August 25, 2023 at 1:35 p.m.
Bulldogs ride drafted pitchers to first ever win at state tourney
Princeton’s Damon Rademacher threw eight strong innings to help the ‘Dogs beat the Veseli Warriors 4-3 in the opening round of Class C state
Chisago Lakes 4, Veseli 3
In their first state tournament appearance in 17 years – and only the second state appearance in team history – the Chisago Lakes Bulldogs, behind eight strong innings from draftee Damon Rademacher, beat the Veseli Warriors 4-3 Saturday, August 19 at Saints Field in Dassel. Draftee Phil Bray set down the Warriors 1-2-3 in the ninth to seal the win and pick up the save. Adam Brown’s single in the sixth inning scored Noah Couwenhoven to give the Bulldogs a 4-3 lead, and they hung on for the win.
Up next, the Bulldogs – the number two seed from Region 1C – will face the Fergus Falls Hurricanes, the number one seed from Section 16C, Saturday, August 26 at Delano Municipal Ballpark in Delano.
This is a special year for the Minnesota Baseball Association, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the town ball state tournament in Minnesota. Minnesota has arguably the most robust town ball system in America, with over 300 teams from all over the state participating at two levels – Class B and Class C. Classes A and B were combined into one class this season.
The Bulldogs and the Warriors had been touted on social media as the two Cinderella teams in the Minnesota Baseball Association Class C State Tournament this year. The Bulldogs had only been to the state tournament once previously, in 2006, and lost their only game. The Warriors also had only been to the state tournament one time – in 2002 – and won one game before bowing out.
Veseli got on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning. Kyle Carlberg was hit by a pitch, stole second, and scored on a line drive single to left by Nick Spitt. The Bulldogs answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the inning. Adam Brown singled to left to lead off the inning. He stole second. Two outs later, Alex Wilkey hit a slow grounder to second. Second baseman Matt Perkinson bobbled it slightly, allowing Wilkey to beat the throw to first. First baseman Riley Schaeffer threw the ball to third to try to get Brown, who had rounded the bag a little too far. The ball skipped by third baseman Sam Friedges. Brown, who had dived back to third, was not able to advance on the overthrow, but Wilkey advanced to second. Nate Zingerman stepped up to the plate and ripped a double to the wall in right center, scoring both runners to put the Bulldogs up 2-1.
The Bulldogs threatened to break the game open in the bottom of the fourth. Dusty Rhodes led off with a line drive down the third baseline. Third baseman Friedges got his glove on it, but the ball trickled away for a hit. Rhodes took off from first on a hit and run, and Noah Couwenhoven singled to right center, with Rhodes going all the way to third. Couwenhoven stole second. One out later, Aaron Keeney walked to load the bases. But Brown flew out to short right center and Tyler Stilp grounded out to short to end the threat. Meanwhile, Rademacher retired 10 straight Warriors before getting into trouble in the top of the fifth. Perkinson singled to left center and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Friedges. The ball actually bounced off Friedges’ face and rolled slowly toward the mound, but neither ump saw it hit the batter. Schaeffer leaned into the next pitch, was hit by it, and was awarded first base after some protestations by the Bulldogs. Mac Olson lined a single up the middle. Center fielder Zingerman charged the ball to try to throw out the runner attempting to score. But, the ball scooted under his mitt and two runs scored to put the Warriors up 3-2. Rademacher struck out Beau Brantner for the second out of the inning. A walk to Eddie Sirek and a single by Carlberg loaded the bases. On a 3-2 count, Spitt watched a beautiful breaking pitch go by for strike three, ending the Veseli rally.
The Warriors’ second lead of the game did not last long. Reed Marquardt swung at the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the fifth and launched it well over the fence down the right field line, but it was foul by about ten feet. On the very next pitch, he doubled off the wall in right center and scored on Alex Wilkey’s single up the middle on the next pitch to tie the game at 3-3. After Zingerman flew out, Rhodes hit a rocket to right center that was caught for the second out. Wilkey had gone too far toward second and was easily doubled off first, ending the inning. Couwenhoven singled to right center to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Couwenhoven saw center fielder Sirek juggle the ball and kept going, sliding into second just ahead of the throw. One out later, Aaron Keeney hit a slow roller to second. He was thrown out at first, but Couwenhoven moved up to third. Brown hit a slow two-hopper to third. He beat the throw to first by inches, scoring Couwenhoven with the go-ahead run. Brown went to second as the throw skipped past Friedges. Stilp fouled out to the catcher, but the Bulldogs led 4-3.
Rademacher settled in after the fifth inning. He allowed one baserunner in each of the next three innings, but the Warriors never threatened. In the ninth, Bray struck out Friedges for the first out. Pinch hitter Andrew Picka flew-out to deep center for out number two. And Bray struck out Olson on a 2-2 pitch to end the game.
In eight innings of work, Rademacher allowed three earned runs on six hits, walked two and struck out 11. Bray didn’t allow any hits and struck out two as he closed out the game. For the Warriors, starter Nathan Picka went seven innings. He allowed four runs – three earned – on 11 hits, walked two and struck out none. Benjamin Tupy pitched the eighth for Veseli and allowed one hit. He did not strike out a batter. This is the first time in at least ten years that no Bulldogs struck out in a game.
Fans who follow the Bulldogs may wonder at the mention of the draftee pitchers the Bulldogs used against Veseli. Teams that make it to the state tournament are allowed to draft up to three pitchers from teams in their region that did not make it to the state tournament. Both the Bulldogs and the Hinckley Knights, the number one seed from Region 1C, drafted three pitchers, alternating picks. Hinckley got the first pick since they were the number one seed. The Bulldogs drafted Damon Rademacher from the Princeton Panthers, Phil Bray from the Isanti Redbirds, and Seth Plohasz from the Rum River Bandits. The reason for allowing teams to draft extra pitching is for depth. In each of the first two weekends of the tournament, teams play just one game, so depth doesn’t come into play. But if they keep winning, they could have to play up to four games the third weekend of the tournament, and depth would be critical in that instance. And, despite some verbal abuse from a drunken Veseli fan, the Bulldogs took advantage of their good fortune, using Rademacher and Bray – two of the top pitchers in the Eastern Minny League – to help them get to the second round of the tournament.
The tournament is being played at three locations along the Highway 12 corridor west of the Twin Cities, in Delano, Dassel, and Litchfield.
Where is Veseli? It’s an unincorporated community located in Wheatland Township, near New Prague in the southern part of the greater Twin Cities area. Veseli pretty much consists of an historic catholic church, a bar, and a town ball field.
Interest is building in the Bulldogs’ first annual gala, to be held at Splitrocks Entertainment Center in Wyoming, MN., at 3 p.m. Sunday September 10. The formal event includes an Italian buffet dinner, a silent auction featuring sports memorabilia and other interesting items, and a Bulldog awards ceremony. For tickets, see the ad in this week’s Press and access the ticket website using the QR code. You can call Chuck Fitzer at 612-419-8006 or email him at [email protected] for more information.