August 14, 2023 at 10:45 a.m.
Bulldogs just one win from state tournament
The Chisago Lakes Bulldogs will play in the Region 1C championship game for the first time since the team re-formed in 2014. In the winners’ bracket semifinal game Sunday, August 6, the fourth-seeded Bulldogs scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a 7-5 lead against the North Branch Nighthawks. The Nighthawks rallied in the top of the ninth, but Tyler Stilp came in to get the final two outs to seal a 7-6 win for the Bulldogs. The win sends the Bulldogs to the Region 1C championship game against the second-seeded Hinckley night this Saturday, August 12 at 11 a.m. The winner of that game will be the region champion and earn a berth to the state tournament, while the loser will play either the Quamba Cubs, Rum River Bandits or North Branch Nighthawks on August 12 at 5 p.m. for another chance to the state tournament. The two state qualifying teams will then play on Sunday, August 13 at 1 p.m. to determine which will be the number one seed from the region for the state tournament. The number one seed gets a bye in the first round of the state tournament.
Bulldog starter Bailey Kasprowicz, who had been dominant all season for the Bulldogs, struggled to get through four innings in this game. Jimmy Skroch and Nick Pilz led off the top of the first with back-to-back singles for the Nighthawks. One out later, Kasprowicz hit Noah Wolfe to load the bases. With a 1-1 count on Nick Solberg, Bulldog catcher Adam Brown lobbed the ball back to Kasprowicz – over his head. An alert Skroch dashed home with the first run of the game. Kasprowicz struck out Nick Solberg and Isaiah Scarborough to end the inning.
Nighthawk starter Jordan Axberg had a complete game shutout against the top-seeded Isanti Redbirds, in his previous start, but struggled early against the Bulldogs. Brown and Tyler Stilp led off the bottom of the first with back-to-back singles. Reed Marquardt’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners up a base. Alex Wilkey lined a single to center to drive in Brown, tying the game at 1-1. Nate Zingerman hit a fly ball to medium deep right field. Stilp tried to score from third. Right fielder Scarborough made an accurate but slightly high throw to home. The home plate umpire called Stilp out for a double play, keeping the game tied.
In the bottom of the second, Kasprowicz led off with a single and moved to second when Dusty Rhodes reached on an error by Axberg on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Aaron Keeney also bunted and beat the throw to first to load the bases. One out later, Brown hit a grounder toward the hole between second and third. Skroch made a great diving stop and forced Keeney at second, but Brown beat the relay to first, allowing Kasprowicz to score to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead. Brown stole second, and both runners scored on Stilp’s sharp single to right, putting the Bulldogs up 4-1.
The Nighthawks scored in each of the next three innings. In the third, with two outs and runners on first and third, Scarborough hit a slow roller to the left of the mound. Bulldog third baseman Stilp charged it and had plenty of time to get Scarborough but bounced a throw well short of first baseman Wilkey and past first base, scoring Lauer. In the fourth, Axberg led off with an infield single and went to second when second baseman Marquardt’s throw sailed past first base. Axberg went to third on a passed ball. Jimmy Hemera walked. Axberg scored when Skroch looped a single to left. With Pilz at the plate, a foul tip hit home plate umpire Jim Jarvis Jr. in the center of his chest protector and went down with severe pain in the heart area. After a 45-minute delay, Jarvis appeared to be okay, but switched places with the field ump. When play resumed, Hemera scored on a sacrifice fly by Pilz to tie the game at 4-4. After Scarborough singled to lead off the top of the fifth, Hunter Lindstrom came in to relieve Kasprowicz. Two straight groundouts moved Axberg to third and he scored on a wild pitch to give the Nighthawks a 5-4 lead.
Axberg, meanwhile, settled down and breezed through the third through sixth innings for the Nighthawks, allowing just three baserunners. In the seventh, Tyler Stilp hit a ball down the first base line that got past Nighthawk first baseman Lauer and into short right field. Stilp tried to stretch it into a double. He clearly slid under the tag but was again called out. He argued vehemently, and first base coach Dylan Magnuson ran out to calm Stilp down so he wouldn’t get thrown out of the game. Wilkey and Zingerman singled with two outs. On a 3-2 pitch Hackl dumped a fly ball down the left field line that landed a few inches foul and then struck out to end the inning.
Dusty Rhodes walked to lead off the bottom of the eighth, and Skroch came in to relieve Axberg. Keeney greeted him with a sharp single to right. Ryan Sanvik bunted to the left of the mound. As Skroch fielded the ball, catcher #Hemera screamed “third.” Skroch whirled and threw to third, but his throw pulled third baseman Justin Axberg off the bag, and all hands were safe. Brown bounced a single to right to drive in two runs, putting the Wildcats up 6-5. Sanvik strayed off second and got caught in a rundown. He kept it up long enough that an alert Brown dashed to second as Sanvik was tagged out. Brown went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Stilp’s line single to left, making it 7-5. Marquardt hit a hustle double down the right field line, moving Stilp to third. Charlie Linder came in to replace Skroch and struck out Wilkey and got Zingerman to ground out to end the inning.
With one out in the top of the ninth, Marquardt walked two batters in a row and Stilp came in to relieve. Hemera popped to third for the second out. Skroch hit a fly ball to short right center. Three Bulldog fielders converged on it, two of them collided and the ball dropped in for a hit. Jordan Axberg scored, and Justin Axberg ended up on third. But on a 2-2 count, Stilp blew a fastball past Pilz for a strikeout to end the game and send the Bulldogs to the Region 1C championship.
The Bulldogs have used their speed to generate quite a bit of offense this season, stealing 40 bases in 17 games of league play. Adam Brown showed how important speed was in this game. With one out in the second, he beat a relay throw to first on a potential double play ball, allowing a run to score and keeping the inning alive. He stole second, and Tyler Stilp drove in two runs with a single. In the eighth, he alertly dashed to second when Ryan Sanvik got caught in a rundown, and taking second allowed him to score on Stilp’s single. Teams are allowed to put in a courtesy runner for the catcher, but, needless to say, the Bulldogs never put in a courtesy runner for the speedy Brown.
The Bulldogs will play Hinckley for the Region 1C championship. You can follow the Bulldogs on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – just search for Chisago Bulldogs (Twitter) or Chisago Lakes Bulldogs (Facebook and Instagram).
And don’t forget to sign up for the Bulldogs’ season-ending gala, which will take place September 10 at Splitrocks in Wyoming, Minn. The formal event will include a silent auction, Italian buffet dinner and a Bulldogs awards ceremony. Find the gala ad in this week’s Press and use your phone’s camera to access the QR code for more details and to buy tickets.