The Brainerd Warriors were down to their last three strikes when Morgan Shepherd strolled up to the plate at Adamson Field.
On a 2-0 pitch, with two out in the bottom of the seventh, and runners on first and second, Shepherd hit a laser over the head of Moorhead center fielder Justin Pieterick. The double scored two runs, giving top-seeded Brainerd a heart-pumping 2-1 victory over the No. 2 Spuds in the winners' bracket of the North Subsection 8, Class 3A baseball tournament.
Shepherd's swing terminated a gritty pitchers' duel on a drizzly day between Moorhead's Brock Gnadt and the Warriors' Justin Huether.
Justin Huether improved to 5-3 on the year with the win.
Morgan Shepherds two-run double beat the Spuds.
Both pitched brilliantly on a day better suited for duck hunting.
"I just turned on it and tried to hit it as hard as I could," Shepherd said. "On a 2-0 pitch you're taught that's your pitch and hit it. I got it and I hit it."
Shepherd's hit thrusts Brainerd into Saturday's championship round at Adamson Field. Alexandria, Fergus Falls and Moorhead, all of whom play in the losers' bracket Wednesday, will have to beat Brainerd twice.
Huether called Shepherd's team-leading ninth double of the season "amazing."
Warriors 2, Moorhead 1
The key: Morgan Shepherd drilled a two-run, game-winning double with two out in the bottom of the seventh.
Next: vs. Alexandria/Fergus Falls/Moorhead winner, TBA Saturday at Adamson Field
"I knew Morgan was going to come through," Huether said. "It was a 2-0 pitch, and he's been hot. He's just been a doubles machine lately.
"I told him, 'Let's see that doubles trot again. He drove it to center field. It was just a rip."
Cliff Edberg led off the bottom of the seventh by ripping a single to center. Kyle Holbrook bunted him to second. Mike Germain was hit by a pitch and Brady Prince struck out on a 3-2 curveball.
Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy said Shepherd has been coming on "big time lately," and he was confident with Shepherd striding to the plate.
"At this point in the season I don't know of a guy I would rather have batting than Morgan," Scearcy said. "Of course, what can you say about Cliff Edberg? Cliff doesn't seem to hit until games are on the line. Cliff came through again.
"I almost had a heart attack. I was just waving guys, and waving guys. I take no credit at all for a win like this."
Credit Gnadt and Huether for pitching shutout ball for five innings in dreary conditions. Gnadt gave up seven hits, walked one and struck out five.
Huether spun a six-hitter. He struck out one, walked one and threw no wild pitches but hit four batters.
"The mound was real bad," Huether said. "I had about two inches of dirt, slushy stuff, on my feet the whole time. It was pretty slippery out there."
Moorhead scored the game's first run in the top of the sixth. Gnadt led off and was hit by a pitch, was bunted to second and scored on Chris Stahl's single to left.
Nate Weber's throw to the plate on Stahl's hit was cut off by Shepherd, who relayed to second baseman Anthony Hennen who tagged Dahl for the inning's final out.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Brainerd threatened as Weber tripled into the right-field corner.
Hennen, the next batter, ducked away from a high pitch, but the pitch hit his bat and he grounded out to the pitcher.
On a 1-1 pitch with two out, Huether was hit by a pitch but the home plate umpire ruled Huether didn't make an attempt to get out of the way, making it a 2-1 count instead of Warrior runners at the corners. Huether popped up to third base to end the threat.
"I made an attempt to get out of the way, not a huge attempt, but it was off the plate," Huether said. "(The umpire) said it was close to a strike and he knows better than me."
Moorhead 000 001 0 -- 0 6 0
Brainerd 000 000 x -- 2 7 0
Moor-Brock Gnadt and Derek Hittle. Brd-Justin Huether and Kyle Holbrook. W-Huether (5-3). L-Gnadt.
2B-Brd-Huether, Morgan Shepherd. 3B-Brd-Nate Weber. SB-Moor-Ryan Krause. Sac-Moor-Drew Carmichael, Brd-Kyle Holbrook. RBI-Moor-Chris Dahl, Brd-Shepherd 2. LOB-Moor 9, Brd 7. Overall-Brd 18-5.
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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