SACRED HEART - Prior to Saturday's game against Windom, Springfield's Dylan Wersal had never pitched more than seven innings in any baseball game.
That streak came to an abrupt end on Saturday as Wersal went above and beyond the call of duty.
Wersal pitched all 12 innings but kept his pitch count at a decent number (he threw 116 pitches). The Tigers, who had a few key chances to score some extra runs, pushed two across the plate in the top of the 12th and Wersal got out of a late jam to lead the Tigers to the Section 3A title game.
Photo submitted by Laura Richert
Springfield second baseman Cooper Scheffler throws to first base against Windom Saturday in the Section 3A baseball playoffs in Sacred Heart. Springfield won the game 5-3 in 12 innings to advance to the title game on Thursday.
Springfield picked up the 5-3 win, improving its record to 20-2 on the year. It plays at 5 p.m. Thursday against the eventual winner of the elimination bracket, which will be decided on Tuesday.
The game was one filled with plenty of ups and downs for both teams.
"There was a lot of emotion," Springfield coach Bob Fink said. "I thought we made plays when we had to and there were some times where we didn't make the plays when we had to. That's what hurt us. If we want to be a state championship team, we need to make those plays.
"On the other end, every guy competed and hit it hard," Fink added. "I've got to give so much credit to Dylan Wersal. We was a continuous bulldog on the mound and the ultimate competitor."
Wersal told Fink that he planned to pitch as long as he could.
"I told him I was going back out there, I wasn't coming out of this game, I wanted this one," Wersal said.
Wersal said that he was able to his spots throughout the game and he hit a batter. He walked one, gave up 10 hits and he struck out four.
The Tigers had to battle through a couple of innings where they grabbed a one-run lead late, only to see the Eagles tie it with two outs in the bottom half of the inning.
As Springfield was clinging to a 2-1 lead, the Eagles scored the tying run in the bottom of the seventh with two outs. In that same inning, Springfield left fielder Branden Flock threw out Andrew Larson at the plate for what would've been the game-winning run. Larson tried to score the winning run from second base on a hit by Jeff Pfeffer.
The Tigers got on the board again in the 11th inning after Jordan Vogel singled and scored Tyler Vogel from second base, giving the Tigers the 3-2 lead. But the Eagles tied it again with two outs after Jack Mellstrom singled and scored Bryton Syverson from second base to tie it at 3-3.
At that point, the Tigers knew they had to score a couple of runs against the Eagles if they were going to win.
Cooper Scheffler led off the 12th inning and stole second base. The Tigers stole nine bases in the game and set the Minnesota single-season record as a team for stolen bases. The previous record was 150 by Deer River in 2012.
"My kids get upset if we stop running," Fink said.?"Our mentality is to be aggressive and to set a state record after only 22 games, that's a remarkable feat and its the kind of thing the guys work on at practice 20 minutes a day."
After Scheffler stole second, Jevan Richert reached on an error. He later stole second to put runners on second and third and the Tigers grabbed another lead when Carter Erickson hit a grounder to short. Scheffler broke for home and scored on the play, but Richert was later thrown out at home on a come-backer to the mound. Erickson later scored on an errant pick-off throw at first to put Springfield up 5-3.
At that point, the Tigers knew they had to put at least a couple of runs on the board.
"That's what I was thinking in the 12th inning, we had to get two runs," Scheffler said.
The Eagles threatened again in the 12th and put runners on second and third. But Wersal retired the next three hitters to end the game, sending the Tigers to within one victory of a state tournament berth.
For the Eagles, Taylor Quiring pitched the first two innings and gave up two runs. Sam Huska pitched the final 10 innings in the loss. Huska allowed three runs on eight hits.
Although Springfield doesn't know who it will play yet, its in a pretty good situation with the win.
"This is a big game for us, last year we were on the opposite end and had to beat them twice," Scheffler said. "I'm glad we can be in a good position to win [Thursday]."
The Tigers get a few days off now. Wersal was a little sore immediately following the game, but he already knew what he was planning on doing immediately after the game on Saturday.
"Go home with ice," he joked.