GRAND RAPIDS — Two years ago, the Duluth Denfeld Hunters defeated the Grand Rapids High School baseball team in the championship game of the Section 7AAA Baseball Tournament, and it left a sour taste in the mouths of the Thunderhawk players and coaching staff.
Since the high school baseball season was cancelled last spring, in a sense it was a rematch of the section championship game of two years ago on Thursday when the two teams met in playoff action at Grand Rapids. The two teams had met twice during the regular season with each team winning once.
But on Thursday it was no contest as the Grand Rapids bats came alive and ripped Denfeld pitches all over the park as the Thunderhawks cruised to a 14-4 six-inning win cut short by the 10-run rule. Grand Rapids ripped out 12 hits in the game as the entire lineup produced.
Grand Rapids tipped Cloquet 5-4 in nine innings in its first game of the tournament, and with the win over Denfeld on Thursday, the Thunderhawks – 15-7 on the season – will enter play on Saturday undefeated in the tournament. They will have their hands full as they take on No. 1 seed Chisago Lakes in the winner’s bracket game Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Duluth East High School.
The Thunderhawks tipped Cloquet 5-4 in nine innings in a nailbiter.
Cloquet led 1-0 entering the bottom of the fourth inning when Kodi Miller reached on an error, Myles Gunderson sacrificed him to second and Wyatt Holcomb followed with an RBI single. Holcomb then stole second, advanced to third on a ground out and scored on a big two-out single from Andy Linder to give the Thunderhawks a 2-1 lead.
Cloquet regained the lead with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth inning, but Grand Rapids countered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to lead 4-3. Linder reached on a hit by pitch and Garett Drotts singled, and Linder was able to score when a throw to get him at third base was wild. Drotts then scored on another big two-out single – this one by Dan Wohlers – to put the Thunderhawks ahead.
But Cloquet battled back to score a single run in the top of the seventh on a RBI single by Jack Sorenson and the game ultimately went into extra innings.
Sorenson pitched the entire way until he was forced from the game due to hitting his pitch limit. Wohlers walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, was sacrificed to second by Keske, and a wild pitch put Wohlers on third base. Ren Morque and Kodi Miller were intentionally walked to load the bases to set up a force and a double play opportunity. But a pop fly by Gunderson could not be handled by Cloquet as the fielders collided which allowed Wohlers to score the winning run.
Drotts started on the mound for the Thunderhawks and pitched the first 4 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on four hits while walking three and striking out three. He also hit one batter.
Gunderson came on to pitch the final 4 2/3 innings to pick up the win. He allowed one run on four hits while striking out one and not issuing a walk.
Keske had two hits with a stolen base for Grand Rapids.
“We have always struggled against Sorenson; he’s a tough pitcher,” Grand Rapids manager Bill Kinnunen said. “He tied us up all day long and made some big pitches to get out of some jams because we left 11 runners on base.
“Luckily we battled day long just to get out with a victory.”
C 001 020 100 — 4 8 2
GR 000 202 001— 5 7 1
Grand Rapids: Garett Drotts, Myles Gunderson (5th) (W).
DULUTH — The Thunderhawks ripped Duluth Denfeld 14-4 on Thursday to remain undefeated in the tournament.
“The boys were hungry going into it because the seniors were around when Denfeld beat us in the section championship game two years ago and we are happy to get the win. Who knows, maybe we will get to play them again if they can win their way back. The kids would like another shot at them for taking that state tournament trip away in 2019,” said Kinnunen”
Kyle Henke hurled a complete game eight-hitter on the mound against Duluth Denfeld to pick up the win. In his six innings of work, he allowed eight hits and four runs – two of which were earned – while striking out two and not walking a batter.
Ben Keske was 3-for-3 with a triple, a run scored and three RBIs for Grand Rapids while Kodi Miller had two hits, scored two runs, drove in two and stole two bases. Dan Wohlers had two hits, scored three runs and drove in one and Wyatt Holcomb had a hit, walked three times, scored three runs and stole four bases. Garett Drotts had a hit, walked three times and scored a pair of runs.
Losing pitcher for the Hunters was Miller.
“A win is a win; we’ll take a win any way we can get it,” said Grand Rapids manager Bill Kinnunen. “But we are going to have to be better as we go on further. When you play better teams you have to execute and we did not bunt the ball. All we worked on Wednesday was bunting and we are going to do it on Friday. Hopefully we can bunt the ball and run the bases better on Saturday.”
Kinnunen said a big key in high school baseball is being able to put bunts on the ground in fair territory to a side of the field. If that is done, the opponent has to pick the ball up, throw it and catch it to record an out.
“At the high school level as you saw from us, it’s not that easy to make every play so we are just going to try to put it in play, advance runners one base at a time and score one run at a time. Hopefully they pile up.”
DD 100 00 — 4 8 2
GR 105 23— 14 12 1
Grand Rapids: Kyle Henke (W); 3B-Ben Keske.