St. Paul, MN - Anyone who has been a part of the Minnesota American Legion State Baseball Tournament will agree that the four-day tournament is a survival of the fittest. It requires pitching depth, quality defense, timely hitting, and a short term memory. Tri-City Red utilized all of that and rallied from a two-run deficit in the eighth inning and scored three more in the ninth to stun Eden Prairie in an elimination game on Monday by a score of 8-6. They were delivered a two-run walk-off homerun courtesy of Erik Holloman in the bottom of the ninth to lift his team to a spot in the Minnesota American Legion State Championship game.
"I knew it had a chance, " said Tri-City Red catcher Nate Fredrickson. "He went back, back, and then it went out."
The win also qualified Tri-City Red for the American Legion Central Plains Regional Tournament in Bismarck, ND later this week. Tri-City Red's tournament record improved to 4-1 and 29-10 on the season.
"I knew if we won, we were going to the regionals, and that's the main thing," said Holloman.
Tri-City Red, considered one of the top teams in state, would not have even been in the tournament this year had they not been the host team as they were defeated by Forest Lake deep in the Substate 8 playoffs. Stillwater ended up representing the substate in the state tournament.
Minnesota has 15 substates that consist of 132 teams. Teams that are stocked with plenty of arms, quality defense and timely hitting typically are still standing at this point. Both Eden Prairie and Tri-City Red could stake claim to that although, the start to the game saw a combined seven runs scored by both teams and settled in during the middle innings. It became explosive in the closing frames.
Through three innings of play Eden Prairie carved out four runs on seven hits including a three run first inning. Tri-City Red held serve by plating three runs in of their own in the first two innings. They accomplished it in a different way with one run in the first and two runs in he second on the strength of one hit and four walks. Eden Prairie had 13 hits on the game led by Connor Kehl's 3-5 effort.
Eden Prairie coach Scott Hackett went to Ben Shepard in relief who stemmed the tide as he came on in the second inning. He worked 6 2/3 innings in a strong relief outing that included allowing three earned runs while striking out six.
The Eden Prairie staff walked 10 Tri-City Red batters that managed just five hits for the game, but they made the hits count as five of the walked batters ended up scoring.
Eden Prairie's Zach Elliott hit a screamer back up the box at Tri-City Red pitcher Matt Herold who came in relief in the second inning. It ended his day as the rocket Herold in the ankle as worked 6 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on his outing. He gave way to Ross Indlecoffer who completed the game and picked up the win on the mound.
Tri-City Red cut the deficit to 6-5 in their half of the 8th inning off a sacrifice fly. It scored Holloman who walked and reached third on a sacrifice bunt by Joey Lauson. Pinch hitter Ian Bahn knocked Holloman in with a sacrifice fly to left field. The threat was halted by a big strikeout courtesy of Shepard, his fifth of the game. The game was sent to the 9th inning with Eden Prairie clinging to the 6-5 lead.
Tri-City's Ryan Nickel opened the bottom of the ninth with a walk, stole second, and scored on Justin Langer's base hit to even the game at 6. The power hitting
Indlecoffer struck out and Ben Jepko singled to represent the winning run.
Holloman drove a 3-1 pitch over the left field wall an estimated 355 feet setting off a wild celebration as his teammates were waiting at home and they were bouncing.
"With a 3-1 count, I was looking for a fastball in, and I got it," said Holloman. "Before the at bat, my coach (Nik Anderson) pulled me over and said look for the first good fastball.
It was Holloman's first homerun in a couple of years and he made this one huge. "I haven't hit a homerun in a couple of years, but I really got this one," Holloman said.
The Tri-City Red hero was running the bases at a break neck pace and launched his helmet to the sky as his teammates were waiting. "I was just flying around the bases," Holloman said. "It's what they do on Tv, so I went for it."