Blake Eller is often making dramatic defensive plays in center field for Brainerd Warriors pitchers.
On Saturday it was Eller's turn to toe the rubber and he watched his defense return the favor.
The senior left-hander spun a two-hitter to propel the top-seeded Warriors past the No. 5 Alexandria Cardinals 5-0 in the second round of the North Subsection 8, Class 3A baseball tournament at Adamson Field.
The Warriors backed Eller's pitching with at least four notable defensive plays as they cruised into Monday's 4 p.m. winners' bracket home game against No. 2 Moorhead.
In the third inning, Brady Prince, Eller's replacement in center, made a diving catch of a sinking line drive. In the top of the seventh, shortstop Justin Huether went deep behind second base and fired to first for the first out of the inning.
Brainerd also turned two double plays in the first two innings.
Warriors 5, Alexandria 0
- The key: Blake Eller pitched a two-hitter and went 2-for-4.
- Next: North Subsection 8, Class 3A winners' bracket game vs. Moorhead, 4 p.m. Monday at Adamson Field
"It was amazing," Eller said of his defense. "I was just throwing strikes and those guys were making plays. It makes it real easy as a pitcher when you've got that going on behind you."
Eller walked just two and struck out four. He threw 87 pitches, 54 strikes. Eller threw the first pitch for a strike to 13 of 25 batters.
He outdueled curveballing Alexandria right-hander Caleb Curry, who beat Brainerd 8-0 with a one-hitter May 3.
"We've had three pitchers that have been pretty even this year," Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy said. "We've kind of let them go in a rotation. This happened to be Blake's turn, plus the fact we thought a lefty would be effective against them because they're definitely a very good team.
"We knew Curry was going to pitch, and we knew runs would be hard to come by. Blake did the job."
The Cardinals threatened twice.
With one out in the fourth, Curry walked before Jacob Munsch flied to center. Jacob Wendland followed with a double into the left-field corner, putting runners in scoring position. Eller struck out Matt Gearman to extinguish the threat.
With one out in the fifth, Colin Modahl doubled to right. On a subsequent fly ball to right, Modahl tagged up and went to third. Eller got Dan Einerson to ground out to thwart the threat.
Curry gave up seven hits, two apiece to Eller and Huether. He struck out five, walked four and gave up three earned runs.
The Warriors manufactured the game's first run. With one out in the third, Curry walked the bases loaded, then bounced a wild pitch to score Mike Germain.
A three-run fifth put Brainerd ahead 4-0. Germain led off with a single and eventually scored on Eller's base hit. Three batters later, Huether smoked a two-run single to left.
Brainerd added a run in the bottom of the sixth as rain began to fall. Kyle Holbrook drew a leadoff walk. Tom Andrew ran for him and was bunted to second. After Brady Prince struck out, Morgan Shepherd stroked a RBI single to right.
Alexandria 000 000 0 -- 0 2 1
Brainerd 001 031 x -- 5 7 1
Alx-Caleb Curry and Clayton Grimsted. Brd-Blake Eller and Kyle Holbrook. W-Eller (5-1). L-Curry.
2B-Alx-Jacob Wendland, Colin Modahl. Sac-Brd-Brady Prince, Mike Germain. RBI-Brd-Eller, Morgan Shepherd, Justin Huether 2. LOB-Alx 4, Brd 7. DP-Alx 1, Brd 2. Overall-Alx 12-10, Brd 17-5.
Mike Bialka can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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