By PATRICK SLACK
After coming back through the consolation bracket, the St. Cloud Chutes held off the Little Falls Legion baseball team twice over the weekend in St. Cloud to win the Sub-State 12 tournament and advance on to state.
St. Cloud 10, Little Falls 8
St. Cloud 8, Little Falls 7
In the first match-up between the two squads, Saturday, St. Cloud and Little Falls traded two runs apiece in the first inning and three each in the fourth before the Chutes opened up a 10-5 lead in the seventh.
That score held until the bottom of the ninth, when Collin Eckman doubled home Gabe Ploof and Josh Wenzel, then scored on an error to cut the gap to 10-8.
With one on and one out, Nate Backowski drilled a hot smash down the third-base line, but a diving play preserved the lead and the game for St. Cloud.
The Chutes’ victory set up a winner-take-all contest the following day, as it was the first defeat for Little Falls after advancing through the winners’ bracket in the double-elimination format.
Ploof and Eckman each went 2-for-4, with Ploof scoring three runs and Eckman driving in three, while Brett Strack went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs.
Little Falls jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning on a sacrifice fly by Spencer Fenske and an RBI single by Brett Strack, Sunday, but St. Cloud scored seven unanswered runs to move ahead 7-2 in the sixth.
Little Falls came all the way back to even up the score in a five-run seventh, highlighted by a two-run triple from Collin Eckman, run-scoring single by Matt Stumpf and RBI double by Fenske.
The game remained knotted at 7-7 until the ninth, when St. Cloud loaded the bases with two outs, then tallied the winning run on a walk-off single that sneaked through the middle of the infield.
Eckman finished with four hits to lead Little Falls, with Stumpf picking up two hits and Bryce Zawatzke doubling and scoring a run.
Little Falls 5, Sauk Rapids 4
Eckman threw four innings of scoreless relief to help Little Falls edge Sauk Rapids 5-4 in the third round of the championship bracket.
Eckman finished with four strikeouts, earning the win in relief of Nick Anderson, who pitched the first five innings.
Wenzel went 2-for-4 with a double, triple, two RBIs and a run to lead Little Falls offensively.
Michael Fregin added a hit and a run and Ploof reached base four times with an RBI and a run scored.
Little Falls 4, Monticello 0
Wenzel tossed eight shutout innings to guide Little Falls to a 4-0 win over Monticello in the second round, with Anderson pitching a shutout ninth to complete the shutout.
Wenzel struck out nine batters, allowing only six hits and two walks, while also slugging a two-run triple at the plate.
Nathan Masog added a hit and two runs scored.
Little Falls finished the season with a 13-7 record.
Wenzel led the team with a .483 average and Eckman hit .448, with Wenzel and Ploof each scoring 18 runs and Stumpf driving in a team-high 13.
On the mound, Ploof led the team with four wins, 43 2/3 innings pitched and 41 strikeouts. Fenske had the lowest ERA at 1.59 while Kyle Boser had the lowest opponent batting average at .176.
“This team had an exciting season with two tough losses at the end, but the Little Falls community should be very proud of these young men and their efforts,” Little Falls coach Simon Waltman said. “They were a class act and a true team.”