Baseball: Woodbury trips up Ponies in section finals

Austin Murr trots around third base after launching a two-run homer in the third inning of Stillwater’s section baseball victory over Cretin-Derham Hall on Monday, June 5 at CHS Field in St. Paul. (Gazette staff photo by Stuart Groskreutz)

ST. PAUL — The Stillwater baseball team had its state tournament aspirations dashed in the finals of the Section 4AAAA tournament for the second year in a row, falling to Woodbury 4-1 in the finals on Tuesday, June 6 at CHS Field.

The top-seeded Ponies, who were ranked No. 1 in the state by Minnesota Baseball News, finished with a 19-6 record. Woodbury (16-8), which also sent Stillwater into the losers bracket with a 4-1 victory on June 3, advances to its second state tournament in a row and third overall.

Woodbury defeated the Ponies 3-2 in 10 innings to win the section title a year ago.

Tuesday’s game had plenty of interesting story lines, with the Ponies giving the ball to senior Thomas Bruchu for his first start of the season after he suffered a broken leg in the team’s season opener. Bruchu threw the first nine innings against the Royals in last year’s memorable section final.

Woodbury, meanwhile, saved hard-throwing Max Meyer for a potential second game before using him to convert a three-inning save in relief of starter Jack Horman.

Needing to defeat the Royals twice to win the double-elimination tournament, Stillwater’s bats were quiet again. The Ponies mustered just six runs combined in four games against Woodbury this season.

The teams were tied 1-all through four innings on Tuesday, but the Royals scored three unearned runs in the top of the fifth and Meyer closed the door with three shutout innings to cap a dominating section tournament.

“Right when they got those runs, Meyer was jogging out there to warm up,” Ponies coach Mike Parker said. “He was throwing hard and he looked better this game than the previous game, probably because of the adrenaline and knowing he had to pitch three innings. His slider was tough. We had to keep that game at 1-1 and we needed the big hit or big mistakes, but just like last year Woodbury didn’t make a mistake.”

Sophomore Andrew Gilbert drives a base hit to center in Stillwater’s Section 4AAAA victory over Cretin-Derham Hall on Monday, June 5 at CHS Field in St. Paul. (Gazette staff photo by Stuart Groskreutz)

Meyer notched the victory in each of Woodbury’s first three section triumphs and did not allow an earned run in 22 2/3 innings — yielding just 10 hits and two walks with 24 strikeouts in four appearances overall.

The University of Minnesota recruit also made a superb play at shortstop in the hole to throw out a fast runner by a step.

“He’s not just the best pitcher,” Parker said. “I thought he was the best fielder and best hitter in our conference.”

Stillwater produced just 16 hits combined in its last three games, but the Ponies jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second after a lead-off triple by Graham Laubscher on a base hit by Bruchu.

The Royals evened the score with a run in the third on an RBI single by Brodie Paulson, though it could have been worse for Stillwater after allowing two walks and another base hit in the inning.

Stillwater left nine runners on base while the Royals stranded 11.

“We had guys on base every inning except one, but Bruchu and (Cody) Venske also got out of a ton of jams,” Parker said.

The momentum shifted in Woodbury’s favor in the fifth. Ronald Sweeney was hit by a pitch and Paulson laid down a successful sacrifice bunt. The Royals followed with a two-out walk and both runners moved up on a passed ball. Horman hit a ball up the middle that second baseman Ben Peterson made a slick play to field, but the throw could not be handled by first baseman Austin Murr and two runs scored on the play.

“It was scored as an error, but Peterson got to a ball most don’t get to and Murr is probably the best first baseman to ever play for us,” Parker said.

Brock Rinehart followed with an RBI single as Woodbury built a 4-1 lead, which was more than enough for Meyer and the Royals.

“All season long we didn’t score a ton of runs,” Parker said. “We went through those games and didn’t make too many mistakes. A lot of those games could have gone either way, but defense and pitching held the other teams down. We didn’t have the hitting this year to allow us to make a mistake or two.”

Bruchu allowed six hits and three walks with three strikeouts in four innings. All three runs Woodbury scored off Andrew Gilbert in the fifth were unearned.

“Bruchu is just coming back and he was just tired,” Parker said. “Last year he pitched nine innings, but this was his first start of the year because he’s been injured all year. I thought he battled really well and pitched his heart out.”

Venske finished up with the last two innings for Stillwater, allowing zero hits and three walks with one strikeout.

“Both times we didn’t get the big hit or they didn’t make the big mistakes,” Parker said. “We did get base runners on and had guys in scoring position with our best hitters up, but they just outplayed us in both of those games. The key for us was if we win that game on Saturday we’re going to be awfully tough to beat.”

It was another section finals heartbreak for a Ponies team that included 13 seniors on the section roster — especially senior starters Bruchu, Murr and Matthew Stanton, who were members of a boys’ hockey team that was also ranked No. 1 in the state for part of the season before falling to Hill-Murray in the section finals.

“The hard part is that our conference was better than our section because we’ve got Forest Lake, East Ridge and Mounds View, who are all in the finals of their section,” Parker said. “To win that conference with 16 games I think is tougher and is a better indicator fo good your team is, but you end up with your section and we put the section ahead of winning the conference. You win the conference championship and it’s great and you tell the kids that, but there’s no hog pile and celebration with pictures and medals, so you play for that section championship.”

And yet it was a remarkable season considering the Ponies lost Bruchu, their top returning pitcher and a three-year starter, in the opening game of the season.

“We have a bunch of very good baseball players — and two-way players, pitcher and fielder and it was one of those years I didn’t use a lot of subs because guys can do both,” Parker said. “We’re going to miss the senior group. They were very good baseball players and some really improved from the time they were sophomores to seniors.

“This is just me, but my goal is to be in the conference hunt the last week of the season and always to make it to the championship game of the section and see what happens. Woodbury just played extremely well and they earned it.”

Wood 0 0 1 0 3 0 0 — 4 8 0

Still 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 — 1 6 1

WP: Jack Horman 4-ip, 5-h, 1-r, 1-er, 3-bb, 1-so

LP: Andrew Gilbert 1-ip, 1-h, 3-r, 0-er, 3-bb, 1-so

Leading hitters: Wo, Brodie Paulson 1×3 (RBI); St, Ben Peterson 1×4, Andrew Gilbert 1×4, Austin Murr 1×3 (3B), Graham Laubscher 1×1 (3B), Thomas Bruchu 1×3 (RBI) and Matthew Stanton 1×3.

Stillwater 3, Cretin-Derham Hall 1

At St. Paul, Austin Murr unloaded a two-run homer in the bottom of the third inning to provide the difference in Stillwater’s 3-1 victory over Cretin-Derham Hall in the losers bracket finals of the Section 4AAAA tournament on Monday, June 5 at CHS Field.

The Ponies stranded 10 runners on base in the game, but Murr’s blast emphatically broke a scoreless tie. Andrew Gilbert singled with one out and was running on the pitch when Murr connected.

“He hit it really well and it just carried out,” Ponies coach Mike Parker said.

Stillwater added a run in the fifth as Gilbert and Murr each walked and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Mason Schwerzler. Gilbert was thrown out the plate on a fielder’s choice by Graham Laubscher, but Bruchu drew a walk and Murr scored on a two-strike base hit up the middle by Matthew Stanton.

“Their pitcher was good, but we really limited our strikeouts,” Parker said. “Murr’s home run was really the difference. They had a lot of chances for big hits and we had a lot of chances for big hits. Both teams had a ton of chances with two outs to do something.”

Will Frisch did his part on the mound for Stillwater while limiting the Raiders to two hits and six walks with eight strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. He left after walking three straight batters in the sixth, but Andrew Gilbert struck out the next batter to end the threat.

Frisch, a sophomore, improved to 8-1 on the season and lowered his ERA to 0.80.

“He continues doing really well, with a lot of composure on the mound,” Parker said. “He’s one of those kids who just stays focused on his job and he doesn’t get too rattled.”

The Raiders scored a run off Cody Venske in the seventh, but he finished strong with a strikeout to end the game.

C-D Hall 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 — 1 4 0

Still 0 0 2 0 1 0 x — 3 5 0

WP: Will Frisch 5 2/3-ip, 2-h, 0-r, 0-er, 6-bb, 8-so

LP: Nick Onomiya 4-ip, 4-h, 3-r, 3-er, 4-bb, 2-so

Leading hitters: C-DH, Tommy Czech 1×4 (3B) and Onomiya 1×4 (RBI); St, Austin Murr 1×3 (HR, 2 RBI), Matthew Stanton 2×2 (RBI), Andrew Gilbert 1×2 and Phil Daniels 1×3.

Woodbury 4, Stillwater 1

At St. Paul, the Royals broke a scoreless tie with four runs in the fifth inning to pull away for a 4-1 victory over Stillwater in the winners bracket finals of the Section 4AAAA tourney on Saturday, June 3 at CHS Field.

Woodbury’s rally started harmlessly enough as Max Meyer drew a two-out walk and Ronald Sweeney followed with a base hit. The runners advanced to second and third on a wild pitch and Brodie Paulson drove a two-run double. Nolan Glunz followed with an RBI double and the Royals tacked on another run to build a four-run cushion.

Meyer kept the Ponies scoreless while throwing 5 2/3 innings, but did not record a strikeout after collecting 9 and 11 in his first two section starts.

“I don’t know when the last time Meyer didn’t strike anybody out was, but it had to be elementary school,” Parker said. “The guys had great appearances and put the ball in play, but they were right at people. I was really pleased with how our guys approached it.”

Graham Laubscher cruised through four innings before the Royals struck for that two-out rally in the fifth. The senior left-hander allowed six hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts.

Stillwater broke through for its only run in the seventh as Laubscher singled and scored on a double by Thomas Bruchu.

Wood 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 — 4 7 0

Still 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 — 1 5 1

WP: Max Meyer 5 2/3-ip, 4-h, 0-r, 0-er, 1-bb, 0-so

LP: Graham Laubscher 4 2/3-ip, 6-h, 4-r, 4-er, 3-bb, 10-so

Leading hitters: Wo, Meyer 2×3; St, Thomas Bruchu 2×2 (2B), Andrew Gilbert 1×2 (2B) and Laubscher 2×3.