April 28, 2011 at 8:54 a.m.
So far this year, the Vikings' baseball team has proved that they could win with big-hitting offense, small ball and defense. Last week, they proved that they have a workhorse pitcher to rely on in the big games, also.
North Branch junior Thomas Kinsella threw a gem of a game, going all seven innings, giving up only four hits and one run, which was unearned, and striking out 10 Greyhounds. "Thomas was in great control," Head Coach Steve Christensen said. "He mixed his pitches well and got groundballs when we needed them."
The Greyhounds were first on the board in the first inning. First baseman Christian Ehrnriter flubbed a ball that came to him, and the runner worked his way all the way around the bases, eventually scoring on a base hit by Neal Walsh.
Throughout the middle innings, North Branch would constantly threaten on offense, but they just couldn't get any clutch hitting going. They loaded the bases in the fourth inning with one out, and then the next two batters promptly struck out.
The next inning, Tanner Danks led off the inning with a screaming double down the third base line. The proceeding hitters were only able to move Danks over to third before stranding him there.
A Greyhound gift finally led to the first run of the game for North Branch in the sixth inning, as time seemed to be running out.
After loading the bases with zero outs, the Duluth East pitcher coaxed a groundball to second base, and with the infield in, they were able to get the force out at home for the first out.
Tyler Zondlo stepped to the plate, and although he hit a fly ball, it just wasn't deep enough to score Danks, who was stationed at third base.
With the Vikes down to their last out in what started as a golden opportunity, Cole Mattson hit a ground ball to the second baseman, and it looked like the inning would be wrapped up. But, an error by the second basemen allowed Danks to score and Mattson to reach.
The inning ended after that, and the teams headed to the final frame. Kinsella dug deep and found an extra notch in the top half of the inning, striking out all three Greyhounds to get the North Branch offense back up quickly.
Travis Anderson led off the bottom of the seventh by drawing a walk from East pitcher Mickie Keuning.
Leadoff hitter Brett Klun attempted a sacrifice bunt, but after fouling off two attempts, he had to swing away, and he lined out to the second baseman.
Ehrnriter stepped to the plate next, and he was still smarting from the error in the first inning that caused the game to be tied.
With the senior at the plate, Anderson went to work on the bases. He stole second to move into scoring position, and then he moved 90 feet away from home plate after a wild pitch by Keuning.
With Ehrnriter still bearing down at the plate, the infield moved in to make a play at Anderson if it was a grounder. It didn't matter, however, as Ehrnriter redeemed himself with a blast to the gap in right center field, scoring Anderson easily, and sending North Branch off with a walk-off win.
Christensen was proud of both Anderson and Ehrnriter after the exhilirating win. "Anderson's running changed the inning. Instead of trying to move the runner up and go base-to-base, we had the winning run 90 feet away with only one out," he said. "And Christian really wanted to make up for his mistake in the first inning, and that's the way you do it. You have to learn from what happened in each at bat and in the field and use it as a motivator."
The Vikings offense, which only produced two hits, the double from Danks and the game-winning hit from Ehrnriter, was mostly stagnant, but that was in part because of the pitching craft that East starter Zach Farmer displayed. The senior gave up only one hit on the day while striking out eight Vikings. He did give up four walks though, and that ended up being the difference maker. "Zach had a nice curveball and changeup that match his fastball well," Christensen said. "He kept us off balance for quite a while."
But, Farmer was matched frame-by-frame by Kinsella, who earned the win.
"Everyone contributed tonight, whether it was a defensive play, a shagged foul ball, lending a jacket to a teammate or a congratulatory high five, the whole team was into the game," Christensen explained afterwards.
North Branch is in the middle of their toughest week of the season right now. Although they were rained out against defending North Suburban Conference champs Robbinsdale Cooper earlier in the week, they still had to travel to Totino-Grace on Wednesday and host Irondale tonight, April 28 at 4:30.