnesota Baseball Association amateur baseball state tournament drew 18,011 fans for the three weekends.

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