By STUART GROSKREUTZ
WHITE BEAR LAKE – The Stillwater baseball team closed out the regular season with an 8-4 victory over White Bear Lake on Friday to finish in a tie for second place in the Suburban East Conference standings.
The Ponies (12-6 SEC, 14-6), who have won six consecutive games, joined Mounds View (12-6, 14-6) in a tie for second, two games behind league champion Cretin-Derham Hall (14-4, 15-5) and one game ahead of fourth-place Roseville (11-7, 13-7).
Stillwater, which fell short by just one run in five of its six conference setbacks, made a strong push down the stretch after a 3-4 SEC start, winning nine of its final 11 league games.
"We learned how to win the close games at the end of the season," Ponies coach Mike Parker said. "Looking back, that’s the one thing about having a team with very little experience is that some of those one-run games don’t turn our way and we had some missteps along the way, but we learned how to take a one-run lead and close it out. Defense and pitching we struggled in our first third of the year, but that picked up a lot and helped us win those games."
The Ponies scored in each of the first three innings against White Bear Lake to lead 6-3 after three innings.
Austin Holmberg drew a walk and Aaron Romportl singled to spark Stillwater in the first. Holmberg stole third base and then scored on an errant throw as Romportl swiped second base.
White Bear Lake scored twice in the bottom of the first to grab a 2-1 lead, but the Ponies answered with two runs in the second. Joe Stanton reached on an error and advanced to second on a wild pitch before moving to third on a base hit by Scott Livermore, who advanced to second on another wild pitch. A.J. Johnson followed with a two-run single to provide a 3-2 Stillwater lead.
Stanton also delivered a two-run single and Livermore rapped an RBI single as the Ponies tacked on three runs on four hits in the third for a 6-2 lead. White Bear Lake scored once in the bottom of the third and trimmed the deficit to 6-4 with a run in the fifth.
Tony Lennox replaced Andy Peterson in the sixth and struck out two while setting the Bears down in order in the sixth and seventh innings. Peterson allowed seven hits and one walk with six strikeouts in five innings.
"Lennox looked really good the last two innings," Parker said. "He looked real strong."
Stillwater added two runs in the top of the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Stanton and an RBI single by Wyatt Kurzejeski. Zach Krenz led off the inning with a base hit and Grant Modin reached on catcher’s interference before coming around the score.
n Seedings for the Section 4AAA tournament were announced on Tuesday and Stillwater received the No. 5 seed. The Ponies will host 12th-seeded South St. Paul in the first round on Thursday. The top four seeds, who each received a bye into the quarterfinals, are Hill-Murray, Cretin-Derham Hall, Mounds View and North St. Paul.
Stillwater1 2 3 0 0 0 2-8121
WB Lake2 0 1 0 1 0 0-473
WP: Andy Peterson 5-ip, 7-h, 4-r, 4-er, 1-bb, 6-so
LP: Pat Mulvaney 6-ip, 10-h, 6-r, 3-er, 2-bb, 4-so
Leading hitters: St, Austin Holmberg 1×3, Aaron Romportl 2×4, Zach Krenz 2×4, Joe Stanton 1×3 (3 RBI), Wyatt Kurzejeski 3×4, Scott Livermore 2×3 and A.J. Johnson 1×2; WBL, Adam Montividas 2×4 (2 2B).
Thursday’s first round
#9 Tartan at #8 East Ridge
#12 South St. Paul at #5 Stillwater
#11 Woodbury at #6 Mahtomedi
#10 White Bear Lake at #7 Roseville
East Ridge/Tartan vs. #1 Hill-Murray
Stillwater/SSP vs. #4 North St. Paul
Maht/Wood vs. #3 Mounds View
Rose/WBL vs. #2 Cretin-Derham Hall
The semifinals are slated for 5/7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 31 at Midway Stadium.