TIMELESS TITLE: Maple Lake wins Class C state title in memorable fashion

By Nick Gerhardt


Photo via RK Photography

Maple Lake catcher Matt Bergstrom waited 30 years for this moment. Rockford draftee pitcher Aiden Smith had not pitched in a town ball game all season. Together they and the rest of the Lakers celebrated a Class C state title Monday at Delano Municipal Baseball Park following a 6-4 victory over Bird Island.

The 47-year-old Bergstrom, who played 20 years with Dassel-Cokato and the last 10 with Maple Lake, served as a draftee when the Lakers defeated Fairmont 6-4 for the 2012 state title but did not play in a game. Maple Lake drafted him as a bullpen catcher because they only had one catcher on the roster. Smith, a 17-year-old entering his senior year at Rockford High School, only played in the field with the Crows this season before the Lakers made him their third draftee choice. Smith did pitch this summer with his club team.

Smith threw 6 1/3 innings as Maple Lake’s starting pitcher. He allowed two runs on six hits, walked three and struck out three with Bergstrom catching to earn the win for the Lakers.

“It was just a matter of if he’s going to throw strikes,” Bergstrom said. “I said to him, ‘Hey bud you’ll give up some hits. Teams now are going to hit anyone. Don’t get down and keep fighting. Throw it in the zone and you’ve got good guys behind you.’ He did unbelievable for his age and never really throwing in a big game.”

No kidding. He walked one batter in the first inning and gave up a run in the third inning after a pair of hits. Smith left the game in the seventh inning after a one-out walk to Bullfrogs second baseman Braeden Tersteeg, who later scored on an Aiden Elfering double after Dassel-Cokato draftee Jordan Flick came into pitch. Flick threw a five-hit shutout against Jordan Sunday to get to the semifinals against Bluffton.

“I was pretty nervous,” Smith said. “I’m pretty young. After I settled down I felt like I had pretty good command and the defense was just amazing.”

Smith worked with a lead after the top of the third and fourth innings. The Lakers also provided tremendous defensive plays throughout. Ben Goelz made a diving stop in right field in the sixth inning with a runner on first base and made a throw to first in time for a double play. 

In the seventh inning, Bird Island scored twice to make it a 6-3 game and continued to threaten. With runners at first and second and one out, center fielder Hunter Malachek made a catch deep in center field and threw to third base to stop a tagging Shawn Dollerschell from advancing for an inning-ending double play. 

“If you’re going to win a championship you need to get some timely hitting, you need to play some defense and we had that throughout the tournament,” Lakers manager Casey Pack said.

Ben Clapp made dazzling plays at third base in the eighth and ninth innings to prevent the Bullfrogs from getting back into the game. He made a long throw in the eighth with a runner on for the second out of the inning and Flick got a strikeout to end the inning. In the ninth, Clapp tracked down a pop fly deep down the left field line with his back to the infield for the first out. 

Bird Island made it 6-4 after Jordan Sagedahl singled in the next at-bat and went to third on a wild pitch. He scored on a James Woelfel ground out. But Flick got a fly ball to right field to end it.

Maple Lake broke through for the first run of the game in the third inning when Donnie Mavencamp singled to score Clapp, who reached on a one-out single.

Bird Island responded in the bottom of the third when Tersteeg scored on a Woelfel single.

The Lakers regained the lead in the fourth inning after Logan Orazem and Goelz both got hit by a pitch. Clapp hit a sacrifice fly to score Orazem and Malachek reached on an infield single to score Goelz.

Maple Lake broke the game open in the sixth with three runs. Luke Fobbe reached on an error to start the inning while Clapp singled. A Malachek bunt single loaded the bases before Mavencamp walked to bring in a run and Bergstrom followed with a walk. A suicide squeeze score Malachek to make it 6-1.

Smith and Bergstrom are related, so Bergstrom had the scoop on him to help the Lakers make a savvy draft pick.

“He was a sleeper pick,” said Malachek, who earned Fred Roufs MVP honors for the tournament. “We knew he threw hard. It takes a lot of guts to pitch your first game in the state title game and he did great.”

Few of the players from the 2012 state title team remain on the Maple Lake roster, just second baseman Riley Decker, shortstop Luke Fobbe, Mitch Wurm and Pack. For Decker, this run had similarities with the 2012 run.

The first game of both tournaments went to extra innings and the Lakers played as the visitors in the 2012 title game, plus the final out was recorded in a similar spot.

“I think that’s kind of what keeps guys hanging on,” Decker said. “You live for moments like this and guys that are still on that team are like we want to do it again. Those emotions are surreal. You’ll never know if you’ll get back here.”

As for Bergstrom after catching 36 innings in three days in near 100° F heat?

“Of course, everyone asks me, ‘Are you going to play next year?’” Bergstrom said. “We’ll worry about that next year.” 

And Smith, he’s got school tomorrow.

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