PREP BASEBALL: Red Lake County beats Norman County in extras
BEMIDJI — Red Lake County used the suicide squeeze to its advantage perfectly in Friday afternoon’s Class A, Section 8 championship game at Bemidji State.
The Rebels had scored on a squeeze play in the sixth inning to tie Norman County 1-1 and push the game to extras.
In the bottom of the eighth, it looked like the Rebels again had the perfect opportunity to squeeze — nobody out, runners at the corners and Wyatt Casavan at the plate.
Red Lake County coach Chris Nelson had other ideas.
“Their coach came out and started talking to their pitcher but coach looked right at me and said, ‘You’re not going to squeeze, you’re going to hit,’” Casavan said. “I just waited until I got one and hit it.”
With the Norman County first and third basemen practically standing in the batters’ box — closer to Casavan than pitcher Ryan Olson was — Casavan knocked a 1-2 fastball into the gap in deep left-center, scoring Zack Landman and giving the Rebels a 2-1 walk-off victory.
The Rebels (20-5) will return to the Class A tournament for the first time since 2011, when they lost to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in the third-place game.
The Wildcats (22-5) had routed RLC 9-s Thursday night to force a deciding winner-take-all title game Friday, but the Rebels were ready for that possibility. Nelson said he set it up so senior Lars Brevik would start a potential elimination game.
“We set it up that way for a reason,” Nelson said. “We knew he’d be able to come out there if we threw him Tuesday, and he came out (Friday) and did a great job. Lars is a good pitcher. He basically said, ‘Jump on my back and I’ll carry you.’ He did his thing.”
Brevik threw all eight innings, allowing just one run on three hits. He struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter until the sixth inning — which ended up resulting in Norman County’s only run.
Austin Merkins drew a two-out walk after a long at-bat and Blake Fetting hit a no-doubt triple to score Merkins easily.
Brevik forced Dylan Wilkens into a groundout to strand Fetting at third and give the Rebels an opportunity to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning.
Norman County starter Lucas Lindell gave up a leadoff single to Scott Schultz and Norman County coach Mike Gullingsrud brought in Olson to relieve him and face the middle of the order — Casavan, Brevik and Tristan Knott.
Olson pitched both games Thursday — in relief against Bagley and threw six innings of one-hit ball against RLC — but couldn’t prevent the Rebels from scoring Friday.
Casavan drew a walk after a long at-bat, then Brevik bunted Schultz and Casavan over with a sacrifice before Knott and executed a perfect squeeze, scoring Schultz from third.
The Rebels even attempted another squeeze during Bailey Schmitz’s at-bat but Casavan was thrown out at home and Schmitz grounded out to end the inning.
Nelson called the game a “chess match” and said Norman County probably knew exactly when the Rebels would be squeezing, which is why Casavan’s eventual game-winner worked.
“I think they’ve got us scouted pretty well,” he said. “They had guys right down his throat. I was just hoping he didn’t put it in one of their ears or something.”
The Rebels outhit the Wildcats 9-3; Norman County had just one extra-base hit with Fetting’s triple.
“I have no faults with our pitching staff, they gutted it out and left everything on the line,” Gullingsrud said. “We need more offense. That’s what it comes down to.
“Red Lake County played great defense and pitched incredibly well. Three hits is not gonna cut it too often. In a one-run game you can go back and pick out a lot of different things, but we needed more offense.”
Brevik, who pitched in the state tournament as a freshman in 2011, is hoping for a better finish this time around.
“We have to hit a little better than we have been,” he said. “We didn’t hit too bad today but we have to put things together and hopefully our pitching will be ready. I think we’ll be just fine. Hopefully we’ll be able to put up a fight.”