By PATRICK SLACK
Pierz 14U team hangs on in final inning five times to claim crown
The Pierz 14U baseball team had to hang on after its opponent put the go-ahead run in scoring position in the seventh inning of its state tournament opener.
And then again in its second game. And the third.
Another two contests later, Pierz had stymied five foes that were within a hit of taking the lead in their final at-bat.
Finally, in the championship game of the Gopher State Tournament of Champions in Andover, July 19 – 21, Pierz didn’t need to sweat out any last-inning theatrics, winning in a 24-9 landslide to win the state championship.
“Hanging on to win under the circumstances in each of the first five games speaks to the character of each and every player on the team,” coach Tom Otte said. “Under the tightest of pressure situations, they did exactly what was needed to move on. The team put itself in a position to win and did what it took to get it done.
“As has been said so many times, a win is a win and you only have to win by one or more,” he said. “There are 11 mothers, however, who are all convinced they passed the mightiest of stress tests and now have a clean bill of health from their cardiologists.”
Pierz opened the tournament in pool play with a 4-2 win over Chanhassen and a 4-3 victory over Eagan, then tied Burnsville Gold 5-5 in a game called after eight innings due to a two-hour time limit.
The team then advanced to the quarterfinals, where it defeated Champlin Park/Dayton 1-0, then squeaked past Burnsville White 4-3 in the semifinals to reach the finals.
“Most of the season our team played a very high-octane style of offense, but we just could not string hits together in the first five games,” Otte said. “Our pitchers threw extremely well and at times dominated while being backed up with solid defense and some spectacular plays. We just clawed our way through those first five games and manufactured a run here and there while waiting for our bats to wake up.”
That set up a showdown with Alexandria, the third meeting of the season between the teams.
“We saw each other in opposite sides of the championship bracket and spoke to each other as we moved through the tourney on Sunday, hoping for a match-up at the end,” Otte said. “(We) both knew going into that game it was going to take a lot of runs to win.”
Alexandria delivered a sizeable chunk with nine runs, but came nowhere near the 20-hit, 24-run outburst turned in by Pierz.
“Our offense finally came to life when it was needed most and put an exclamation point on the tournament,” Otte said. “The kids on this team have the greatest attitude one can imagine.
“They listen, absorb information and then put it into action,” he said. “They expect to win when they play together and they always find a way to have fun and laugh no matter the circumstances.”
For the small-town crew, it was a dream come true, one that will be capped by receiving championship rings at Target Field in September.
“As one can imagine, the excitement level after the final out was pretty high,” Otte said. “It’s not every day a team from a town of 1,400 residents defeats the likes of Chanhassen, Champlin Park, Eagan, Burnsville and Alexandria on the way to winning a state title.”