Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Defending champs: Eden Valley-Watkins Legion Baseball headed back to state
By Julie Bulau, staff writer
The Eden Valley-Watkins Legion Baseball Team will be playing into familiar territory as they head back to the state tournament for the third time in the last four years. EV-W will play Plato, the District 3 champion, at 9:30 a.m.
Friday in the first round of the state tournament in Sacred Heart.
EV-W won the Division II state championship in 2009, and captured both the Division II Minnesota and Central Plains Regional championships in 2011. Many of the players were also part of the high school teams who won back-to-back state titles in 2010 and 2011.
"I love it," said Kevin Kramer, a 2011 EV-W grad. "This is what I came back for, to be on this team and do it once again."
This year, however, the wins have not come as easy. The team stumbled through the regular season with a 4 and 4 record, and were the fourth seed in entering the Region 2 playoffs. "After a mediocre season, I noticed we were getting hot at the right time and we're carrying that into playoffs," catcher Brendan Ashton said.
EV-W picked the right time to go on a roll, as they cruised through the first round of Region 2 playoffs. The team picked up a 14-3 win over No. 2 seed Kerkoven, and a 7-1 win over No. 1 seed Osakis 7-1. They then blasted No. 3 seed New London-Spicer 16-5 in the championship game to advance to the District Final Four Tournament
July 24-28 in Montevideo.
In the opening game Tuesday, July 24, EV-W dug itself a hole when they fell to Montevideo 4-3. They held a 4-2 lead going into the bottom half of the seventh inning, when three EV-W errors helped Monte tie the game. The winning run then scored from second base on a wild pitch.
"After losing Tuesday, we were disappointed but I think we all believed we were coming back because we all knew we'd only lose if we beat ourselves and that's what happened Tuesday," Ashton said.
The loss dropped EV-W to the loser's bracket where they faced BOLD on Thursday, July 26. In a real nail-biter, EV-W retired BOLD with bases loaded in the seventh inning to preserve the 13-11 win. John Bautch picked up the win for EV-W with Mitch Geislinger earning a save.
Friday night, July 27, found EV-W in a rematch against Montevideo. This time, EV-W downed Monte 13 to 4 to advance to Saturday's championship game against Morris. Alex Geislinger pitched a complete game to pick up the win.
EV-W entered Saturday needing to defeat Morris twice. They ended up taking the first game 5-2, and the second game 1-0, behind a strong pitching performance by Hayden Willner. The right hander pitched a solid 12 innings as EV-W captured the District 7 Championship.
Willner scattered four hits and gave up no earned-runs-in in EV-W's win over Morris in the opening game. EV-W had a 1-0 lead in the fourth, when they added three runs and put up one more in the fifth. Morris' only runs came in the bottom of the fifth.
In the second, winner-takes-all game, Willner returned to the mound where by rules he could pitch up to five innings which he did. The right-hander seemed to be even stronger in the second game, giving up just two hits and holding Morris scoreless.
EV-W scored the only run of the game in the first inning when Kevin Kramer singled, stole second base and later scored on a Brendan Ashton single.
John Bautch came in relief of Willner and retired Morris in order in the sixth and seventh innings.
"I was confident on coming back through and winning the district," Kramer said. "Our talent level is there to compete with anyone."
EV-W's Kramer, Willner, Bautch and Ashton along with Mitch Geislinger and Zach Schlangen all went 1-for-3 in the second game. In the first game, Kramer, Alex Geislinger, and Willner were 1-for-4, Mitch Geislinger and Travis Linn were 2-for-3 with two runs batted in, Grant Warren was 1-for-3 and Bautch was 1-for-2 with a run, scoring double.
The boys are looking forward to the state tournament. In order to accomplish that goal, Kramer pointed out that everyone is going to need to do their jobs-good pitching, defense and quality at bats.
"We just need to play EV-W baseball," Willner said. "We can out-hit anyone. And if we play good clean defense, we're going to be a tough team to beat."
Ashton is excited to play in another state tournament with his teammates, many of whom he'll never get a chance to play with again after this season. "We have a chance to go out with a bang and have another shot at one more state championship," he said.
Four EV-W players, Ashton, Bautch, Kramer and Willner, were named to the All-Tournament Team.
The EV-W team is coached this year by brothers Miah and Heath Kramer.
EV-W out-hit its opponents 51-31 in the five games.