Owatonna earns top 6 finish at state VFW tourney
Having won 10 of its last 12 games, the Owatonna VFW baseball team was looking to continue its positive momentum throughout this past weekend’s state tournament and early on it did just that beating Hermantown 12-2 and Mankato 8-6. However, in the state quarterfinals Post 3723 lost to Elk River 12-0 and in the consolation bracket and St. Cloud 14-7 to settle for a top six finish.
In its first game, Hermantown got the scoring started with two runs in the top of the first inning, but Post 3723 answered with four runs in the bottom of the first, including an RBI single by Mitch Seykora and an RBI groundout by Michael Reinardy.
Head Coach James Dahlgren said the key to his team’s fast start was putting the ball in play.
“We were hitting the ball hard and forcing them to make plays,” he said.
He mentioned that Owatonna’s starting pitcher Chris Homuth settled down in the second inning and kept Hermantown’s offense off balance the rest of the game by establishing his fastball early and mixing in his off-speed pitches.
Then, in its next at-bat, Owatonna extended its lead to 6-2 on a Seykora RBI triple and a Reinardy RBI single.
After a scoreless third inning, Briley Highfield hit a two-run single to increase Post 3723’s lead to 8-2 and he later scored on a Hermantown error to make it 9-2 after four innings.
Following a scoreless fifth inning, Reinardy came in to pitch in relief of Homuth and pitched a 1-2-3 sixth inning.
In the sixth inning, Owatonna sealed its win with three runs: Seykora scored on a wild pitch, Highfield scored on a passed ball and Jonny Club scored on a Hermantown error. Leading by 10 runs after five innings, Post 3723 won 12-2 via the 10-run rule.
In addition to its strong offense, Owatonna’s defense also excelled, not committing any errors.
Dahlgren noted that Post 3723’s defense played so well because they have a lot trust in each other.
“We have confidence in Chris that he was going to get the job done for us. When a pitcher is throwing strikes, it keeps the defense active and sharp,” he said.
Overall, Dahlgren said Owatonna played well because they’d played with confidence and had great at-bats.
Post 3723 advanced to the winner’s bracket where it faced the Mankato Royals.
This time, Owatonna took the early lead when Highfield hit an RBI single in the top of the first inning.
However, Mankato came right back with a run of their own and the game was tied 1-1 when the second inning began.
Post 3723 didn’t score in the top of the second inning, but neither did the Royals in the bottom half of the second thanks to the pitching of Owatonna starter Addison Andrix.
“They have some pretty good hitters so we were going to have to have Addison keep them off balance. He did a really good job of that. He established his curveball, which threw off their timing,” Dahlgren said.
In third inning, Highfield again delivered an RBI single but once again Mankato responded with a run in its next at-bat and the game was tied 2-2 at the start of the fourth inning.
The Royals took a one-run lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, but Post 3723 re-took the lead in the top of the fifth when Highfield hit a sacrifice-fly and Owen Beyer hit an RBI groundout. It just the fifth inning, it was already Highfield’s third RBI of the game.
“Every time we needed a big hit, Briley Highfield provided one,” he said.
However, the Royals scored one run in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the game at 4-4.
After a scoreless sixth and seventh inning, the game headed to extra innings.
“It was a very well-played game by both teams. Each team had good pitching and clutch hitting so they were two evenly-matched teams,” Dahlgren said.
After being held to just three hits over the past three innings of work by Mankato’s first relief pitcher, Owatonna finally broke through in the top of the ninth inning.
Chris Homuth got Post 3723’s offense going with a single, he then advanced to third base on a Drew Kretlow single and he scored when Highfield reached first base on an error. Following a single by Beyer, Highfield scored on an Ethan Armstrong RBI single to give Owatonna a 6-4 lead. Beyer ended up scoring on a wild pitch and Nathan Theis hit an RBI single to make Post 3723’s lead 8-4.
Dahlgren explained that the key to Owatonna’s offensive surge was its batters having belief that good things would happen.
“We went up to the plate with confidence even though Mankato’s pitcher had been doing really well and throwing really hard the previous few innings,” he said.
Owatonna now led by four runs, but Mankato still had one more opportunity to tie the game or win in walk-off fashion.
“We were up to 8-4, but we knew this was not over. They were not going to go down without a fight,” he said.
After Andrix gave up a walk, Reinardy came in to pitch the ninth inning. He surrendered back-to-back singles and then a two-run single down the first base line that got the Royals’ game-tying runner to first base. Even though Post 3723’s lead had been cut in half, Dahlgren had faith in Reinardy to finish the game.
“You have to trust each other that you’re going to get it done. Michael has been a big pitcher for us this summer so we had 100% trust that he was going to get it done for us,” Dahlgren said.
Reinardy did just that, inducing a groundout to end the game and send Owatonna to the state quarterfinals.
He noted that one of Post 3723’s standout players in that game was Addison Andrix who held a good-hitting Mankato team to just four runs over eight innings.
“It’s not easy for someone to throw 120 pitches through eight innings and keep an offense like that at bay,” he said.
In the state quarterfinals, Owatonna faced a much-tougher opponent, Elk River. The main reason Elk River was so dominant against Post 3723 was its starting pitcher who gave up just one hit and that runner didn’t get past first base.
Dahlgren explained that what made him so effective was the movement and location of his pitches.
“His fastball moved everywhere, he had really good changeup and a strong curveball. He threw 53 pitches over 5 innings and 42 of them were strikes so he was always around the zone,” he said. “They had their best pitcher, possibly best in the whole tournament, and that only gave their hitters that much more confidence.”
Elk River’s batters made full use of that extra confidence, scoring 12 runs in five innings.
Dahlgren said the fact that Elk River scored was not an indictment of the pitching performance of Mitch Seykora who he said was one of their best pitchers.
“They just put the ball in play. You just got to tip your hat to them for coming out ready to play,” he said.
After a disappointing 12-0 loss to Elk River, Owatonna faced St. Cloud in the consolation bracket.
Briley Highfield got the scoring started with a two-run single and Post 3723 led 3-0 after the first inning.
In the second inning, Owatonna extended its lead to 4-0. However, St. Cloud came storming back with five combined runs in the third and fourth innings to take a 5-4 lead into the fifth inning.
“We jumped out early and got after them but we set the cruise a little bit and they hit the ball,” said Dahlgren.
In the top of the fifth inning, Post 3723 scored three runs to re-take the lead, 7-5.
After that, it was all St. Cloud – they scored six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take an 11-7 lead.
Even though St. Cloud scored 11 runs in five innings, he mentioned that Owatonna’s starting pitcher, Michael Reinardy, still did a good job.
“He threw well, he just ran out of gas. We asked him to do a lot this weekend,” he said.
Post 3723 turned to Carson Olson who halted St. Cloud’s run, Owen Beyer and Jonny Club in relief of Reinardy but St. Cloud still managed to score three more combined runs in the sixth and seventh inning to win the game 14-7 and eliminate Owatonna from the state VFW tournament.
Dahlgren mentioned that one of the main reasons Post 3723 was able to make a comeback was the quality of St. Cloud’s pitcher.
“They brought in one of their top two pitchers who threw hard and threw strikes and we just weren’t able to get the hits we needed,” he said.
Despite the loss, he was proud of the way Owatonna played against St. Cloud.
“It’s tough to play four games in two days, especially coming off a tough loss to Elk River, but they were willing to continue to battle even deep into that fourth game. Even when St. Cloud tied us up, we were still willing to go out there and put up some more runs,” he said.
Even though Post 3723’s season ended on a sour note, Dahlgren said it was still a really successful summer.
“It was our goal to make it to state tournament and for the boys to experience that kind of atmosphere, play really good competition and just keep hanging out as a team and enjoying each other,” he said.
In addition to all those positive aspects of playing in the state tournament, he was also pleased with how his team competed.
“The kids battled all the way to the end. I’m proud of the way we played this weekend and I’m proud of the way we carried ourselves,” he said.
Overall, Dahlgren said the kids made it a great summer.
“We have some talented baseball players, but they’re even better kids to coach.”