Athletics secure rain-delayed Section 1A title defense with 3-2 win over Southland

Published 7:48 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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The celebration might have been delayed, but it did come eventually when the Lyle-Pacelli Athletics completed their Section 1A title defense Thursday night with a 3-2 win over Southland.

L-P’s Hunter VaDeer struck out three in the top of the seventh to seal the Athletics’ second straight trip to the Minnesota State High School League State Baseball Tournament, which starts next Thursday in St. Cloud.

L-P mobbed VaDeer on the mound after he recovered from a full count to get the final K.

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“Honestly, I’ve been there so much,” VaDeer said. “Whether it’s bases loaded and getting out of it or just having two outs with runners on. I’ve been there so much that to me it feels like any other situation with runners on, runners off. It’s all the same for me.”

The game was stalled Tuesday night after four innings due to storms that brought torrential rain to the area, however, the delay allowed both teams to pitch two of the area’s top pitchers — VaDeer and Southland’s Riley Jax — both of which couldn’t pitch the day before due to pitch counts.

Neither allowed a run Wednesday night.

“We knew we had our ace going,” Head Coach Brock Meyer said. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen. Getting out of that first inning was huge. Confidence is what carried Hunter through.”

Southland took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning the day before, but the Athletics took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first. Southland committed two errors in that inning, and Isaac Nelsen and Dane Schara each delivered RBI singles.

Southland pulled to within 3-2 in the top of the fourth when Maverick Hanna knocked in a run on a sacrifice bunt.

It wasn’t an easy situation to come back to after a day’s separation.

“It’s tough to get refocused,” Meyer said. “That’s never happened to us. There’s just some stuff all year that has been happening a little bit, but these guys have stayed focused. The kids did a helluva job rebounding, staying focused and getting back into it.”

Even though there were no additional runs added, Southland challenged VaDeer a couple times during the game, including in the top of the fifth when the Rebels were able to put runners on second and third with two outs.

However, VaDeer was able to get a strikeout to end the threat.

The Rebels were able to get a runner in scoring position in the top of the sixth inning as well, but again L-P was able to escape with no damage.

“We knew we were going to get VaDeer,” Head Coach Scott Koenigs said. “He and Riley are the best pitchers in the whole area and probably the top in the state. They are both so good. We knew they weren’t going to score any runs and we were going to have to work to score runs.”

Even though they couldn’t get those runs across the plate, Koenigs was happy with how his team, which includes a large senior class, kept fighting.

“They’re just a great group of guys,” he said. “They’ve played a lot of baseball. A lot of these guys have been four-year, three-year starters and I just feel one through nine we’re probably the best team, but unfortunately L-P has a No. 1 and No. 2 pitcher that are the dominant type of pitchers and they can win games, not necessarily by themselves, but they are a big part of winning games and you got to find a way to put the bat on the ball.”

Wednesday night’s win was just one goal reached for the Athletics, who lost 3-2 to Fosston last year in the Class A title game. It’s been a goal to return this year and they’ve had to do it with a different look than last year’s team.

“It’s a whole different team,” VaDeer said. “We lost a lot of key seniors last year and we had a few young guys step up this year and our seniors have stepped up as well. We strung together a good year. We came to the postseason and made it worth it.”

L-P’s first game will be on June 13 at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud, though a time and opponent have yet to be identified.

Nevertheless, the Athletics are looking forward to a hopeful return to the title game.

“Our whole goal was getting back to the state championship game and we’re two games away from getting there, then we’ll see what happens,” Meyer said. “We’re definitely on the right track with what we wanted to do this year.”

— Rocky Hulne contributed to this story