The Class C state amateur baseball field has dwindled from 48 to 32 to 16 teams the past two weekends.
At the same time, Region 8C’s total of four participants has remained the same.
A wild 24-hour sequence of action featured a walk-off homer, seven-run rally in the ninth and an upset of the pre-tournament favorite to win it all.
Now, Lastrup, Sobieski, Fort Ripley and Nisswa all stand four wins away from a state title as the tournament concludes Saturday – Monday.
Sobieski 3, Maple Lake 1
Runs, and hits, figured to be tough to come by as Sobieski and Maple Lake took the field in Jordan, Friday.
Both teams sent out starting pitchers with ERAs south of 2.00 and unblemished records.
Trailing 1-0 after six innings, Sobieski ultimately uncovered the winning formula: drop down a bunt, wait for Maple Lake’s defense to self-destruct … and let Tyler Jendro do the rest.
Taking full advantage of three errors and a pair of wild pitches, the Skis tallied a run in each of the final three frames to upset top-ranked Maple Lake 3-1.
Maple Lake struck for the game’s first, and its only, run in the bottom of the third, but would spend the rest of the night lamenting the fact it didn’t score more.
After back-to-back one-out singles, the Lakers had the lead runner caught stealing at third base for the second out.
Maple Lake’s next two batters would run the string to four singles in a row, giving it a 1-0 lead.
The inning nearly ended when the trailing baserunner attempted to reach third on the final hit, but the ball was not cleanly handled. The next batter proceeded to strike out, but reached on a bizarre wild pitch that struck and knocked down the home plate umpire to fill the bases.
Jendro fell behind the following batter 3-0, but came back to get him on the next three pitches for a strikeout to end the frame.
Maple Lake would hold its lead until the seventh, when leadoff batter Nate Olson reached on a sharp grounder mishandled at third base.
Collin Eckman followed by laying down a sacrifice bunt, which was thrown past the first baseman for an error to place runners at the corner.
Beau Hanowski, who had reached in his first three plate appearances, lofted a deep sacrifice fly to center to tie the score.
The eighth inning started with Joey Hanowski drawing a walk, advancing to second on a sacrifice fly by Jon Czech and moving to third on a wild pitch by an incoming relief pitcher.
That forced Maple Lake to pull its infield in with Jendro at the plate.
Jendro hit a sharp grounder that the Maple Lake second baseman knocked down, but was unable to field cleanly. With Hanowski off on contact, there was no chance for a play at the plate and the Skis grabbed a 2-1 lead.
It was a similar script in the top of the ninth, with Olson reaching on a hit by pitch and advancing to third on a sacrifice by Eckman that was once again thrown into right field.
Beau Hanowski smacked the first pitch he saw up the middle for an RBI single and the Skis took a 3-1 advantage into the bottom of the ninth.
That insurance run proved helpful as the Lakers’ leadoff batter reached on a hit by pitch, only for Jendro to set the next three down to seal his second complete-game win of the tournament.
Lastrup 6, Owatonna 5
After being held off the board for five innings, Lastrup needed to once again reach into the well for some postseason magic in Jordan, Saturday.
The Lakers found some, then some, in a thrilling 6-5 victory in 12 innings over Owatonna to advance past the second round after receiving a first-round bye as Region 8 champs.
Lastrup fell behind 3-0 after five and a half inning, but came alive with four runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Paul Herman reached with a one-out infield single, Rick Schlieman took a walk and Reggie Litke produced a run-scoring hit to make it 3-1.
The Aces picked up a strikeout for the second out of the inning, but Chad Weiss followed with an RBI single to pull Lastrup within one, then Dan Saehr tied it with an RBI single of his own.
Dustin Schmaltz followed with an RBI double to left to put Lastrup ahead, but the Lakers had a runner thrown out at the plate to conclude the at bat.
Lastrup added a run onto its lead in the bottom of the seventh when Schlieman doubled in Nate Janson, but the Aces answered back with two runs in the top of the eighth to level the game at 5-5.
From that point on, Owatonna would not have a batter reach base, as reliever Reggie Litke set down the final 13 batters he faced.
Finally, Herman put an end to the squeaker with an opposite-field home run to keep the Lakers’ season alive.
Herman closed with three hits, with Schlieman, Litke and Weiss each adding a pair.
Avon draftee Kyle Collins started on the mound, holding the Aces to three runs over seven innings while striking out eight.
It was in large part old hat for Lastrup, which in recent years came back from a 6-1 ninth inning deficit in 2010 and by a 4-3 margin in the ninth a year ago.
This postseason alone, the Lakers had to overcome a 2-0 gap in its playoff opener just to help them escape the division playoffs.
Fort Ripley 9, Blue Earth 6
While those two games were captivating, Fort Ripley executed perhaps the win of the tournament thus far, rallying from down 6-0, capped by a stunning seven-run ninth inning to shock Blue Earth 9-6 in Belle Plaine, Friday.
Down to their final two outs with nobody on base in the top of the ninth, the Rebels loaded the bases without the aid of the hit.
Dustin Littlefield followed with a sacrifice fly that cut the score to 6-3, but also left the tying run at the plate with two outs.
Blue Earth had a chance to end it there, but an error allowed the Rebels to reload the bases, then pull within a run after back-to-back hits from Rhett Williamson and Brian Skluzacek.
Brett Kramer then drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the score, then a Blue Earth relieve promptly hit Logan Kalis with a pitch to force in the go-ahead run.
Ray Austin provided some insurance with a two-run single to make it 9-6, and after Logan Kalis secured three outs unscathed in the bottom of the inning, Fort Ripley had advanced.
Kalis earned his second victory in relief of the tournament, turning in 2 2/3 shutout innings.
Skluzacek finished 3-for-5 and Kramer homered and finished with three RBIs.
Nisswa 4, Waseca 2
Nisswa had the calmest trip to the round of 16, but only relative to Region 8’s other three winners.
The Lightning jumped ahead 4-0 by the second inning, which proved to be enough as it topped Waseca 4-2 in Jordan, Saturday.
Drew Boland gave Nisswa a 1-0 lead when he doubled home Aaron Jenkins in the first inning, then Jenkins hit a three-run blast in the second to extend the margin to 4-0.
Waseca threatened to make things interesting in the bottom of the eighth when it cut the lead in half with a two-run homer, only for starting pitcher Jason Roepke, who recorded his second complete-game win of the tournament, to retire the final six batters he faced to end the game.
Round of 16, Saturday, Aug. 30
Fort Ripley vs. Winsted in Belle Plaine at 1:30 p.m.
Nisswa vs. St. Patrick in Jordan at 5 p.m.
Lastrup vs. Faribault in Belle Plaine at 7:30 p.m.
Sobieski vs. New Market in Jordan at 7:30 p.m.