|6/6/2013 2:19:00 PM|
North Branch shocks top-seeded Elk River
North Branch 1, Anoka 0
The only thing the North Branch baseball team needs this post season is an opportunity and an inning. The Vikings dueled fourth-seeded Anoka in the second round of sections last week, with the Tornadoes as the clear favorite going into the contest. Senior Michael Naggatz, who made a game-saving defensive play in the opening round against Chisago Lakes last week, took the mound for the Vikings and locked Anoka down for four innings. He mixed his pitches well and was able to keep them down in the zone. He scattered three hits and two walks over the first four innings. Jacob Kari entered in the fifth and picked up right where Naggatz left off, baffling the Anoka hitters with an array of pitches. But, the North Branch offense was also stagnant, failing to score any runs through the first five innings. However, in the top of the sixth inning, North Branch had two men on and senior Jake Schmitz at the plate. Schmitz connected on a base hit to right field and speedster Ethan Fairbanks hustled home to score the first and only run of the game. “We were able to get a couple guys on and Jake Schmitz just shot the hit out there,” North Branch Head Coach Steve Christensen said. Kari continued his mastery of the Anoka lineup throughout the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings, allowing only two hits while striking out four. Kari earned the victory in the stat book, but Naggatz had just as much to be proud about after.
North Branch 5, Elk River 1
Facing the top seed in the section didn’t phase Blake Jorgenson. The senior has been through a lot on the mound the past two years for the Vikings, so anything the 10th-ranked and top-seeded Elks had for him wouldn’t be a surprise. Although, it turns out, what Jorgenson had to offer to the Elks was a surprise. The senior threw a complete game, giving up only four hits, three walks and one run while striking out six Elks. He never really blew anything past the hitters, just mixed his pitches well and kept Elk River off balance. “Blake Jorgenson took the mound in the first, and didn't leave until it was done,” Christensen said proudly of his senior. “He pitched great, mixed it up, and got some big outs through strikeouts, or defensively behind him.” On offense, the Vikings got some gifts from Elk River, included two runs off of passed balls and a bases-loaded walk by Fairbanks. But, the big hit of the day was a two-run double off the bat of senior Matt Solberg, who was only hitting .208 coming into the game. “That was a big hit,” Christensen said. “That gave us some breathing room.” North Branch’s runs came in bunches. They scored two in the fourth inning to take the lead at 2-1, and then the big inning was the sixth, where they added three more.
Forest Lake 12, North Branch 3
The Vikings were in a plum spot taking on Forest Lake for a chance to punch their ticket to the section championship game. Although the Rangers were the second seed and ranked ninth in the state, North Branch had made it this far without using their most consistent pitcher on the year, Nick Pilz, and he was slated to start against Forest Lake. Pilz was 4-0 on the year with a 1.09 earned run average with 15 strikeouts in 19 innings. The Rangers lineup, however, is a cut above the lineups Pilz faced in the North Suburban Conference. They feature tough outs throughout the lineup, and a few exceptional hitters in the middle. Pilz lasted only two-thirds of an inning, giving up seven runs on six hits and two walks before Christensen yanked him in favor of senior Jared Axberg. Axberg followed with four solid innings, giving up four hits and one run while striking out two. North Branch had answered Forest Lake’s seven run opening inning with a three-run second inning, but it was all they were able to muster on the afternoon. Jordan Franklin, Josh Benolken and Pilz all scored in the inning. The first two came in on fielders choices while Pilz was brought in by a Fairbanks’ single. Tyler Dolin came in to finish the game for North Branch, and spotted Forest Lake four more runs before the game was over.
Grand Rapids 4, North Branch 0
The Vikings awaited the winner of the Grand Rapids/Elk River game from earlier this week, and the Thunderhawks advanced with a 2-0 win, pitting the third-seed against the eighth-seeded Vikings on Tuesday, June 4. North Branch’s offense went cold at the wrong time, and they failed to score any runs against Rapids, falling 4-0 and ending their late-season run of upsets. The Thunderhawks advanced to play Forest Lake, where they’ll have to beat the Rangers twice if they want to advance to the state tournament. “The guys responded well to situations offensively and defensively,” Christensen said. “We strived to continue to play well in the section!”