June 16, 2016 at 10:45 a.m.
Jimmy Skroch threw a complete game, striking out 13 batters, to lead the Vikings to a 7-3 win over Hibbing in the section championship game to earn a trip to the state tournament for the first time in at least 30 years. The game was played at historic Wade Stadium in Duluth Tuesday, June 7. The Vikings will play their first round game in the state tournament June 16 at Siebert Field at the U of M, with the time and opponent to be determined.
The fifth-seeded Vikings started their unexpected run through the section tournament with a 4-3 extra inning win over fourth-seeded Duluth Denfeld, on Wednesday, June 1. The next day, they outslugged Zimmerman, the number eight seed, 13-8.
And on Saturday, June 4, the Vikings squeaked by second-seeded Hibbing 1-0 to earn the right to play for the second championship. Hibbing beat Princeton in an afternoon match June 7 to earn the right to play the Vikings that evening.
And the Vikings came through, in a big way.
Championship Game: North Branch 7, Hibbing 3
The Vikings scored three runs in the first inning and four runs in the third to go up 7-0 in the championship game. Hibbing scored three runs in the fifth inning with two outs, but that was all they could muster in an otherwise dominant performance from Skroch.
Skroch singled in the first run of the game in the first inning. Josh Petrik added an RBI single and Brady Brodin walked with the bases loaded to force in a run and put the Vikings up 3-0 after one. In the third, Brodin singled and Dawson Linkert was hit by a pitch. The runners moved up to second and third. Nick Fairbanks hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Linkert to make it 4-0. Jared Kozar singled to drive in Linkert. Skroch walked. Ryan Byrkit doubled to drive in both runners and the Vikings led 7-0.
With the Vikings leading 7-3 in the seventh, with one out, a Hibbing batter hit a line drive toward right center. Second baseman Nick Solberg caught the liner and fired to first baseman Byrkit to complete a double play, end the game and begin the celebration.
Longtime Viking head coach Steve Christensen said “Jimmy gave a great performance again. Everyone has been stepping up in different situations. It was a true team effort. I’m so proud of these guys. They are excited to be where they’re at, and deservedly so!”
If the Vikings had lost this game, they would have had the chance to play Hibbing again the next day to try to win the section since it would have been the Vikings’ first loss of the tournament.
Game 1: North Branch 4, Duluth Denfeld 3
Jared Kozar drove in the go ahead run with one out in the top of the eighth inning and Dylan Ramberg pitched a perfect bottom of the eighth to pick up the save as the Vikings beat Duluth Denfeld 4-3 in the opening game of the Section 7AA tournament. Jimmy Skroch pitched the first seven innings to earn the win. The game was played Wednesday, June 1 at Wade Stadium in Duluth.
The Vikings burst out of the gate with three runs in the top of the first. With one out, Jared Kozar walked, Skroch singled and Byrkit walked to load the bases. Two runs scored when Nick Solberg reached on an error. Josh Petrik’s sacrifice fly made the score 3-0. Denfeld scored twice in the second and once in the fifth to tie the game at 3-3, which is where the score stood at the end of seven. Dawson Linkert led off the top of the eighth with a single to left. Caleb Stiles sacrificed him to second. Nick Fairbanks singled to right center to move Linkert to third. Kozar then singled to left to drive in Linkert and put the Vikings up by one. Ramberg’s 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the eighth sealed the win and put the Vikings in the winner’s bracket, which is a much easier path to a section championship than the loser’s bracket.
Viking head coach Steve Christensen said “We played really well. We had some early opportunities to get some more runs across, but Denfeld made some nice defensive plays to stall us. Skroch pitched great, and Ramberg came in to close it down. Our defense made the plays when we needed to
get out of some innings.”
Game 2: North Branch 13, Zimmerman 8
Ryan Byrkit homered and doubled among his four hits and drove in four runs to help the Vikings built a 13-5 lead through five innings against Zimmerman. The Vikings hung on for a 13-8 win in the second game of the Road to Duluth. The game was played in front of the home folks at North Branch High School on Thursday, June 2.
The Vikings scored five runs in the first and three in the second as they built a 9-3 lead after four innings. Zimmerman scored twice in the top of the fifth to cut the Viking lead to 9-5 and make things a little interesting. But the Vikings answered with four runs in the bottom of the fifth, highlighted by Byrkit’s three run blast over the wall in left to stretch their lead to eight runs.
Byrkit had some help on the offensive side as the Vikings pounded out 15 hits. Brady Brodin, Dawson Linkert and Nick Solberg drove in two runs apiece. Jared Kozar, Brodin and Nick Franklin each had two hits and Linkert had the Vikings’ only other extra base hit, a two run double in the first inning. Josh Petrik pitched the first four and two thirds innings and picked up the win. He allowed five runs (two earned) on eight hits and walked one. Nick Dufeck and Dylan Ramberg finished up.
“It's an exciting time of year,” said Viking head coach Steve Christensen. “We were able to counter any Zimmerman runs with some of our own. We didn't stop putting pressure on.”
Game 3: North Branch 1, Hibbing 0
Brady Brodin pitched six and a third innings of shutout baseball and Nick Solberg drove in the game’s only run with a second inning single as the Viking shut out Hibbing 1-0 to earn a trip to Duluth for last Tuesday’s championship game. Jimmy Skroch got the last two outs of the game to pick up the save. The game was played Saturday, June 4 at Pat Collins Field at Chisago Lakes High School.
In the top of the second, Ryan Byrkit led off with a double to left center. Solberg followed with single up the middle to score Byrkit and give the Vikings the only run they would need. In the game’s first six innings, Hibbing only got one runner past first base and never really threatened to score. In the bottom of the seventh, Brodin struck out the first batter. The second batter singled and Skroch came in to relieve Brodin. Skroch struck out the first batter he faced for the second out of the inning. He walked the next batter to put runners on first and second. But, on a 2-1 pitch, he got the next batter to pop out to first baseman Byrkit to end the game.
Skroch named to All Star Team
Jimmy Skroch has been selected to play in the "Play Ball MN! 2016 HS All-Star Series" in Chanhassen and Chaska, from Friday, June 24-25. Senior graduate players will be teamed up on six teams from Minnesota broken up geographically, by Metro West, Metro East, Metro South, Metro North, North, and South. The best graduating seniors from all four levels of high school play have been invited to participate.
Skroch was selected to play on Metro North as a pitcher and infielder.
“Jimmy is the first selection from North Branch onto this team in the time that I've coached in North Branch” said Viking head coach Christensen. “He has had a great season on the mound and at the plate.”