Monday, September 1, 2014

Skis are state champs

Jordan, MINN.

By Jeff Barthel

It took the Sobieski Skis 16 state tournament trips to make it to the title game.

This afternoon at the Mini Met in Jordan, when the Skis were finally able to make it there, they made it count.

Sobieski Skis - 2014 Class C state champions
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Skis manager Brad Czech said of his team’s 2-0 victory over New Ulm for the Class C amateur baseball state championship. “It’s such as special feeling; for our fans, for our players and for the entire community of Sobieski.”

Czech’s Skis were led all tourney long by ace pitcher Tyler Jendro. Simply put: The 6-1 righthander out of Royalton, Minn. was …

“Unbelievable,” said Skis centerfielder Beau Hanowski.

Jendro shutout the Region 2 champion Brewers (28-8), going the distance for his fourth complete game of the tournament.

It was a miraculous weekend for Jendro, who blew a sigh of relief after retiring New Ulm’s final batter in a game that truly came down to the wire.

After two quick outs to start the ninth, New Ulm’s Judd Davis reached base on an error. The Brewers’ Aaron Pfaff followed with the game’s first extra base hit, a ringing double to the right-center gap.

Sobieski fans could hardly hold their breath, as suddenly New Ulm’s Garret Fischer came to the plate with the tying run, the speedy Pfaff, at second base. But then Jendro, rubber arm and all, kept his composure and was able to get Fischer to swing underneath a ball. Seemingly frozen in time, the ball finally found a home in rightfielder Aaron Hennes’ glove and the game was over.

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” said manager Czech, describing the moment. “You see that pop fly in the air to the right fielder and everybody steps to the top step of the dugout and [Hennes] squeezes it for the final out and I don’t think I remember what happened [after that].”
SP Tyler Jendro

The Sobieski lifer was delirious, he could not have been happier.

Five years of coaching, following 15 years playing for the Skis, it was obvious the 36-year-old schoolteacher Czech was proud of his pupils; in particular, Jendro, who was phenomenal all weekend – earning four wins in three days.

“Tyler works so hard,” Czech said of his ace pitcher, who earned the win in all six games Sobieski played in the tournament. “After starts, between starts. He does his lifting, his running, his icing … I’ve never seen someone work as hard as he does. He deserves every bit of credit that he gets.”

On Saturday, Jendro tossed a no-hitter against New Market. He followed that up yesterday, finishing a 4-1, 11-inning win over Fergus Falls with three innings in relief. This morning he capped off a rain-delayed semifinals game against Faribault with two and two-thirds scoreless innings … and finally, his championship gem.

“Everything’s been electric,” Skis centerfielder Beau Hanowski said of Jendro - who was named tournament MVP following the game. “The velocity, the movement; [opponents] have been off-balance and behind him all tournament.”

If you’re keeping score, all-tournament includes this past weekend (described above) plus another 18 innings from complete-game efforts the previous two weekends.

Jendro had a lot of tremendous performances, but none more special than today's title game - being the state championship and climatic end to his weekend.

Jendro labored today. He labored and escaped trouble time and time again, keeping New Ulm scoreless on seven hits. And he never had much padding to work with either – as Skis bats managed just six base hits for the game, all singles.

Through the first four innings, the stadium atmosphere was tense. With an announced crowd of 562, avid spectators on both sides were often caught silent – sitting and staring with eyes agape in hope of some offense.

In the fourth inning, Sobieski broke through with the game’s first run, a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Andrew Gurbada. The Skis then followed it up with a run in the fifth on an RBI single by Joey Hanowski.

That would be it, however, as the rest of Sobieski’s hopes were piled onto Jenro’s shoulders.

At times, it seemed Czech might take his tired ace out – times like the seventh inning, when a wild pitch allowed New Ulm’s Matt Suess to reach second with one out. But Jendro fought and persevered throughout any pain his overused right arm held.
Skis and Brewers shake hands

Mentally and physically exhausted, the final out was the toughest of all. One batter after allowing the game’s hardest hit ball – the two-out double in the ninth by Pfaff – Jendro recorded the final out and passed his last test.

“I just told [manager Czech] that I’ll go as many innings as you need me to,” Jendro said, regarding his extensive effort today and throughout his all-time tournament record 41.2 innings pitched. “I’ll ice [my arm] I’ll stretch it as much as possible to get it ready, and in any situation I’m going in [thinking] 'let’s go' for each and every win we have a chance at.”

Players from both sides exchanged hands following the game. The all-tournament team was announced and awards were issued. The Skis then took its victory walk, toward the scoreboard in right with several Skis fans and family members in its wake.

It was quite a day for Sobieski, quite a tournament played in Jordan and Belle Plaine. And at day's end, for the small town’s population of 200, for its fans and for its players, the 130-mile trek from home was certainly worth their while.

New Ulm shocks Jordan, advances to Class C championship

Jordan, MINN.

By Jeff Barthel

It was a battle of Brewers  last night at Jordan’s Mini Met ballpark.

The Jordan Brewers led the game through eight-ninths of the way. But it was an incredible five-run ninth by the New Ulm Brewers that sealed a 5-3 victory and advanced its team to the Class B amateur baseball state championship game this afternoon in Jordan.

““Unbelievable, it was the most hyped I’ve seen our team,” New Ulm starting pitcher Wade French said. “To come back in that game tonight, you know you can do it, but when it actually happens it’s just a great feeling.”
New Ulm SS Judd Davis

French was a big part of the ninth-inning rally and an even bigger part on the mound.

Following a two-run homer by Jordan’s Scott Hollingsworth, French found his groove. The right-hander threw eight strong innings, allowed three runs (two earned) and was rewarded with a well-earned win in the end.

New Ulm veteran and French’s catcher, Brady Ranweiler, described his battery mate’s effort.

“In the first inning he made a couple mistakes, he left some balls up and [Jordan] capitalized on them,” Ranweiler said. “But when he settled in, he was throwing his curveball, slider and change-up for strikes. His fastball wasn’t missing either. And when you can get four [pitches] over for strikes, he’s tough to hit.”

Jordan bats concurred, as their Brewers struck out nine times against French.

Inning after inning, French continued to hold Jordan at bay while his team’s offense could not scratch out a single run. And when New Ulm finally made it’s run, it was French who keyed the big rally with a booming double.

“I was just trying to get on base … I got a nice pitch and put a good swing on it,” French said. “When we got the bases loaded and nobody out, I knew we could do it.”

New Ulm 2B Landon Rewitzer
New Ulm’s Jason Shaul began the Brewers ninth inning rally, deadening a beautiful bunt toward third. Then came French, who pounded a line drive to left that got past Jordan outfielder Mitch Ries. The double put runners at second and third, lit up the New Ulm contingent and suddenly shifted the pressure onto Jordan and its pitcher Joe Lucas.

Lucas was removed after French’s hit in favor of Hollingsworth, who came in from right field. Hollingsworth couldn’t answer the bell, however, as he plunked New Ulm’s Landon Rewitzer to load up the bases with nobody out.

Then the runs poured in.

Shortstop Judd Davis sliced a single up the middle to score a run. Then, following a groundout to the pitcher that prevented the tying run, Brewers rightfielder Garret Fischer came up with a line drive singled to left. Drew Pfaff scored easily on the play, while Davis sped around third and slid into home with the go-ahead run.

“I give a lot of credit to Garrett Fischer,” manager Al Flor said after the game. “He came in [to the dugout] before the ninth inning and he said ‘whatever we do, however we go to the plate, we always want to get to the next guy.’”
New Ulm RF Garret Fischer

Fischer’s message caught on with his team and he was able to capitalize on it himself with his clutch hit.

New Ulm plated one more run to make the score 5-3, before Mitch Kelly came in for the bottom of the ninth to put a bow on his team’s victory and earn the save.

It was a team effort, but the star of the game had to be French. Flor said he felt cautious about French prior to game time because he hadn’t pitched in a long time.

It’s been Kelly, who’s been the team’s ace all season, but it was a hidden gem French who was polished off to play the lead role in last night’s game.

“We were a little worried because [French] hasn’t thrown in about a month,” Flor said. “But his slider, when it’s on, it’s one of the best …  Mitch Kelly been our No. 1 all year, but you could say French was our ace in the hole today.”

New Ulm’s victory means it will advance to its first state championship game since 1980, when the team defeated Dundas for the Class B title.

The Brewers will vie for the championship against the winner of the Sobieski/Faribault game, which was postponed in the third inning last night due to rain. The game will be continued at 11 a.m. today at Jordan with the championship game beginning shortly after.

Ranweiler and Flor have the belief in this team and feel the time is now.

“This is the best team I’ve ever been around,” Flor said. “Gelling-wise, we’ve got a good crew of kids, good veteran presences and the pitching has showed up well.”

“I’ve been involved with New Ulm baseball for 20 years and right now we’re playing the best baseball I’ve ever been a part of,” said Ranweiler, the team’s elder statesman – at 37 years of age.

“I’ve just got the feeling that the momentum we have this year … that we’re going to figure out a way to win.”

* Photos for this story were contributed by Chandrasekar Umathurappan. Thanks, Uma!