By STUART GROSKREUTZ
ST. PAUL – The Stillwater baseball team doubled down to eliminate fourth-seeded North St. Paul in Monday’s Section 4AAA quarterfinal game at Midway Stadium.
The fifth-seeded Ponies (16-6) turned three double plays in the field and rapped seven doubles among their 11 hits to record a 10-6 victory – their eighth in a row.
The win places the Ponies in Thursday’s semifinals where they will face top-seeded Hill-Murray at 5 p.m. The Pioneers needed 10 innings to prevail over ninth-seeded Tartan 2-1 on Monday. The other semifinal features No. 3 Mounds View vs. No. 7 Roseville, which eliminated Suburban East Conference champion and second-seeded Cretin-Derham Hall 5-3 in the quarterfinals.
Stillwater also received three strong innings of relief from Andy Peterson, who allowed just one hit and struck out three to secure the save after taking over for starter Joe Stanton.
The Polars (15-6) scored twice in the first inning, but Stillwater avoided further damage when Wyatt Kurzejeski fielded a grounder at third, tagged a runner and threw to first to complete one of the team’s three double plays.
Stillwater committed three errors and just one of the six runs charged to Stanton were earned, but some superlative plays in the field made up for the miscues. Christian Abilla and Scott Livermore at shortstop and second base also combined to turn double plays in the third and seventh innings.
"We had some huge defensive plays, even though we had a few errors," Ponies coach Mike Parker said.
The Ponies broke through for five runs in the third inning, with help from two-out RBI hits from Stanton and Connor Johnston. Kurzejeski drove a double to start the rally and Austin Holmberg plated him with a double before scoring on a base hit by Aaron Romportl to tie the game at 2-all. Then with two outs, Zach Krenz was hit by a pitch and Stanton delivered an RBI single and Johnston followed with a two-run double for a three-run cushion.
North St. Paul regained the lead with four runs in the fourth inning, but the Ponies answered with three in the top of the fifth. Abilla singled to lead off the inning and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Krenz. Stanton was walked intentionally and Johnston provided his second double of the game to score Abilla with the tying run and Livermore followed with a two-run double to build an 8-6 lead.
Stillwater has racked up plenty of hits this season, but few of those went for extra bases – until Monday when the Ponies found the tightly mowed turf and the spacious Midway Stadium field to their liking.
"Our ground balls and hard hit line drives get into those gaps far enough," Parker said. "Those weren’t doubles that necessarily got over anybody’s head, but we are fast enough to turn a lot of those into two."
With Peterson shutting down the Polars, Stillwater also tacked on two insurance runs in the seventh. Kurzejeski drew a walk and pinch hitter Alex Haas drove a double before each scored on another two-bagger by Holmberg.
The Polars never did solve Peterson, who other than throwing hard shares little resemblance to Stanton.
"Joe is a big, tall kid who throws overhand with more of a downward breaking ball," Parker said. "Peterson comes in and throws from a lower arm slot and throws a slider and a slower curveball. He had guys missing by a lot."
Stillwater scored eight runs off John Economy, who entered with an ERA of less than 1.50.
"It was another big win over another good team," Parker said. "(John) Economy really hadn’t been touched most of the year."
Still0 0 5 0 3 0 2-10113
NS Paul2 0 0 4 0 0 0-680
WP: Joe Stanton 4-ip, 7-h, 6-r, 2-er, 2-bb, 3-so
LP: John Economy 4 1/3-ip, 7-h, 8-r, 8-er, 3-bb, 3-so
Leading hitters: St, Austin Holmberg 2×4 (2 2B), Aaron Romportl 1×5, Christian Abilla 2×5 (2B), Joe Stanton 1×2, Connor Johnston 2×3 (2 2B), Scott Livermore 1×3 (2B), Wyatt Kurzejeski 1×3 (2B) and Alex Haas 1×1 (2B).
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
At Midway Stadium
#1 Hill-Murray vs. #5 Stillwater, 5 p.m.
#3 Mounds View vs. #7 Roseville, 7:30 p.m.
The semifinal losers will play an elimination game on Saturday at 4 p.m., followed by the winners bracket finals at 7 p.m. The losers bracket finals are set for Monday at 2:30 p.m., with the section championship game slated for Tuesday at 7 p.m. If necessary, a second championship game would be held on June 6 at 2:30 p.m.