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Pirates clinch return to state

By Staff | Aug 12, 2016

Lee Hodges sits under a fly ball during one of the Blue Earth Pirates’ home wins in July. Hodges’ team recently earned a trip to Minnesota Baseball Association’s state tournament for the 14th consecutive season after two regional tourney wins last weekend.

For the 14th consecutive year, the Blue Earth Pirates are state tournament bound.

After capturing the 13/60 Blue Division title on July 31, the streaking town-team contenders secured a spot in the Minnesota Baseball Association’s top bracket last weekend, riding a pair of complete games from its pitching staff to defeat the Waterville Indians and the Cannon?Falls Bears.

A 4-1 win over Waterville Saturday kicked off the Pirates’ step forward in regional play.

The Indians played spoiler earlier in Blue Earth’s season, handing the Pirates their first loss of the year in a one-run decision on July 6. But the Pirates’ defense pulled through at John Burch Park, the site of the regional tournament, to knock off Waterville for the second time in 2016.

“It wasn’t his (Aaron Wendt) best outing of the year, as he took a lot of batters into deep counts,”?Pirates player/manager Lee Hodges said of the team’s starter Saturday. “But our defense was flawless … and he allowed only one run.”

Recent Blue Earth Area High School graduate Alan Davids helped take some pressure off Wendt, too, driving in all four of the Pirates’ runs in one swing. The team’s offensive catalyst against the Indians, he logged two hits and launched a grand slam on his first home run as a member of the Pirates.

A day later, squaring off with the Cannon?Falls Bears in the second round of the regional tourney, it was more of the same for the Pirates in a 5-2 victory.

With strikeout leader Brandyn Olsen on the mound, Blue Earth again found life through its defensive play.

“Our defense shined again,”?Hodges said, “not committing any errors and getting out of a few jams via double plays.”

Olsen was no pushover against the Bears, either. He allowed 13 Cannon Falls batters to reach base, but he also struck out 10 and surrendered just two runs in his own nine-inning outing.

The Pirates were stymied in the final five innings of Sunday’s game, drawing not a single hit against relief pitcher Carter Dombeck. Five runs in the first four innings, however, were enough to lift Blue Earth to its ninth straight win since July 9.

Batting third, Olsen went 3 for 4 at the plate to help his own cause, logging two RBIs and also drawing a walk. Shortstop T.J. Schmidtke, catcher Bobby Olson and third baseman Kane Malo also drove in runs for the Pirates, combining for five hits on the day.

Wendt and Hodges also had hits, while center fielder Cody Sukalski reached base with a walk and a hit-by-pitch against the Bears. Left fielder John?Franta was also hit by a pitch in Sunday’s win.

Having clinched a trip to the state tournament, the Pirates will eventually seek to reclaim the Minnesota town-team title they last captured a decade ago, in 2006, with games in both Dassel and Hutchinson.

First, however, the team is keeping its eyes on what lies ahead in Cannon Falls.

“We look forward to returning to state,”?Hodges said, “but we still have two more games to win in order to get the No. 1 seed and a bye in the first round (of state).”

First up for the Pirates will be the Hampton Cardinals, who were slated to take on Blue Earth at 1 p.m. on Aug. 13.

The Cardinals entered the Region 4C tournament seeded No. 1 and topped both the Indians and Minnesota Lake Royals to advance.

Depending on the results of the Pirates’ matchup with Hampton, they could return to the field Saturday for a 7 p.m. bout in the loser’s bracket or play Sunday at noon.