Sunday, August 1, 2010

At plate, on mound, Thomas leads Elko in eking out playoff win

Elko’s Dylan Thomas baffled the Lakeville Athletics bats through six innings but the Express starter was in line for the loss after seven.

However, Thomas’ bat, a ground ball double, and a key clout by teammate Ash Larsen helped the 3-seed Express edge 6th-seeded Lakeville 3-2 on opening day of the Section 5B amateur baseball playoffs last night.

“Dylan looked really good tonight,” said Elko manager Terry Frederickson of his starting pitcher's performance, “he got a little tired in the seventh, but [overall] he did a really nice job.”

Thomas was doing a very nice job, in fact, he had a no-hitter through six innings. Lakeville was finally able to get to Thomas (on the mound) in the seventh, however, the Lakeville native (graduate of Lakeville North High School) helped beat his hometown with his bat as well.

With his team in a scoreless tie after Thomas’ opposing starter - Lakeville’s Trent Larson - tossed a shutout through five innings as well, the 6-foot righthander led off the Elko sixth by blistering an 0-1 Larson offering to deep right-center for a triple.

“He hung me a curveball the first time and I watched it go because I was sitting fastball,” said Thomas about that at-bat, “but [he] threw the same exact thing in the same spot [and] you don’t do that in baseball. I just took the ball the other way and we scored, so that was great for us.”

Thomas scored on the very next pitch as Express first baseman Jason Grimm smacked the first pitch he saw from Larson to the left-center gap for an RBI-double.

Larson evaded further damage by getting a flyout and a pair of rollers to strand Grimm at second. Then, in the seventh, Lakeville responded by breaking through offensively.

Athletics catcher Derek Hahn was plunked by Thomas to begin the inning and Larson followed by sacrificing Hahn to second with a bunt.

The next Lakeville batter, Josh Storm, stroked a single to center to end Thomas’ no-hit bid. Hahn did not score on the play, however, and Thomas was able to get his next batter, Mark Berger, down in an 0-2 hole.

Berger drew the count full, fouled back three more pitches, then took a fastball for a called ball four to load up the bases.

Brent Johnson, Lakeville’s eight-hitter, followed up Berger’s quality at-bat by slicing an 0-2 Thomas pitch to right-center that scored both Hahn and a hustling Storm on a close play at the plate.

Suddenly, the Athletics went from having no hits to having a 2-1 lead.

Lakeville gained momentum as Larson retired Elko in order in the bottom of the seventh and the Athletics offense looked like it would pad its lead in the eighth.

Elko's Josh Roiger relieved Thomas and was able to get the Athletics’ Jim Gaylord to bounce out to short to begin the inning. But, the next three Lakeville hitters would reach as Jim’s brother, Jon Gaylord, smacked a liner to left for a single, Hahn grounded a single to right, and Larson drew a walk.

However, the Athletics could not push in a run as Roiger was able to get Storm on a soft fly to left and then strike out pinch-hitter Justin Hahn to end the threat.

Coming up unsuccessful in that situation was possibly a bad omen for Lakeville as Larson took the mound in the bottom of the eighth.

Thomas led off for the Express by reaching base for his fourth straight time as Lakeville third baseman Berger fielded a grounder by Thomas but was unable to make an accurate throw to first to retire him.

Then, an even more ominous play occurred as Elko’s Grimm chopped a grounder that took an unusually high bounce by Athletics first baseman Storm and sputtered into shallow right field. The ball was perfectly place as the ball trickled toward the line and Grimm was able to reach second base for a ground ball double.

Sure enough, after the first two Elko batters reached without hitting the ball very well, the next batter - centerfielder Ash Larsen - shelled Larson for a double to deep left that easily scored both Thomas and Grimm.

The Express bench rose in excitement as Elko had regained the lead - a one-run advantage that would soon prove enough to win the game.

“It was very unfortunate for [Lakeville],” said winning manager Frederickson regarding the Grimm chopper that led to Larsen's game-winner, “that ball took a hell of a bounce.”

Lakeville's Larson would be lifted after the hit by Elko's Larsen, but the Athletics hurler had a nice night overall and kept his team in the game - scattering seven hits and allowing two earned runs through seven-plus innings of work.

"I just tried to keep the ball low and tried keeping them off-balance," said Larson, regarding his performance. "Unfortunately the last inning there I hung a curve ball and he (Ash Larsen) hit it for a double, that's the way it goes sometimes."

Larson's reliever, Derek Jacobson, came in and mowed down the next three Express batters on consecutive strikeouts, which was good for Lakeville but also perhaps even more frustrating considering how the two Elko batters before Larsen reached.

At the moment, however, Jacobson’s sterling effort kept up his team's hope alive as Lakeville was only down one entering the ninth. But, the Athletics offense could not muster much hope against Roiger in the ninth as Elko held on to earn the win.

The two teams will meet again tonight as they continue to battle out its best-of-three first round playoff series. The game will take place on Alimagnet’s field 2 at 7:30 p.m. with lower-seeded Lakeville playing as the home team this time.

Notable individual efforts:

Elko Express:
~ Dylan Thomas: 7 IP, 2 ERs, 2 Hs, 9 Ks, 2 BBs / 2-for-3, 3B, 2B, BB, 2 Rs
~ Jason Grimm: 2-for-4, 2 2Bs, R, RBI
~ Ash Larsen: 2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI

Lakeville Athletics:
~ Trent Larson: 7 IP, 3 Rs (2 ERs), 7 Hs, 2 Ks, 2 BBs
~ Brent Johnson: 1-for-4, 2 RBI
~ Derek Hahn: 1-for-3, HBP, R, SB

**Note: I was the PA for this game, but also took photographs and conducted post-game interviews. I shot some photos from the press box, but also took photos of two of the game's best players on the field afterward. The photos featured in this article are - from top to bottom - Dylan Thomas, Josh Storm sliding in safely at home plate, Elko bench congratulating Thomas and Jason Grimm, and Trent Larson (right).

Other CVL opening night playoff action

The 2-seeded Burnsville Bobcats clobbered 7th-seed Inver Grove Heights 11-0 in seven innings.

The 5-seed Eagan Bandits led 4th-seed Rosemount 10-0 through five innings.

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