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No. 2 Pirates shift focus to state

By Staff | Aug 19, 2016

Blue Earth Pirates pitcher Brandon Williamson, right, confers with catcher Bobby Olson during the team’s final game against the Hampton Cardinals in Cannon Falls’ regional tournament.

If the Blue Earth Pirates were worried about entering the 2016 amateur baseball state tournament after an excess of days off, those worries vanished in a hurry on Sunday.

Crowned division champions two weeks earlier, the Pirates kept busy over the weekend at Cannon Falls’ Region 4C?tourney, playing four games over the course of two days and landing a No. 2 seeding for state competition in the process.

Blue Earth, which began Saturday, Aug. 13, having won nine straight games dating back to its 22-3 regular season, secured a spot in the state bracket during the opening round of regional play. But the team endured some lengthy afternoons of baseball to earn the No. 2 placement.

A rare 6-0 shutout loss against the Hampton?Cardinals on Saturday dropped the Pirates into the losers bracket in Cannon?Falls, where they rebounded later that night with a 3-2 win behind an outing from player/manager Lee Hodges on the mound. Twenty-five hits between the two games were not enough to give Blue Earth more than its three runs against the Minnesota Lake Royals, and those struggles carried into Sunday’s action.

Facing elimination from the regional tournament, the Pirates rematched and bested Hampton, 4-1, on Sunday afternoon to secure a third game against the Cardinals. Immediately following their win, however, the Pirates could not replicate their success, falling 10-4 to Hampton and surrendering a No. 1 seed for the state tourney.

Trent Sonnicksen throws out a runner from second base for the Blue Earth Pirates.

Brandon Williamson opened the second of Sunday’s games for Blue Earth on the hill, overcoming a two-run first inning by the Cardinals before giving up four more Hampton runs between the fifth and seventh.

Blue Earth Area High School’s Kaylan Legred, relieving Williamson in the ninth, did not fare much better despite an active day at the plate. Before giving way to Hodges for the last third of the inning, Legred was tagged for four runs by the Cardinals insurance runs that were virtually insurmountable for the Pirates at that point in the series.

“We ran out of gas,”?the team admitted via its Twitter account after the six-run defeat.

The Pirates’ bats were not exactly alive to shoulder some of the pitchers’ weight, either, however.

Outside of a three-run second inning and a bottom-of-the-ninth RBI by Hodges, Blue Earth again had trouble turning hits into runs.

Catcher Bobby Olson tripled to kick off the Pirates’ scoring surge in the third, and Aaron Wendt drove a pitch over the right field wall for a two-run home run after Trent Sonnicksen reached base. But other plays scattered throughout the third Pirates-Cardinals bout of the weekend a Sonnicksen single, Legred walk, Wendt single, Olson walk and a pair of T.J. Schmidtke singles resulted in stranded runners.

Things worked more in the Pirates’ favor earlier Sunday, when Blue Earth topped Hampton by three runs in the teams’ first meeting of the day.

Headlined by one-run pitching from Wendt, who kept the Cardinals scoreless until the eighth, the Pirates relied on their signature defense to bottle up Hampton rallies and survive with some manufactured runs of their own.

Wendt started the seventh frame with a single, which was undone by a fielder’s choice from Legred, who started in center field for noon’s matchup. But a passed ball, another single by third baseman Kane Malo and a walk by Schmidtke loaded the bases for the Pirates, who went to work with back-to-back two-run doubles by Olson and Brandyn Olsen.

Hampton threatened in the following inning after the Pirates squandered another bases-loaded opportunity this one with no outs. But Wendt kept the Cardinals bats at bay, sealing the Blue Earth win and the afternoon rematch.

Gearing up for state-level competition, which was scheduled to begin for the Pirates at noon on Sunday, Aug. 21, in Hutchinson, will coincide with the team catching its breath from a heavy regional workload.

“We’re taking the week to recover from playing 36 innings in two days,”?Hodges said. “And we look forward to having a full roster on Sunday.”

That roster now also includes a pair of new players. Eligible to draft regional players for their next tournament under Minnesota Baseball Association rules, the Pirates announced the addition of Rich Burr, from the Cannon?Falls Bears, and Derek Masberg, from the Waterville Indians, after Sunday’s contests.

Masberg, whose team handed Blue Earth its first regular-season loss, pitched against the Pirates this year and is also a hurler for Winona State University.

Coupled with Burr, a veteran of Cannon Falls, Masberg joined a Pirates team prepared to begin its 14th straight appearance at the town-team state tournament.

“We will look for help from them if we make a run into Labor Day Weekend,”?Hodges said.

The Pirates’ Aug. 21 game in the state tournament was scheduled against the St. Joseph Joes. A win over St. Joseph would pit Blue Earth against the Elrosa Saints on Saturday, Aug. 27, at 5 p.m.