Whenever the Raiders recorded a hit, it scored a run in Saturday's Section 1-4A quarterfinal against Rochester Mayo at Sechler Park in Northfield.
The issue was those two hits and two runs were not enough to avoid an opening-round 4-2 upset against the seventh-seeded Spartans (9-12) and now the second-seeded Raiders (14-6) are forced to fight through the loser's bracket.
Nolan Stepka punched an RBI single the other way in the bottom of the first to score Ethan Lanthier, and Blake Mellgren lofted a high-arcing RBI double in the bottom of the third to score Cole Stanchina. Other than that, however, Northfield never looked comfortable in the batter's box.
“He certainly did a nice job," Northfield coach Mark Auge said of Mayo starting pitcher Josh Auger. "He had that 12-6 breaking ball that got a few of us off balance, but we just didn’t seem like we had really good swings or really good contact. They’re a good team, and all it takes in baseball is a good pitcher to neutralize things a little bit. We got beat by a good team. The fact that they’re a seven seed means nothing, they’re better than that.”
After stranding runners on base in the first and second innings, the Spartans forced three runs across in the top of the third against Northfield starting pitcher Ethan Lanthier.
Lanthier departed after that third inning due to a pitch count that was already nearing 100, and was replaced with Tyler Nelson, who allowed a run in the fourth inning but followed that up with three more scoreless innings of relief.
In the bottom of the seventh, Northfield's Tate Journell worked a leadoff walk to bring the top of the order to the plate with no outs, but Mayo closer Brevin Goetz retired the next three batters in order to wrap up the save.
“We got good contact a few times, but it seems like we weren’t ahead in the count a whole lot and there weren’t many 2-0, 3-1 counts,” Auge said.
In an upset-filled day in Section 1-4A, sixth-seeded Rochester Century also beat third-seeded Lakeville South 6-2, while fifth-seeded New Prague stormed past fourth-seeded Owatonna 16-7. The only favorite to win was top-seeded Farmington, which cruised past eighth-seeded Rochester John Marshall 11-1.
That sets up a matchup between Northfield and Lakeville South (10-11) on Tuesday at Sechler Park that was originally destined as a winner's bracket clash, but now has the added pressure of an elimination game.
Against Century, the Cougars elected to not start one of their top-of-the-line pitchers and instead went with Michael Gerda, who pitched into the third inning but recorded only six outs and was charged with all six runs (four earned). Ian Segna, one of the team's top pitchers, then fired five scoreless innings of relief, but only threw 65 pitches, making him eligible to pitch in Tuesday's game.
Lakeville South's other frontline pitcher besides Segna is Justin Loer, who has pitched 27⅓ innings this season with a 2.05 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 17 walks. Zak Endres is the only other pitcher with more than 20 innings pitched at 26⅓, but he also sports a 5.58 ERA.
For Northfield, Auge said the tentative plan is to start junior Joey Malecha in Tuesday's win-or-go-home contest with Cole Stanchina, Ryan Bell and Gunnar Benson available in relief. A win Tuesday keeps the Raiders alive until Thursday, when they only need to play in and win one game to advance to Saturday, when Northfield would have to win twice to stay alive.
Lanthier and Nelson would both be available for a potential game Thursday.
“The goal is still the same, we just have a few extra games," Auge said. "We like our pitching, and I think we have enough pitching assuming the arms are OK to make it through the other bracket. I don’t worry so much about that, and we’ll get the bats going. We’re too good of a team to just get two hits in the game.”