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June 20, 2021

6/10/2021 4:24:00 PM
North Branch baseball bats awaken after first round upset

North Branch 11, Cloquet 2
After a demoralizing 14-2 loss to seventh-seeded Duluth Denfeld in the first round of sections, North Branch started their long march through the loser’s bracket with a commanding 11-2 win over sixth-seeded Cloquet on Thursday, June 3 at North Branch.

“The bats finally came alive,” Head Coach Steve Christensen said. “We were able to get on base and we had some clutch hitting.”

After a scoreless first inning, North Branch scored two in the second inning to grab the early lead. Cloquet answered back with two runs of their own in the top of the third inning, but it would be the only Lumberjacks that would cross the plate against started Devon Schulte.
In the bottom of the third, the Vikings kept their bats going, but this time tacked on a much bigger crooked number, scoring five times. They added three more in the fourth inning to extend the lead to 10-2. The Vikes added another run in the bottom of the fifth to cap off the scoring at 11-2.

 Jordan Axberg led the offensive output, going four-for-five with a double and two runs batted in. Senior Tony Hartlieb went one-for-four with a double, two runs, and two RBIs. Adam Richards added two hits, two runs and an RBI and Bryce Skiba went two-for-five with three runs. Junior Reed Jacobson chipped in two hits, an RBI and a run. Nate Skiba and Gavyn Jensen Schneider also had key hits for the Vikings in the drubbing.
Schulte went six innings and only allowed sic hits and the two runs, although only one was earned. He struck out four. Bryce Skiba pitched the last inning, and had a clean three outs, with two strikeouts.

The win wasn’t without warts, though, as North Branch committed four errors, which is on the heels of their seven error debacle against Denfeld. Section play doesn’t allow for many errors before catching up with teams.

North Branch 4, Duluth Denfeld 3
The Vikings got their chance at redemption on Saturday, June 5 as Duluth Denfeld lost their second round game to Grand Rapids, sending them to the loser’s bracket and a rematch of their first round game.

Axberg got the nod again, and this time he was a bit more sharp on the mound, and his defense played a much cleaner game behind him.

The two teams were scoreless through two innings until Denfeld broke the knotted game with three runs in the third inning. Things looked a little bleak for the Vikings after that as they went down quietly in the bottom of the third, and then the fourth inning as well, putting them down to their last nine outs.

That’s when freshman phenom Andrew Orf came alive at the plate. He had been held uncharacteristically hitless in the Cloquet game, and had gone down in his first two at bats of this game as well. But, he came up with two runners on in the bottom of the fifth inning and delivered a two RBI double to trim the lead to 3-2 and put some pressure on the Denfeld pitching staff.

North Branch didn’t score any more runs that inning, but they drew a few walks, getting through the order a bit quicker and setting the stage for the bottom of the sixth inning. With Schulte and Nate Skiba on second and third, Orf delivered another big hit, scoring both runners and pulling North Branch in front of Denfeld for the first time in section play.

 “Andrew had a hot bat,” Christensen said. “He came through clutch in both at bats.”

 Axberg, with the season on the line, came through for the Vikings on the bump. He went all seven innings and allowed five hits and three runs. He struck out five Hunters and walked only one. Most importantly, the defense played well behind him, committing only one error. The Vikings’ patience at the plate was also key, as they only had five hits on the night, but they drew eight walks. “We had some opportunities early and left baserunners on,” Christensen explained afterwards. “When it came down to it, we were able to score what we needed and Jordan pitched great.”

 The Vikings’ journey through the losers bracket continued on Tuesday, June 8 against fourth seeded Princeton.

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