Grand Forks Blues players knew they had their hands full playing Grafton in the championship game of the Robert Montgomery Memorial Legion Tournament — coming into Sunday’s game, the Blues were 2-2 against Grafton this season.
But the Blues came ready to play, scoring three runs in the first inning on its way to winning the championship by a score of 5-1 at Kraft Field.
“We played a very fundamentally sound game today,” Blues coach Matt Palmiscno said. “Our pitchers did a great job. We put good at bats together. We were aggressive on the bags.
“Overall, I feel this was one of the better games we’ve played all season.”
In the first inning, Grand Forks started the scoring when Ben Carolin took home on an errant throwback to third base. With two outs and two runners on, Rakeem Wright doubled to left to drive in Jace Braathen and Nick Lund for the 3-0 lead.
The Blues scored two more runs in the third when Wright doubled again, this time up the middle, scoring Brock Reller and Jacob Knecht.
“We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole,” Grafton coach Chad Kliniske said. “We didn’t hit the ball. We didn’t execute very well on offense.
“They’re a very good team … they hit the ball up and down the order. You can tip your hat to them, they did a good job today.”
Grafton was able to get a run back in the top of the fourth when Charlie Thompson hit a sacrifice fly that scored Zak Hernandez. Grafton had the bases loaded following a Luke Huechert walk, but Blues starting pitcher Jace Braathen was able to get out of the jam without any more damage done.
Braathen and Baden Ripplinger, who pitched the seventh in relief, allowed only one run on three Grafton hits.
Braathen finished with four strikeouts, while Ripplinger had two in closing out the game.
“He (Braathen) stepped in and did a great job,” Palmiscno said. “Baden has been our guy all year. We knew that once we got him in there he’d slam the door for us.”
Wright led Grand Forks at the plate, finishing 3-for-3 while batting in four runs.
Palmiscno said his team, which improved to 12-5-1, seems to have found its stride.
“We played really well the last couple of weeks, so we just can’t have any lapses like we had at the start of the year,” Palmiscno said. “We’re playing very well, so as long as we keep going on the road we’re on, we’ll be fine.”