North Branch earns revenge by ending the 'Cats season
After dropping the the only regular season meeting between the teams, the Vikings won when it counted the most: in sections
North Branch earns revenge by ending the 'Cats season
Viking Mike Naggatz’s diving catch of Wildcat Kellen Reed’s line drive down the third base line with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning and Wildcat runners on second and third ended the game and sealed the eighth-seeded Vikings’ 4-2 win over the ninth-seeded Wildcats in the opening round of the Section 7AAA playoffs. The game was played this past Monday, May 27 at North Branch High School.
The win vaults the Vikings into the eight team double elimination portion of the Section 7AA playoffs. Because of three other upsets in the opening round, the Vikings’ are the fifth-highest seed among the remaining Section 7AAA teams. They will play fourth-seeded Anoka tonight at Anoka at 7 p.m. The Vikings will continue in the playoffs Saturday, June 1, and, possibly, Tuesday June 4 and Wednesday, June 5 at Grand Rapids and Cohasset. Check out mshsl.org for updates. The loss ended the season for the Wildcats. Viking starting pitcher Nick Pilz picked up the win. He allowed two earned runs, three hits, walked four, hit a batter and struck out five in six plus innings of work. “Nick mixed up his pitches really well, and let his defense make some plays,” North Branch Head Coach Steve Christensen said. Blake Jorgenson came in with one on and nobody out in the seventh and earned an adventurous save for the Vikings. Wildcat starter Hunter Lindstrom battled through four innings. He allowed four runs – one earned – on four hits, walked three, hit a batter and struck out five. Dylan Magnuson finished up for the Wildcats, allowing no baserunners and striking out three in two innings of work.
Pilz walked Wildcat Ryan Biernath to open the top of the seventh inning, and was replaced by Jorgenson. After throwing a strike to Mark Sontag, Jorgenson tried to pick Biernath off first. He threw wildly past first baseman Charlie Linder and Biernath scooted to second. Jorgenson struck out Sontag for the first out of the inning. Wildcat Will Gillach stepped to the plate and hit a slow two hopper towards third. Naggatz charged hard and fired the ball to first, but Gillach barely beat the throw. Biernath stayed put, so the Wildcats had runners on first and second with one out. Matt Hasselquist stepped to the plate. Jorgenson promptly uncorked a wild pitch and both runners moved up. Hasselquist worked the count to 3-2. He slammed the ball to left, but as it curled toward the corner it was tracked down by Viking left fielder Jordan Franklin and caught for the second out. Reed stepped to the plate. He drilled the first pitch down the third base line. The ball appeared to be headed toward the left field corner for a game tying double. But Naggatz stepped to his right and dove toward the line, snatching the ball in the tip of his outstretched glove just inches off the ground to bring an abrupt end to a game that might have been headed to extra innings. “Michael had a great game defensively,” Christensen noted. “Fans might see that last catch as a great one, but he made at least two other plays showing his range in the infield. “The defense just played well tonight in situations. A few things you seem to practice all the time seemed to actually work in our favor.”
The Wildcats took an early lead in this one. Gillach led off the top of the first with a bloop single to right. Hasselquist hit a grounder to short. Gillach was forced at second, but Hasselquist beat the relay throw to first. Reed was hit by a pitch and Mitch Berg walked to load the bases. Dylan Magnuson struck out. Joe Davis hit a soft liner to medium deep right field. The ball hit a few feet in front of right fielder Jacob Kari for a single. Two runs scored, and the Wildcats led 2-0. With one out in the bottom of the first, Vikings Cody Knobbe reached on an error and Jake Schmitz was hit by a pitch. Lindstrom picked Knobbe off second. Knobbe was tagged out in the ensuing rundown and Schmitz took second on the play. Kari hit a fly ball towards short right center field. Right fielder Hasselquist raced toward the ball, dove and caught it, saving a run and ending the inning. The Vikings got on the board in the bottom of the second. With one out, Linder hit a hard one hopper down the first base line. The ball bounced off the first base bag and into right field for a single. Jake Pilz hit a ball towards short, but the ball was mishandled by shortstop Gillach and all hands were safe. Nick Pilz stepped in to the box and ripped the first pitch over the head of a leaping Berg at third base, driving in Linder to cut the Wildcat lead to 2-1. Josh Benolken walked to re-load the bases.
Fairbanks hit a popup to short right field. Second baseman Miles Turk tracked it down and caught it for the second out. Knobbe then hit a hard grounder past Lindstrom that appeared headed for center field. Shortstop Gillach raced to his left and somehow got to the ball a few feet behind and to the right of second. As he fielded the ball, he tumbled. Without standing up, he turned around and dove toward second. Baserunner Benolken also dove toward the bag. Gillach’s glove slapped the base for the third out just before Benolken’s hand hit the base, ending the Viking rally. In the top of the third, Hasselquist hit the ball to deep left field. The ball ticked off the end of the glove of left fielder Frankline and hit the wall as Hasselquist cruised into second with a double. Hasselquist moved to third on a wild pitch. One out later, Berg hit a grounder to short. Hasselquist took off toward the plate. Viking shortstop Ethan Fairbanks fired a perfect throw home to nail Hasselquist and keep the Wildcat lead at 2-1. In the bottom of the inning, Kari singled with one out and Naggatz reached on an error. Linder struck out. Jake Pilz swung at a 2-2 pitch and missed, but the ball got past Wildcat catcher Davis and Pilz reached first, loading the bases. But Nick Pilz grounded to third to end the Viking threat. In the bottom of the fourth, Benolken hit a ground ball to the right of Wildcat second baseman Miles Turk. Turk ran over to make the stop, but bobbled the ball. Benolken reached safely. Fairbanks walked. Lindstrom struck out Knobbe for the first out. Schmitz walked to load the bases.
Kari came up with the game’s biggest hit, a double into the right field corner, scoring Knobbe and Schmitz to give the Vikings a 3-2 lead. Kari moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Naggatz’s sacrifice fly to right to give the Vikings an insurance run and a 4-2 lead. “Jacob [Kari] came up big today,” Christensen said. “We’ve been waiting for someone to come up with that clutch hit.” In the top of the sixth, Magnuson doubled to the wall in left. He was replaced by courtesy runner Mike Dunne. Dunne moved to third on Joe Davis’ ground out to short. Jake Sandgren hit a liner to medium deep center that should have scored Dunne easily. But Dunne was a few steps off third when center fielder Benolken caught the ball. As Dunne retreated toward the bag, Benolken fired the ball into the infield. As Dunne tagged and started toward the plate, shortstop Fairbanks cut off the throw. Dunne scrambled to get back to third, but Fairbanks’ throw beat him and Naggatz applied the tag for a double play to end the inning.