Pairings for the Class 3A baseball tournament neared completion Thursday when the Brainerd Warriors beat the Alexandria Cardinals for the Section 8 championship.
In the top bracket, top-ranked Cretin-Derham Hall will play Forest Lake at 10 a.m. June 14 at Siebert Field in Minneapolis while third-ranked Brainerd will play No. 5 New Ulm at the same time at Midway Stadium in St. Paul.
In the bottom bracket at 12:30 p.m. June 14, 10th-ranked Stillwater faces the Section 6 champion at Siebert and second-ranked Rochester Mayo meets No. 9 Maple Grove at Midway.
Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy said Brainerd won't relax after its sixth section title in eight years.
"You always say, 'Gee, if we could make this next step we will be satisfied," Scearcy said, "but we're greedy. We will be looking into everything we can to beat them.
"(Assistant coach) Joel Lofstrom drove all the way to New Ulm to scout for us. He came back and said they're really good. We wouldn't expect anything less. For Jim Senske, their coach, I believe that was his 658th victory. He's a good, personal friend of mine. For that reason it will be fun to play him, but if we could have picked somebody else we probably would have. We will get as ready as we can and we will do our best."
Warriors' defense does not rest
The Warriors made several outstanding plays to back the pitching of Matt Means.
Third baseman Ben Winterfeld dove to his left in the second to snag a hot grounder. In the third he dove toward the line to grab another hot shot. Winterfeld scrambled to his feet on both occasions to throw the runners out.
"I was seeing the ball pretty good," Winterfeld said. "I saw it come off the bat both times. I just made a couple diving catches."
Shortstop Mike Zauhar made a leaping catch of a pop-up in the first, a diving stop of an infield hit in the second and turned a double play in the third.
First baseman Adam Hardy made an over-the-shoulder catch of a foul pop-up in the seventh.
While splitting the first two games of the series Wednesday, Alexandria jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first game and a 4-0 edge in the second.
On Thursday, it was the Warriors' turn to seize a three-run edge in the game's first inning. Brainerd first baseman Nick Weiland said Wednesday's split was a wakeup call.
"We can't expect anything," Weiland said. "We have to play every inning like it's our last. That showed (Wednesday). Toward the end of the game, when we know we have to do things, we seem to be able to get it together. I told everybody we need to play every inning like it's the last. In a game like this it could be."
Winning pitcher Matt Means thought the Warriors were more ready to play Thursday than Wednesday.
"I think we were kind of disappointed in the way we played (Wednesday)," Means said. "We were kind of upset we weren't as a team together at all times of the game. Today, we just tried to work together at all times, stay up and just play baseball."
Matt means business
As the game wore on, Means began to work at a brisk pace and appeared to stare down the hitters. Virtually as soon as catcher Joey Tautges returned the ball to the mound, Means fired toward the plate.
"That's the way I like to pitch," Means said. "I try to get it going. That's when our defense plays better, when the pitchers are set to throw, not giving them time to think about much."
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