EAST REGION BASEBALL: Central makes state
Grand Forks Central junior Zach Walz was ready to go. "I figured going into the game, I'd get the call to finish it off," the right-handed pitcher said. "I was excited. I knew my teammates wanted me on the mound to finish off the game." And the K...
Grand Forks Central junior Zach Walz was ready to go.
“I figured going into the game, I’d get the call to finish it off,” the right-handed pitcher said. “I was excited. I knew my teammates wanted me on the mound to finish off the game.”
And the Knights rode another key showing by Walz to the program’s first state tournament appearance after six absences.
Walz, who pitched Central to an upset of West Fargo in the quarterfinals, threw the final two innings to lead the Knights to a 4-2 win over Fargo South on Saturday in an East Region state qualifier at Kraft Field.
Central, a No. 6 seed in the region tournament, advances to state for the first time since 2007.
“I can’t say enough good things about these kids,” Central coach Kyle Beckstead said. “We only had about four or five outdoor practices all season, but they still came every day to work their tails off to get to state.”
The Knights needed to rally twice to pick off Fargo South, who received a strong pitching performance from senior Brennan Bennington.
The Bruins led 1-0 in the top of the sixth inning. Singles by Conner Sander and Cole Kirchoffner, along with a double by Kaleb Binstock staked the Knights to a 2-1 advantage.
Central starter - freshman lefty Brock Reller - allowed just one hit but ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth. Reller walked the first two batters before giving way to Walz, who surrendered a sacrifice fly to tie the game before getting out of the inning.
Reller’s ability to work into the sixth without much damage was key.
“He’s a freshman, and we have seniors,” South coach Donn Bryant said. “We had to get to him. But he pitched a heck of a game. Hats off to him.”
Central went back on the offensive in the next half inning. Kaden Monette’s single sparked the rally and the Knights took advantage of a pair of hit batsmen to take the lead.
The Knights tacked on an insurance run when Cole Kirchoffner laid down a squeeze bunt with the bases loaded to make it 4-2.
“I went up and asked him if he wanted to swing away or squeeze (bunt),” Beckstead said. “He did what he wanted to do. He’s confident in his ability. It was his decision, and I stand by him.”
The Knights had an interesting bottom of the seventh, as well. With one out, Walz took a liner off his ankle and third baseman Nick Lund quickly picked it up and fired over to first base, where Rakeem Wright picked the low throw out of the turf for the second out.
“(Walz) came in and threw strikes,” Beckstead said. “Even after he was hit in the ankle, he toughed it out. I wouldn’t want anyone else on the mound at that point in time.”
Wright made another key play for the third out when he snagged another short hop. A liner to Kirchoffner at short bounced off his glove, and he had to pick it up and fire to first where Wright sprawled to the turf and made the catch for the last out.
“I think this is a big step for our program,” Walz said.