May 19, 2011 at 7:21 p.m.
Thomas Kinsella was on point early last week, going above and beyond normal duty, to will the Vikings to their fifth win on the season. The junior pitcher went all eight innings (high school varsity games last seven ) as North Branch needed an extra inning and a big jolt for senior Tanner Danks to come away with the win.
Fridley struck first in the opening inning, scoring a single run, and for a while, it looked like all they would need. North Branch's normally potent bats were silenced by Fridley ace Greg Weber for most of the game. In the sixth inning, Fridley added another run for insurance, a homerun off the bat of the Fridley clean up hitter.
With the stagnant Viking offense running out of time, they struck in the bottom of the seventh inning when Kinsella and Andy Freel both got base hits. After moving them over, both came home on fielders' choices off the bats of Kerry Konrad and Cole Mattson. That tied the game and was just the spark the Vikings would need.
Kinsella burned through the Fridley batters in the eighth inning and Danks became the hero when he belted a fastball over the home fence and earned the walk off hit as his teammates mobbed him at the plate.
As big of a hit as Danks got, Head Coach Steve Christensen couldn't help but marvel at the performance by his pitcher. "Thomas was just dialed in that night," he said. "He pitched very well and he got some help defensively."
Kinsella went eight innings, scattering nine hits, only one that went for extra bases, and two walks. He struck out 11 Tiger batters.
Columbia Heights 13, North Branch 9
Despite the Hylanders struggling this year, North Branch just didn't have the pitching or the defense to stave off Columbia Heights. The Hylanders scored six runs in the first two innings and it already looked bleak for North Branch. In the third inning, North Branch thundered back, scoring seven runs in a big inning. A lot of the runs came in on walks and Heights' errors.
The Hylander offense just couldn't be contained though, by either Dylan Kraemer and Zach Fairbanks. Columbia Heights added five runs over the next three innings and each team put up a two spot in the ninth inning as Heights won 13-9.
Travis Anderson, Tim Katka and Klun had multi-hit games for North Branch, and Ehrnriter and Kinsella had RBIs for them.
"Our pitchers struggled to throw strikes, and the defense had some lapses, allowing runners to move up and score," Christensen explained after the loss. "The hitters still had opportunities, though. We had a lot of baserunners that we left on base, and they seemed to capitalize with runners in scoring position."
North Branch 12, Fridley 6
The Vikings dropped Fridley for the second time in one week, this one a bit more convincingly than their extra-inning walk off win Monday.
After scoring one in the first inning, the Vikings added eight runs over the third and fourth inning. Although Fridley also scored six runs over those two innings to trail 9-6, the Vikings steadily added onto their margin, winning 12-6.
Kinsella and Danks were again the story of the game for North Branch, as the pair combined to go six-for-10 with five RBIs and two runs on the game. Freel, Tyler Zondlo and Klun also added an RBI each. Zondlo scored four of North Branch's 12 runs.
"Our batters capitalized on pitchers' mistakes and had a good eye at the plate. We were up 9-1, had a bad inning that allowed five runs," Christensen explained. "Christian Ehrnriter pitched very well. He dealt through some tough innings, and put his team in a position to win." Ehrnriter threw a complete game, giving up eight hits and six runs, but only two of them were earned. He struck out five and walked three on the game.
Duluth Central 18, North Branch 7
The Vikings hosted the Duluth Central Trojans on a cold and biting fishing opener Saturday.
Just a few days after his pitching gem against Fridley, Kinsella struggled with control and a shaky defense behind him against the Trojans. Duluth Central scored the first two runs of the game in the first inning. North Branch answered right back with four of their own in the bottom of the first. But, Duluth Central had a steady onslaught of offense on the day, as they scored runs in the next five innings. In all but one of them, the Trojans scored more than one run. By the fourth inning, it was 6-5 in favor of Duluth Central.
They put the game mostly out of reach with five runs in that frame, and really sealed the game by adding seven more runs in the fifth and sixth innings combined. By the end of the sixth, the game was called due to the 10-run mercy rule with North Branch trailing 18-7.
Ehrnriter, Tim Katka and Travis Moreno each had two hits Klun went three-for-four with one run and two RBIs. Danks was zero-for-one, but drew three walks on the game.
Kinsella started the game, going three and two-thirds innings, giving up 11 runs - seven of them earned - on 10 hits and three walks. In all, the North Branch pitchers walked 11 Trojan batters on the day.
As if the free passes didn't hurt North Branch enough, they committed five errors on defense. "We had some long innings playing defense. Pitchers struggled to throw strikes, and when they had opportunities, we let it slip," Christensen said. "It's tough to say the weather affects you when the other team plays through the same elements. We had five errors, they had zero."
But, the coach was optimistic going forward with eight games remaining. "We have a lot of baseball yet to play, and I think we've got a pretty good team ready to face anyone," the Vikings' skipper said. "We need to stay true to what we can do, and play confidently. Everyone has a chance in the playoffs, and I like our chances."