A collective sigh of relief was breathed by the Brainerd Warriors after beating eighth-seeded Sauk Rapids 7-2 in the second round of the Section 8-3A tournament Monday at Adamson Field.
In each of the last four years the Warriors had lost their first game in a double-elimination section tournament. Monday marked the return of single elimination for the first two rounds and the Warriors came up with a balanced effort.
Kyle Crocker pitched a complete game and four different Warriors each had two hits. Throw in a double play, squeeze bunt and a pickoff and top-seeded Brainerd is in the Final Four against No 4 Big Lake on Saturday at St. Cloud.
Brainerd Warriors Kyle Crocker (23), and Patrick Skogen (24) congratulated Thomas Fairbanks as he crossed the plate after scoring a run against the Sauk Rapids Storm Monday.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
No. 2 St. Michael-Albertville and No. 3 Moorhead will play in the other game Saturday with winners and losers playing again at 3 p.m. Saturday.
"It's good to get this one, maybe I can sleep tonight," Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy said. "This is a good bunch of kids, and I think we've got a good team. I would have hated to see this team knocked out on a one-game deal, I really would have. That wouldn't have been good.
"I'm happy especially for our seniors. We beat a very good pitcher (Jason Hoppe). He's an all-star pitcher, he will be in the Lions All-Star game, as is Kyle. We're just happy to win it."
Right fielder Thomas Fairbanks, along with Crocker, Brett Jenkins and Alex Rohde, had two hits apiece.
"It's real big," Fairbanks said of getting past the first game. "We all wanted it, we knew we could do it. We've got the talent. We got our two-out hits and drove in the runs. Now that we've got double elimination coming up, if we lose, we lose, but I think we will pull through."
Crocker had another workmanlike effort, allowing six hits (three doubles) but walking none and striking out four. The only blemishes on his pitching line were an RBI single by Adam Wippler in the first and Wippler's RBI double in the sixth.
He threw 90 pitches, 63 strikes, including 20 of 29 first-pitch strikes.
Warriors 7, Sauk Rapids 2
The key: Kyle Crocker pitched a complete game and Brainerd had 10 hits.
Overall: Brd 17-4
Section 8-3A tournament
No. 8 Sauk Rapids 4, No. 9 St. Cloud Tech 3
No. 7 Monticello 7, No. 10 Alexandria 6 (9 inn.)
No. 6 Bemidji 9, No. 11 St. Cloud Apollo 1
No. 1 Brainerd 7, Sauk Rapids 2
No. 4 Big Lake 4, No. 5 Sartell 3
No. 2 St. Michael-Albertville 7, Monticello 0
No. 3 Moorhead 4, Bemidji 3
At St. Cloud
Brainerd vs. Big Lake noon
St. Michael-Albertville vs. Moorhead noon
Winners bracket 3 p.m.
Losers bracket 3 p.m.
"Kyle's got to change speeds and throw strikes, and he's been doing a real good job of that," Scearcy said. "In the last inning they got the first guy on, the second guy we hit, and I'm going, 'Oh man,' and now we're facing the top of the order. Their first four guys are very good. When we picked the guy off first base the game was kind of over."
With runners at first and second in the Sauk Rapids seventh Crocker picked off Ethan Prow at first base for the second out.
"The play of the game, I thought, was the pickoff," Scearcy said. "Kyle and Tate (Rusk) put that on by themselves, we didn't signal for it."
Scearcy did signal for a sixth-inning suicide squeeze bunt and Brainerd leading 4-2. With one out Joel Martin put down a perfect bunt that scored pinch hitter Kevin Peterson and led to a three-run outburst.
"I'm not a big fan of the squeeze, I'm not a big fan of bunting to be honest with you," Scearcy said, "although today you saw us try a few bunts.
"Actually, we had maybe one of the three players on the team at the plate that I would have trusted to get it done with Joel. The squeeze depends on so many things. It depends on who's batting, who's on third, who's on deck, who's pitching, all those things come into play because the percentage on the squeeze isn't 50 percent.
"With Joel I thought we had a good chance to get the ball down. I was just hoping (Hoppe) would throw him a strike. I'm not sure it was a strike but it was close enough for him to get the ball down."
Brainerd's Reid Mimmack tied the game with an RBI fielder's choice in the first. Crocker drove in a run on a groundout in the second.
Jenkins blasted RBI singles in the third and fifth.
Fairbanks was 2-for-2 with two runs, an RBI single in the sixth, stole a base and walked twice.
"I'm seeing the ball a lot better," he said. "I changed my stance a little bit. The coaches have been working with me on hitting the ball down and in practice hitting ground balls."
Sauk Rapids 100 001 0 - 2 6 4
Brainerd 111 013 x - 7 10 2
SR: Jason Hoppe and Jarrod Mauren.
Brd: Kyle Crocker and Kyle McCluney.
WP: Crocker (6-1). LP: Hoppe.
2B: Brd-Jenkins; SR-Hoppe, David Kroger, Adam Wippler.
SB: Brd-Thomas Fairbanks, Patrick Skogen; SR-Ethan Prow.
S: Brd-Joel Martin.
RBIs: Brd-Reid Mimmack, Jenkins 2, Crocker, Martin, Fairbanks; SR-Wippler 2.
DP: Brd 1.
LOB: Brd 8, SR 6.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.