The Blue Earth Pirates were on the wrong side of a pitcher’s duel in the first round of the Class C Amateur State Baseball playoffs. The perennial state qualifier couldn’t get a big hit, ultimately losing to the Nisswa Lightning 1-0.
“It was a really well played game by both teams,” Pirates manager Todd Schmidtke says. “They didn’t have any errors and we only made one.”
Nisswa’s Brett Kramer puzzled the Pirate offense for nine innings to earn the win for the Lightning. Kramer threw strikes for St. Johns the past four years in college and was a post-season draftee from Fort Ripley.
Despite allowing only a single run over nine innings, Blue Earth’s Lee Hodges was overshadowed.
“Lee pitched a great game,” Schmidtke says. “It’s too bad we couldn’t get a big hit for him.”
Hodges struck out seven, walked two and gave up eight hits in his nine innings of work.
Coming into Saturday’s contest, the Pirates knew Kramer would pose a challenge from the batter’s box. The Fort Ripley draftee carried with him an ERA of 1.1 and an overall record of 10-2 in the 2011 campaign.
During the game, Kramer displayed why he has posted such gaudy statistics in the year. He threw darts the entire day, bringing heat that was too hot for the Pirate bats to handle.
Offensively, Nisswa broke through in the sixth inning to score the only run in the ball game. After Hodges quickly retired the ninth and leadoff batters, the Lightning did all of their damage with two outs.
Luke Schumaker laced a double down the right field line. Clean-up hitter Aaron Jenkins followed with a walk. Next, Jason Roepke connected on a ground ball off the end of his bat to produce the only RBI?of the contest.
Countless opportunities arose for the Pirates to generate offense, but a crucial base hit never occurred.
“We left 11 runners on base and that sums up the entire game,” Schmidtke says.
In the seventh inning, the Pirates Justin Schaible was 90 feet away from tying the game up and provided Blue Earth with their best scoring opportunity of the day.
Schaible led off the inning with a single and advanced on a sacrifice bunt from number nine hitter Trent Sonnicksen. With a runner in scoring position and only one out recorded, two ground outs from the top two batters in the Pirate order derailed Schaible’s hopes of crossing the plate.
The Pirates experienced deja vu in the ninth inning. Schaible reached base on a single, but once again, the next three Pirates recorded outs. The only difference in the ninth was that all three outs came on fly balls instead of ground outs.
Despite making threats the entire game, the softly hit Roepke RBI was enough to dash the Pirates dreams of a third state championship in seven years.
“We had high expectations going into the post-season,” Schmidtke says. “We thought we had the pitching and the hitting to advance deep into the playoffs.”
Nisswa’s experience in big games paled in comparison to the veteran Pirates. The Lightning began fielding a team in 2006 and this year marked the squad’s first state tournament appearance.
With the loss, the Pirates will end the year with a 28-9 record. The State Tournament game signified the Pirates ninth straight appearance to amateur baseball’s biggest stage.
“We had a really good year,” Schmidtke says. “It’s just too bad it had to end the way it did. But that’s baseball sometimes.”