Cold Spring, MN.
Excelsior Post 259 and Edina Legion 471 faced each other for the second time in as many days for the winner-take-all Minnesota American Legion State Baseball title.
Cold Spring Park was the site for a number of tremendous performances and once again was the site of a pair of pitching gems for both teams. Excelsior topped Edina 3-1 in a game fitting of a championship moniker.
Excelsior’s Eythan Rommes pitched 5 innings while giving up 6 hits and one run to Edina. He struck out 3 Edina batters and only walked one along the way to help pitch his team to the win. He left with the score tied at 1 and gave way to Michael Sturek who pitched two innings allowing just one hit while striking out 2 and walking one enroute to the win on the mound.
The second gem on the hill went to Edina’s Jack Bale. He pitched a complete game for Edina giving up 3 runs, of which 2 were earned. Bale commanded his fastball and mixed in a solid blend of breaking pitches and a change up to stifle arguably Minnesota American Legion Baseball’s most vaunted lineup. Bale opened the season on the Edina Legion 2 team and was called up to the Legion 1 team in late June, prior to the rosters being finalized, to fortify head coach Gene Larkin’s pitching staff.
The story was about Excelsior and their ability to put together a complete game that consists of steady defense, outstanding pitching, timely hitting, and heads-up base running. They got all of that against an Edina team, that put the 14-2 blow-out loss in their rear view mirror, and brought their ‘A’ game. Edina was tasked with playing a veteran Excelsior team that is deep and trusts themselves.
“The best part is that these guys just love playing the game but even more they have a sense of purpose,” Excelsior coach Rob Hager said after the game. “They want to win every game and the are such a tight group that I do not even have to coach them, I just let them play and stay out of there way.”
After Edina took a 1-0 lead in the bottom half of the third inning on an RBI single by Ryan Gallaher, Excelsior struck back in the next frame with a run of their own. An error led to Nick Thimsen landing on second base from a throw and he was immediately knocked in by Sean Arnal with a base hit to right field.
Thimsen was 1-2 for the game and captured the Fred Wannamaker Trophy for the tournament MVP. The 2019 graduate will be heading to play for Concordia University in St. Paul next year hit .500 for the tournament with a clutch four days at the plate.
“Nick is a great player his speed and hustle allows for him to be dynamic,” Hager said. “He is such a streaky player it was awesome to see him focus so much and Bring his best during the state tournament. He is going to be great for Concordia St. Paul.”
Excelsior went to a pair of veteran vocal leaders in Michael and Will Sturek to put together the game winning run on the base paths. Will Sturek battled a 1-2 pitch for a single to open the inning. Micheal Sturek reached base on a bunt single, intended to be a sacrifice yet he beat the throw, setting up runners on first and second with nobody out. Thimsen then put down another bunt sacrificing the Sturek’s to second and third with one out. Edina looked like they would escape the inning with the tie as a ground ball by Arnal was hammered to Edina’s Mason Nevers at third base. Nevers checked Will Sturek at third and fired over to Cam Schmidt at first base for the second out of the inning. Michael Sturek got caught off second base with Schmidt running at him forcing what was the beginning of a run-down. Will Sturek quickly broke for home with Schmidt turning and firing a ball toward catcher Jonathan Bunce. The throw was hurried and sailed up the line as Will Sturek scored what would be the game-winning run.
With a team full of leaders, Hager noted that his team always plays with purpose and said, “Mike and Will Sturek have become our vocal leaders and always bring the team in when we need a self check. Overall the entire team has the same purpose and that is to win no matter what it takes.” The Sturek’s also did it on the field as well.
An insurance run in the top of the seventh was all Excelsior needed to capture the state title in Cold Spring. It wasn’t easy and Hager knew they were in for a game. “We knew Edina was not going to be an easy game, Saturday night was a freak occurrence,” Hager said. “Edina is always one of the toughest opponents we face every year and Saturday everything went our way. Sunday was a true game between us - always a dog fight - we played them in league this year and won 5-4 they are a great team and great program. I was thankful that Rommes was able to pitch as well as he did and we were able to turn the ball over to Will Sturek to finish the game. I expect Edina and us to be there at the end of the regionals if we play to our abilities.”
The play of shortstop Jarod Wandersee was a treat for the entire weekend as he played with confidence and passion. Wandersee hit .471 for the tournament. The play of the shortstop this year has not gone unappreciated by his coach. “We have a team full of leaders,” Hager observed. “Jarod Wandersee is the heart and soul of the team because of how hard he plays and the leadership he brings.”
According to Hager the team does not focus on stats but wins. He noted that the stats take care for themselves and the team is mature enough to know it is about the result first as the stats mean nothing if the team doesn’t win.
Excelsior and Edina a two programs that will represent Minnesota well in the Central Plains Regional Tournament that starts this Wednesday in Sioux Falls, SD. With the team that has delivered for Excelsior, there is plenty of reason for them to think big. At 52-2, their gaudy record is impressive.
“We will give everything we have,” Hager acknowledge. “The state title is awesome and a great accomplishment but our ultimate goal is to win the World Series so we have to be at our best in Sioux Falls or our season will be done earlier than we want it to be.” Post 259 has every reason to believe their bus can continue its path to Shelby, North Carolina.
*Tri-City Red’s John Solfest won the Fred Wannamaker Trophy for the tournament MVP in Edina last year and now can stake claim to the Rob Wassenaar award for the tournament’s MVP won this year. Solfest spun a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts in his team’s 1-0 win over Austin on the tournament’s opening day.
*Ham Lake was the recipient of Father Moran Team Sportsmanship award.
*The 95th Minnesota American Legion Baseball State Tournament will be held in Burnsville next year.
*Two teams clawed their way back through the elimination bracket this year to play for the right to be one game away from the state final. Woodbury Blue and Buffalo each pulled off the pitching depleting move this weekend. They both showed their depth and relied on it to have memorable tournament runs.
*The Legion Hub will be tracking the progress of Excelsior and Edina in the Central Plains
Regional including providing all schedule information and live streaming if available.