By PATRICK SLACK
A close game was expected in Monday’s Section 6AA semifinals, with the premier pitchers on two of the best teams in the state squaring off.
It turned out, the only difference was a blown call at the plate, as fifth-ranked Little Falls had a key run negated in a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss against top-ranked St. Cloud Cathedral at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.
The win moved Cathedral one win away from the state tournament, while leaving Little Falls needing three wins in a row to reach state.
With Cathedral throwing junior Division I prospect Jeff Fasching on the mound, who had already defeated the Flyers earlier in the spring, Little Falls knew it needed to get to work early.
The Flyers did just that, putting together the first of their two serious threats in the top of the first inning, using a base hit by senior Gabe Ploof and a walk by senior Collin Eckman to place runners at second and third with two outs.
But Fasching induced a weak check-swing roller in front of the plate to avert trouble, keeping the game scoreless in the first.
Little Falls went right back at it in the top of the second, as sophomore Bryce Zawatzke blooped a single behind the first-base bag, then advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Following a strikeout, junior Kyle Boser drilled a base hit to center field, prompting Little Falls head coach Chad Kaddatz to wave Zawatzke home.
It required a perfect throw to get him, with the throw from St. Cloud Cathedral junior center fielder Brady Yoerg coming in on target, yet slightly low.
So while Zawatzke was being tagged just before touching the plate with the glove of Cathedral junior catcher Thomas Imholte, the ball was still in Imholte’s bare right hand.
However, Imholte quickly spun and showed the ball to the ump and Zawatzke was called out.
“I guess you could say that is all part of the game, from selling a tag at second to a catcher framing the ball,” Kaddatz said. “I don’t think we will have the resources for instant replay at the high school level, so it is something you have to deal with.
Fasching finished off the inning and Little Falls’ best scoring opportunity on the night was spoiled.
Little Falls head coach Chad Kaddatz felt the call was incorrect, but didn’t push for an explanation.
“I originally ran down the line yelling that he didn’t have the ball, but even then I was not sure what I saw,” Kaddatz said. “I never actually saw the ball, but saw him reach down in between his legs after the tag. I couldn’t say I was 100 percent certain, but I also knew that something didn’t look right on the play.
“In hindsight, I should have asked for help from the other umps. It was an odd play and happened so fast – it didn’t look right, but at the time I wasn’t totally sure where the ball was. Obviously that play would not have won the game for us and we were threatening in both innings at that point, so I thought ‘so what, next pitch, we will get to him.’ It didn’t work out that way.”
Even so, not worrying about missed calls or misplays has been a focal point of this year’s team, Kaddatz said.
“We try not to dwell on plays like that or to overreact to things like that, as the players pick up on that also and then they are more concerned with that play instead of the next pitch,” he said. “One line I have repeated several times this year is ‘Are we so bad that we have to have every call go our way in order to win?’ If the answer is no, then we need to say, ‘So what, next pitch.”
Cathedral didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the still scoreless tie, converting one of the few hard hit balls of the night off of Wenzel into a run, as senior Andrew Lenzmeier delivered an RBI double down the left-field line in the bottom of the second inning.
Wenzel quickly erased Lenzmeier on a pick-off at second base, then escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth with a double play turned by senior middle infielders Matt Stumpf and Eckman.
“The double play was at a crucial time in the game,” Kaddatz said. “We had a couple of defensive mishaps to get us into that jam, but those are the types of plays that Collin Eckman and Matt Stumpf have been making all year.”
But Fasching, working on two days rest, continued to get sharper and post zeroes as the game progressed, allowing only two more base runners the rest of the way.
“It is hard to know what to expect when they run a kid out there on two days rest,” Kaddatz said. “I really thought in that situation it would only be a matter of time before he tired, but he actually got stronger as the game went on.
“We had some hits and runners in scoring position early on, but his velocity and control really improved in the later innings,” he said.
For his part, Wenzel went the distance on the mound, limiting Cathedral to four hits and one walk.
“Josh pitched another fantastic game for us,” Kaddatz said. We have had great starts in four of our playoff games (13 hits and three runs). He is a competitor and will give you everything he has, every time out.”
Little Falls is scheduled to take on the winner between Sauk Centre and Minnewaska Area in an elimination game, Thursday at 7 p.m. at Dick Putz Field.
With a win, the Flyers would advance to Friday’s section finals at noon for a rematch with St. Cloud Cathedral, where Little Falls would need to win two games to advance to state.
Little Falls 0 4 1
St. Cloud Cathedral 1 4 1
Little Falls—Bryce Zawatzke: 2-3; Kyle Boser: 1-3; Gabe Ploof: 1-3; Josh Wenzel: 6-IP, 4-H, 1-R, 1-BB, 3-K.