After a 37-year wait, the dream finally came true for the St. Peter High School baseball team.
The No. 2 seeded Saints (19-5) qualified for state for the first time since 1982 by winning the Section 2AA championship 3-2 over the No. 1 seeded Le Sueur-Henderson Giants (21-5) on Thursday at W. J. Grose Park in Waterville.
“Ever since we were little, we have always dreamed of going to state and making it far in the playoffs as seniors,” senior center fielder Nick Morgan said. “Going to state was our vision. For us to execute it, it’s a dream come true.”
St. Peter has now made state six times in 1957, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 2019 with a state championship in 1977.
The baseball team is the fourth St. Peter team that has qualified for state this school year. Boys hockey, boys basketball and girls basketball also made the big show.
“The first thought for me was two state tournaments to end my high school career,” St. Peter senior pitcher/shortstop Andy Regner said. “I couldn’t have ask for a better ending and a better group of boys in both hockey and baseball.”
St. Peter senior second baseman Joey Baron said, “It’s crazy all the other sports that went to state. We barely missed out on football, and we wanted to get this state berth.”
The Saints and Giants have created a rivalry over the years with LS-H winning in the regular season 14-2 to earn the No. 1 seed.
But the Saints stepped up to the plate in the title game.
St. Peter jumped to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Lead-off hitter Andy Regner singled to left, stole second and scored on a double to left by catcher Tyson Sowder.
The Giants answered with a run in the bottom of the first. Pitcher Mitch Casperson hit a lead-off double to right center, advanced to third on a ground out by center fielder Burke Nebit an scored on an opposite field single to left by first baseman Tristan O’Brien.
After three scoreless innings, St. Peter scored twice in the fifth inning. Center fielder Nick Morgan led off with a solid single in the shortstop hole. Regner singled to center to put runners on first and second. Sowder sacrifice bunted the runners up to second and third. Joey Baron grounded to third and on the throw home, the ball got away from the catcher and Morgan scored. A wild pitch then scored Regner.
The Giants cut the lead to 3-2 with a run in the sixth. Second baseman Tommy Gupton hit a one-out single to center. Shortstop Jace Luna singled to center, and right fielder Tyler Pengilly reached on an error to load the bases. Gupton then scored on a wild pitch.
Regner pitched all but the last out in picking up the victory. Allowing two runs (one earned on eight hits, four walks and five strikeouts in 6 ⅔ innings, Regner had to leave with two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh because he reached his maximum pitch count.
Carson Kennedy got the last out on a strikeout to get the save.
“It came right down to the wire,” Regner said. “It’s what all these fans came out for. And I think we put on a good show for everybody to watch. Now we’re going out to St. Cloud to try and make some noise out there for St. Peter.
“We owe this one to (head coach) Kurt Moelter. He’s been close two times, and we just got tougher for him. He’s just as excited as everybody else out here, and we’re ready to go to St. Cloud and make him proud and St. Peter proud. Just keep going.”
Moelter gets the best out of his players.
“Moelt’s is hard on us,” Morgan said. “If we’re not going as hard as we can, he’ll yell at us, so we always try to go as fast as we can backing each other up and making sure the play gets executed.”
Baron said Regner is also “a huge part of our team. He’s just so good. He throw strikes, lets them hit it and we just play the D.”
The Saints were without shortstop Kaden Oeltjenbruns because he just had his appendix taken out, and right fielder Hunter Wilmes couldn’t play in the game because he got ejected in the previous game.
“We had a couple of guys go down, so we had some guys step up like Jake Rimstad. He did a great job tonight taking over for Kaden Oeltjenbruns at shortstop.”
But Oeltjenbruns and Wilmes will be able to play at state.
Regner said the key to the team’s success is: “Team chemistry. We’ve had some ups and downs with players getting hurt like KO and a few other guys. But that team chemistry practicing game in and and game out that’s what makes a team thrive and go.”
Baron agreed: “We just all click, and we’re all good bro’s. We all get along.”
LS-H pitcher Mitch Casperson went the distance, allowing three runs (one earned) on five hits, two walks and 11 strikeouts.
Regner led the Saints’ hitting attack, going 2 for 4 with a stolen base and a run scored.
Sowder went 1 for 2 with a double, hit by pitch, sacrifice, stolen base and RBI.
Kennedy batted 1 for 2 with a walk,
Morgan finished 1 for 3.
Casperson also led the Giants in hitting, going 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored.
Pengilly batted 2 for 2 with a walk.
Catcher Zach Berndt went 1 for 3 with a hit by pitch.
O’Brien batted 1 for 4 with an RBI.
Gupton finished 1 for 3 with a walk and a run.
Luna went 1 for 3.
Baron said the key to game was: “Getting the bat on the ball. Making them make plays and just locking down in the field.”
The Saints open the state Class A tournament at 5:30 p.m. Thursday versus No. 3 seeded Foley at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud. The winner plays the winner of No. 2 seeded Minnehaha Academy and La Crescent at 2:30 p.m. at Friday at Putz. The losers play in the consolation at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Joe Faber Field.
Asked about the Saints’ goals for state, Morgan said, “Obviously we want to make it all the way through. I think what we should focus on is executing on the field better and try to have less errors and hit the ball better.
“What we did better this year than last year is after making a mistake, we bounced right back the next at bat. You just don’t give up, and your other teammates always got your backs to matter what.”
STP 100 020 0 — 3 5 2
LSH 100 001 0 — 2 8 2
w-Andy REgner. S-Carson Kennedy. L-Mitch Casperson.