Little Falls has had a team worthy of playing in the state tournament the past handful of years.
This season was no exception.
Second-ranked St. Cloud Cathedral remained as an obstacle once again this spring, though, and stood in the Flyers’ way en route to winning Thursday’s Section 6AA championship 6-0 at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.
It was the fourth meeting of the season between the two teams, with the Crusaders pulling out all four with shutouts, including a 4-0 margin in Monday’s winners’ bracket final.
Entering Thursday, the Flyers needed to earn a pair of wins to prevail and advance on to state, but fell in a big hole early.
Cathedral junior pitcher Brindley Theisen hit a three-run homer in the top of the first inning, then the Crusaders tacked on another three runs in the second to go ahead 6-0.
Senior pitcher Kyle Boser would settle in from there, but Theisen managed to dodge out of every jam he faced in tossing a four-hit shutout.
“We are very proud of the program that we have here, and even though we don’t always get the recognition that other teams get, we feel that if we were in a different section, or if Cathedral was, we could be looked at as a ‘dynasty type program,’” Little Falls head coach Chad Kaddatz said. “They have been to state four years in a row (finishing first, second and third in previous seasons), and we have lost to them in the section finals in three of those years. In fact, the one year we didn’t, we had beaten them twice during the season and were rated No. 1 in state when we were upset in the single elimination round to Albany.
“Although it makes for a good story, the reality is that they are in our section, and they are a program that we need to elevate our level of play to meet if we want to go to the next level,” he said. “It is frustrating at times to look at some of the other sections and know that our kids have not been able to experience the thrill of a state tournament, but every sport has sections that are loaded, and it is just our bad luck in baseball that we are in one of them.”
Boser ended up retiring 15 of the final 17 batters he faced on the afternoon.
“Kyle pitched a very good game for us, and I am sure he would like to have those first two innings back, but the reality is that it was more about their hitting than his pitching in those two innings,” Kaddatz said. “They are such a strong hitting team, and their team speed is unlike anyone else we play. They put some great swings on the ball and were able to hit some balls hard early on.
“Kyle and (senior catcher) Alec Zack did a great job of changing some things up with the pitch selection to some of their hitters, and like is typically the case with him, Kyle got stronger as the game went on.”
Little Falls got back to the section finals by shaking off its first loss to Cathedral and routing Osakis 13-0 in Tuesday’s consolation bracket finals.
The Flyers got to work early, plating three runs in the top of the first, and never looked back, adding on two more runs in the third and fourth and six in the fifth.
Little Falls had nine different players combine to slug 14 hits, including three apiece from junior Bryce Zawatzke and sophomore Thomas Miller.
Both players doubled, with Zawatzke also blasting a home run.
Senior Kyle Boser went 2-for-4 with four RBIs, while senior Nick Anderson had a two-run single.
“I would be lying if I said I was expecting that type of score,” Little Falls head coach Chad Kaddatz said. “We have been preaching that we are capable of that, but this late into the season and with the quality of opponents we are facing, you don’t expect those types of numbers. In a tournament like this, it often comes down to your pitching depth, and I think our depth of pitchers was quite a bit higher than what Osakis could run out there.”
Miller tossed four shutout innings and Boser struck out the side in order in the fifth.
“Thomas Miller has had a tremendous year for us,” Kaddatz said. “It is a tough position for a sophomore to step into, but he stepped up and took over our spot as No. 3 pitcher. When you look at his numbers, you would assume he is our ace (5-0, 0.24 ERA). In 29 innings of pitching he has only allowed two runs all season, one earned.
“His biggest attribute is his ability to throw strikes,” he said. “He is not a big strikeout guy, but it is rare for him to get the ball up or over the middle of the plate. Hitters are forced to hit ‘his pitch’ and that makes it difficult as a high school hitter. He is also mentally tough. Thomas is only a sophomore, but he has played varsity sports in the fall and winter and is unfazed by the stage. With a school our size, we need our kids to play multiple sports, and in baseball we can see the difference between those kids who are in their first varsity sport and one who has already developed that mental edge by playing under the lights during the fall and winter.”
It was a complete reversal from the previous night, when Cathedral was able to shut out Little Falls 4-0.
“Our emotions were definitely a concern, and a topic that we discussed when we arrived for BP (batting practice) on Tuesday,” Kaddatz said. “The bus ride home on Monday night was pretty quiet and there were some somber faces when they arrived to the field. I talked to them about how we were in a unique situation as the team we would be playing that night would be coming off a win and be at an emotional high, so we had to be able to match that energy from the start or we would be in trouble.
“We have a term we use called ‘hold the hose,’ which deals with how firemen are able to run into a burning building, because they know that their entire team is holding up their end of the hose and has the exact same goals,” he said.
“I told them that each and every person on that team had the responsibility to make sure that every other teammate was at that energy level we needed, and if not, they needed to get them there,” he said. “It didn’t take long into our BP before there was some joking and trash-talking going on, and they were probably as loose and energetic as I have ever seen them.”
It was the third shutout of the playoffs for the Flyers, and seventh overall on the year.
“Statistically our pitching staff was one of the best I have ever seen, and a big part of the success we have had,” Kaddatz said. “We had a team ERA of 1.23, which is almost unheard of in high school baseball. We had our highest strikeout total and lowest walks and hits totals since I have been here. Having a kid like Kyle Boser on the mound will be hard to replace next year, but we have a strong staff returning and some younger pitchers that will be eager to get their chance on the mound.”
Miller also had a dominant performance against Holdingford in the semifinals of the winners’ bracket, May 29, throwing six shutout innings as the Flyers blanked Holdingford 5-0.
The Flyers took control early with a three-run first and another pair of runs in the second.
Seniors Kyle Boser and Alec Zack and juniors Jeremy Klein, Bryce Zawatzke and Thomas Bell each picked up an RBI and Miller scored twice.
Anderson finished things off with a perfect seventh.
In the finals of the winners’ bracket, Little Falls couldn’t generate much offense against Division I signee Jeff Fasching, with the senior left-hander throwing a three-hit shutout.
The Crusaders reached state with a 23-game winning streak.
Little Falls finished the season with a record of 16-7.
Seniors on this year’s roster included Dane Peterson, Michael Fregin, Brett Strack, Boser, Zack and Anderson.
“This team was truly a pleasure to coach, not just because of the success we had, but because they were such a cohesive unit to work with,” Kaddatz said. “We knew coming into the year that it would be difficult to replace the seven senior starters and strong athletic class that graduated in 2013, and then to start the season 0-2, there were several questions and doubts.
“We have had some tremendous teams and fun individuals to work with here at Little Falls over the years, but I don’t know that we have ever had a team that had such a ‘family vibe,’” he said. “Every single member of the team found a role to play and made the most of whatever that role was, and it makes it so easy and fun to come to the ballpark every day when they bring the energy and enthusiasm like this team did. They definitely bough into our program and the philosophies we are trying to establish, and that is why they were able to have the success they had.”