MARBLE — The long drought is over for the Marble Mallards men’s amateur baseball team.
The last time Marble had played in the Minnesota state tournament was in 2003, but that changed last weekend when the Mallards won two games in the Region 10C Amateur Baseball Tournament to earn a state berth. Marble defeated Ada 4-2 and Dilworth 8-0 to earn the state berth in action at Bob Streetar Field in Grand Rapids.
The tournament was originally slated to be conducted in Bemidji, but the field was not available. Thus, Bemidji rented Bob Streetar Field to host the tournament. The tournament resumes this Saturday and Sunday at Bob Streetar Field.
Members of the Marble team include outfielder Gunnar Harris, first baseman Luke Kinnunen, pitcher Travis Carruth, third baseman Matt Estey, catcher Dyllan Herr, first baseman Nick Shea, outfielder Jeff Moore, catcher/pitcher Tanner Shepard, infielder Brooks Bachmann, outfielder John Baker, outfielder Nic Johnson, pitcher Noah Johnson, pitcher Lane Gerber, pitcher Christian Neumayer, shortstop Mike Chupurdia, second baseman Chad Benham, shortstop/pitcher Hunter Shepard, pitcher Zepher Resnick, and second baseman Evan Mischke.
Mark Shepard and Bob DeNucci are co-managers while Greg Tulla serves as the general manager.
Four teams played in the recent tournament, including Marble, Bemidji, Dilworth and Ada. DeNucci said any of the teams had the ability to win the tournament.
“On any given weekend any of those teams could have won it,” DeNucci said. “Dilworth was the second seed out of the Red River League and they have a really good pitcher and a lot of college kids. Bemidji has one of the best offenses in the whole state and they have a couple of really good pitchers. Ada’s pitcher who pitched against us pitched for the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks in the Independent League and they are always a state tournament contender.”
Marble is 20-4 and won the Northwest Border League regular season. DeNucci said the Mallards are made up mostly from players from Greenway and Grand Rapids.
“The Grand Rapids kids are really good at playing small ball and some of the Greenway kids run really well and we get some power out of them” said DeNucci. “I think after awhile we put together our own identity in combining kids together and our offense has been really good.
“It has been a really good year. We had a tough schedule and won the Crookston Tournament and got second in Nimrod where we beat the team that is the No. 1 team in the state right now. So, we are confident.”
DeNucci said the Mallards get good starting pitching but he said the ace in the hole for them is closer Travis Carruth, a Bemidji State University pitcher from Hibbing.
“Once Travis comes in the game is over,” DeNucci said.
In the Mallards’ first game Saturday, it defeated a good Ada team by the score of 4-2. Tanner Shepard started on the mound for the Mallards and allowed two runs in his 6 2/3 innings. Carruth then came on to pitch the final 2 1/3 innings to pick up the win.
The game was tied at 2-2 entering the seventh inning but the Mallards used a couple walks and a successful sacrifice bunt to help in scoring the eventual game-winning runs. A seeing-eye single by Jeff Moore drove in two runs to give Marble the lead and Carruth was able to sustain it.
“We faced that ex-pro pitcher so there wasn’t much for hitting for us,” DeNucci said. “This win was huge for us. We don’t use Carruth a ton of innings and you know you have him in your back pocket, and all you have to do is win one game to get to the state tournament, I mean it was there for us. For us to go in with the two seed and beat the No. 1 out of the Red River Conference, that’s huge.”
In the Mallards’ second game on Sunday, they beat Dilworth 8-0. Dilworth had defeated Bemidji earlier in the day.
Hunter Shepard pitched the first six innings to pick up the win and Carruth came on to pitch the final three innings for the save.
Marble was hitless entering the sixth inning but things changed dramatically in its favor as it scored six runs fueled by a long three-run home run by Nick Shea.
DeNucci said the games on Saturday and Sunday are important for Marble although it has already clinched a state berth because the No. 1 seed receives a bye in the first round of the state tournament which will be conducted in Delano.
On Saturday at 2 p.m., Dilworth will play Bemidji in an elimination game. Whichever team wins will earn a state berth and will face Marble at 5 p.m. Should the Mallards lose that game, a championship game will be played Sunday at noon.
“We want that No. 1 seed and we want to get the bye,” DeNucci, the manager of the Hibbing Community College baseball team, explained. “We have been playing well and we want to keep things going entering the state tournament. Playing at state is just an unbelievable experience down there. We have had good commitment all year and we are really excited to bring a team from this area down there.
“We get to draft a few pitchers and we think we can make a run at it.”