August 31, 2023 at 1:33 p.m.
Bulldogs season ends in tough 4-1 loss to Fergus Falls at state tourney
Fergus Falls 4, Chisago Lakes 1
The clock struck midnight for Cinderella.
The Bulldogs, hailed as one of two Cinderella teams in the 2023 MBA State Tournament, lost 4-1 to the Fergus Falls Hurricanes in the second round last Saturday evening at Delano Municipal Athletic Field. The loss ended the Bulldogs’ season in the single-elimination tournament.
After going 1-2-3 in the top of the first, the Bulldogs fell behind after just five pitches in the bottom of the inning. Sean McGuire popped starter Damon Radermacher’s first pitch into short center field, and the ball dropped to the turf for a single. Four pitches later, Alex Hensch blasted a home run to right center, and the Hurricanes led 2-0 before an out was recorded.
The Bulldogs got one back in the top of the fourth with the help of some poor defense by Fergus Falls. Adam Brown led off with a high hopper over the third baseman’s head. The shortstop fielded it behind third but had no chance to throw out the speedy Brown at first. Tyler Stilp followed with a one-hopper to the shortstop that looked like an easy double play ball. Brown was forced at second, but the first baseman just plain missed the relay throw. It hit him in the shin. Stilp was safe. Reed Marquardt hit a pool shot off the end of the bat that trickled through the left side of the infield for a single, moving Stilp to second. One out later, Nate Zingerman hit a routine grounder to short. But the shortstop threw the ball in the dirt, and it bounced past the first baseman. Stilp scored to cut the Hurricanes’ lead to 2-1, and the Bulldogs had runners on second and third with two outs. Dusty Rhodes nearly put the Bulldogs in front when he hit a ball to deep center field, but it was caught just short of the fence for the third out.
Rademacher, a draftee from the Princeton Panthers, settled in and shut down the Hurricanes after giving up the home run in the first. Hensch led off the bottom of the sixth for Fergus Falls with a sharp single to left. Tosten Mann ripped a one-hopper that appeared headed down the right field line. First baseman Alex Wilkey dove for it and the ball ticked off the end of his glove and rolled into foul territory past first base. The batter was safe at first and Hensch went all the way to third. Darin Stanislawski hit a sacrifice fly to center, and the Hurricanes now led 3-1. Peter Gustad dumped a well-placed single into left center, with Mann moving all the way to third. Phil Bray, a draftee from the Isanti Redbirds, came into relieve Rademacher. Mann scored on a passed ball to make the score 4-1.
In the seventh, Zingerman and Collin Hackl reached base on infield hits, but Aaron Keeney grounded out to end the inning. Wilkey just missed hitting a homerun with a runner on first and two outs in the eighth, with a very high fly ball being caught a few feet in front of the fence in left center. Rhodes singled with one out in the ninth. One out later, pinch hitter Jeremy Knutson struck out to end the game, and the Bulldogs’ season was over.
Other than the first inning home run, the Bulldogs hit the ball harder than the Hurricanes. But the Bulldogs were hitting it right at people, and bloop hits figured in three of the four Hurricane runs.
Shane Trattles started and pitched a complete game for Fergus Falls. Trattles, a draftee from the Sauk Centre Titans, allowed one unearned run on five hits, didn’t walk anybody, and stuck out five. For the Bulldogs, Radermacher went 5 1/3 innings. He allowed four runs – three earned – on seven hits, walked none and struck out four. Reliever Bray pitched the final 2 2/3 innings. He allowed just two hits, walked one and struck out five.
This was the Bulldogs’ most successful season since restarting the team in 2014. The Bulldogs nearly made it to the state tournament with a great playoff run in 2018, falling one game short, but that was because they just happened to catch fire at the right time. They were not able to sustain that success the next season. In 2022, under new manager Steve Budke, the Bulldogs won only four games but were competitive in nearly every one. A season highlight was when they lost 1-0 to the Isanti Redbirds, a perennial state tournament participant, in the season opener. The Bulldogs struggled to put runs across all season, scoring the third-fewest runs in league play. But it only took Budke and his staff a year to turn things around. This season, the Bulldogs added some bats and leadership, saw current players improve their hitting after some hard work in the offseason, and also added a couple of strong starting pitchers. They improved to second in scoring in the league, doubling their run production from the previous season. The result was a 12-5 record in league play, an opening-round bye in the Region 1C tournament, and a trip to the state tournament, where they won their opening game – a first for the Bulldogs.
In addition to parents, siblings, spouses, and children, quite a number of fans from the Chisago Lakes area came out to Delano to watch the game. Fan support was an important part of the Bulldogs’ success this season, and it was nice to see a large fan section cheering them on at the state tournament.
The Bulldogs played 32 games this season, including the playoffs – the most games played in a single season in team history. The Bulldogs plan to play about 40 games next season before the playoffs in order to be well-prepared for the league season and to get players and pitchers the game reps they need to stay sharp. The goal is to win the division next year, make it back to the state tournament and make a longer run at state.
A reminder that the Bulldogs’ season-ending gala will be at Splitrocks Event Center in Wyoming Sunday, September 10 at 3 p.m. The formal event will include an Italian buffet dinner, a silent auction, and a Bulldogs awards ceremony. The cost is $50 and all net proceeds will go to the Chisago Lakes Baseball Association. You can sign up using the QR code in the gala ad in this week’s Chisago County Press, or call or text Chuck Fitzer at 612-429-8006 of more information.