The Central Lakes College baseball team had won nine of its last 10 games and wanted nothing more than to head into the MCCC state tournament on a winning note.
But the St. Cloud Tech Cyclones, who came limping into Mills Field with nine players, had a different agenda.
The Cyclones rallied in the seventh inning of game one to beat CLC 7-4. The Raiders salvaged a split by winning the second game 7-1 and ended the regular season on the winning note they coveted.
Central Lakes College baseball player Ian Drager (right) stole third base in Tuesday's 7-4 loss against St. Cloud Tech at Mills Field. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
"I was disappointed how we came out in the first game," CLC coach Warren Mertens said. "We came right out after them in the second game. They threw so many offspeed pitches and we're so used to seeing hard throwers but it's an adjustment you have to make. Regardless, it was good to end on a win."
The Raiders controlled much of the first game as starting pitcher Matt Streich didn't allow a hit in his four innings. Streich's four walks, one hit batter and a balk helped contribute to the Cyclones' lone run through the first four frames.
Meanwhile, the Raiders scored three runs on four hits, scoring in the first, second and fourth innings.
CLC's Zach Johnson led off with a triple and scored on a passed ball. Johnson went 2-for-3 to lead the Raiders at the plate.
In the second inning, Eric Boser led off with a double, moved to third on another passed ball and scored on an Ian Drager single. CLC tacked on the third run when Drew Rasmussen walked to lead off the fourth, stole second and took third on a wild pitch. Drager's hard grounder to short was mishandled, allowing Rasmussen to score.
Central Lakes College pitcher Matt Streich delivered in the first inning Tuesday at Mills Field in the Raiders' 7-4 loss to St. Cloud Tech. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist
After the Cyclones tied the game 3-3 in the fifth, the Raiders answered in the bottom of the sixth when Blake Thorson walked and was replaced by pinch runner Lynn Chheang. Chheang then stole second, was sacrificed to third by Boser and scored the go-ahead run when Rasmussen executed a perfect suicide squeeze bunt.
"St. Cloud's pitcher had been very predictable with his pitches," Mertens said. "When he was ahead he was throwing offspeed pitches and they were slow. Lynn didn't even have to break early. He could've stole home."
The Raiders then brought in ace pitcher Aaron Jenkins in the final inning to close the door. Instead, the Cyclones blew the door off the hinges, scoring four runs on four hits, highlighted by Steven Ellingson's two-run single with two out, giving St. Cloud its winning margin.
The Raiders jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the first three innings, giving starting pitcher Drew Rasmussen plenty of wiggle room.
Raiders 4-7, Cyclones 7-1
The key: CLC pitchers Drew Rasmussen, Justin Huether and Adam Johnson combined on a five-hitter as the Raiders finished the regular season with a split.
Central Division: CLC 11-7
Overall: CLC 14-10
Next: CLC in MCCC state tournament Friday and Saturday at Rochester.
Rasmussen pitched a solid four innings, giving up just three hits with a strikeout and walk to pick up the win. Justin Huether pitched two innings and yielded two hits and one walk. Adam Johnson faced just three hitters to close out the seventh.
CLC's Glen Leith broke the game open in the sixth when he hit a three-run inside-the-park homer to give the Raiders their winning margin. Johnson led CLC with two hits, including a double, and RBI, and Beau Mertens had a hit and two RBI.
"We talked about getting it back together because we let that first game slip away," Warren Mertens said. "We were able to get our focus back. Coming out with a win going into the tournament was big."
St. Cloud Tech 100 020 4 -- 7 6 2
Central Lakes 110 101 0 -- 4 6 2
SCT -- Jason Ellingson and Danny Scholand. CLC -- Matt Streich, Nate Maaske (5), Aaron Jenkins (7) and Glen Leith. WP -- Ellingson. LP -- Jenkins.
2B -- CLC-Eric Boser, Dave Berndgen. 3B -- CLC-Zach Johnson; SCT-Andy Waletzko. RBI -- CLC-Drew Rasmussen, Ian Drager 2; SCT-Nate Yamamoto, J. Ellingson, Steven Ellingson 2. Sac. -- CLC-Boser, Rasmussen; SCT-Yamamoto, Josh Oslund.
St. Cloud Tech 000 100 0 -- 1 5 2
Central Lakes 301 003 x -- 7 5 2
CLC -- Drew Rasmussen, Justin Huether (5), Adam Johnson (7) and Blake Thorson. WP -- Rasmussen. LP -- Zach Watercott.
2B -- CLC-A. Johnson. HR -- CLC-Leith. RBI -- Leith 3, Beau Mertens 2, A. Johnson.
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
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