By STUART GROSKREUTZ
OAK PARK HEIGHTS – The four-time defending Section 4AAA champion Stillwater Ponies were nearly bounced in the first round of this year’s tournament before a seventh-inning rally produced a 4-3 victory over 12th-seeded South St. Paul on Friday at Stillwater Area High School.
The Ponies (15-6) trailed 3-1 in the seventh before scoring three times to escape with a narrow victory.
South St. Paul’s Andy Boelter struck out the first batter of the seventh, but Joe Stanton closed the gap for the Ponies with a solo home run to climb within 3-2.
"Joe hit that ball a long ways," Ponies coach Mike Parker said.
Scott Livermore followed with a base hit before Wyatt Kurzejeski was hit by a pitch with two outs to set the table for Austin Holmberg, who launched a double to left-center to score the tying and winning runs – the latter after a close play at the plate.
"It was good that the kids stayed together and it was fun to see how happy they were at the end of the game," Parker said. "You could tell they were really down at one point, but they were pretty darn happy (after the rally) and, as a coaching staff, we were really happy for them."
The Ponies scored a run in the second, but the Packers moved in front with two runs in the third and added a run in the seventh for a 3-1 lead.
"We didn’t go in overconfident or anything like that, but we were hitting ground balls at people and lazy fly balls and once we got to the seventh and the first batter struck out it felt like this was one of those games we just weren’t going to win," Parker said. "The hit Holmberg had could have been caught and the season could have gone either way."
Andy Peterson replaced starter Alex Haas with one out in the seventh and was credited with the victory.
"Haas was a little up from where he usually is, but he kept us in the game and gave us a shot to win it," Parker said. "He had given up a couple hits in the seventh and had made a lot of pitches and had a couple longer innings so it was time to come out."
S.S. Paul0 0 2 0 0 0 1-3111
Stillwater0 1 0 0 0 0 3-471
WP: Andy Peterson 2/3-ip, 1-h, 0-r, 0-er, 1-bb, 1-so
LP: Ryan Boelter 6 2/3-ip, 7-h, 4-r, 4-er, 1-bb, 3-so
Leading hitters: SSP, Zach Henderson 3×4; St, Austin Holmberg 1×4 (2B, 2 RBI), Zach Krenz 1×3, Christian Abilla 1×3, Joe Stanton 2×4 (2B, HR), Scott Livermore 1×3 and Connor Johnston 1×3.