By STUART GROSKREUTZ – Stillwater Gazette
ST. PAUL – The Stillwater baseball team’s road to a fifth straight state tournament became significantly longer after falling to top-seeded Hill-Murray 4-2 in Thursday’s Section 4AAA semifinals at Midway Stadium.
Plagued by two errors that led to Hill-Murray’s three-run third inning, the fifth-seeded and four-time defending section champion Ponies (16-7) were knocked into the losers bracket where they will face third-seeded Mounds View in an elimination game on Saturday. The Mustangs lost to Roseville 5-1 in the other semifinal game on Thursday.
"You have to win four games against really good teams," Ponies coach Mike Parker said. "I think we have the team to do it, but you can’t have any missteps along the way. I think we’ve won four in a row before this year and we can definitely do it again."
The Pioneers (18-3), ranked fourth in the state coaches poll, finished with just six hits, but used a combination of errors and extra-base hits to score three times in the third. Jay Zoborowski reached on an infield error to start the third before a sacrifice bunt and a flyout produced two outs. A second error on a groundball to first base allowed Zoborowski to score and tie the game at 1-all.
Cory Quinlan then drove an RBI triple and scored on a double by Luc Henke to complete the two-out surge with a 3-1 lead.
"We could have made either one of those errors and still gotten out of that inning, but you give them a couple errors and it turns into a couple extra runs," Parker said. "It’s that time of year and we’ve beat a lot of teams in the past that have given us a big inning. We had more hits than they did and more opportunities to score, but they took advantage of two plays and never gave us anything the whole game. Their defense was extremely solid."
Stillwater, which had its eight-game winning streak snapped on Thursday, opened the scoring with a run in the top of the third and added a run in the fourth to pull within 3-2. Jordan Berglund led off the third with a walk, advanced to second on sacrifice by Austin Holmberg and moved to third on a balk before scoring on a groundout by Zach Krenz.
Then in the fourth, Aaron Romportl and Scott Livermore singled before Wyatt Kurzejeski’s RBI double to climb within one run.
The Pioneers added an insurance run in the fifth, which loomed even larger after Stillwater loaded the bases in the seventh.
Kurzejeski walked to start the inning, but pinch hitter Mike Wicker’s hard line drive was knocked down by Quinlan at shortstop to get a force out at second. Then with two outs, Krenz and Christian Abilla singled to load the bases before Joe Stanton’s deep flyball to center was tracked down for the final out.
"They had him played deep and the kid went back and made the catch," Parker said. "It felt like something big was going to happen. We didn’t let up and kept going. We didn’t get down and battled right through the seventh inning, but we couldn’t get the big hit. Their deep flies seemed to get into the gaps on us."
Mark Kosmalski notched the win for Hill-Muray while allowing eight hits and two walks with four strikeouts. Alex Haas left after five innings for the Ponies after giving up five hits and one walk with two strikeouts. Just one of the four runs charged to Haas was earned.
"He pitched well," Parker said.
Tony Lennox threw a scoreless sixth in relief, allowing just one hit.
Led by Kurzejeski with two hits, seven different players accounted for Stillwater’s eight hits.
"We hit the ball fine," Parker said. "We had good plate appearances, we just had a couple of physical errors. Some timely hitting could have helped us out."
Stillwater0 0 1 1 0 0 0-282
Hill-Murray0 0 3 0 1 0 x-460
WP: Mark Kosmalski 7-ip, 8-h, 2-r, 2-er, 2-bb, 4-so
LP: Alex Haas 5-ip, 5-h, 4-r, 1-er, 1-bb, 2-so
Leading hitters: St, Austin Holmberg 1×3, Zach Krenz 1×3, Christian Abilla 1×4, Aaron Romportl 1×3, Connor Johnston 1×3, Scott Livermore 1×2 and Wyatt Kurzejeski 2×2; H-M, Luc Henke 2×3 (2 2B, RBI).
Tartan 5, East Ridge 3
Stillwater 4, South St. Paul 3
Woodbury 3, Mahtomedi 1 (8)
Roseville 3, White Bear Lake 2 (9)
Hill-Murray 2, Tartan 1 (10)
Stillwater 10, North St. Paul 6
Mounds View 7, Woodbury 2
Roseville 5, Cretin-Derham Hall 3
Hill-Murray 4, Stillwater 2
Roseville 5, Mounds View 1
At Midway Stadium
#5 Stillwater vs. #3 Mounds View, 4 p.m.
#7 Roseville vs. #1 Hill-Murray, 7 p.m.
The losers bracket final is scheduled for Monday at 2:30 p.m., with the championship game slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m. If needed, a second championship game would be held on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.