Rangers stave off elimination

Team needed two wins this Tuesday for state return

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

Forest Lake had a first-round bye in the Section 7AAA baseball tournament and has since won three games, yet it found itself in a hole entering this Tuesday’s championship round.

Junior Jack Schmidt releases a pitch during Saturday’s loss to the top-seeded Thunderhawks of Grand Rapids. (Photo by Clint Riese)

A 5-1 loss to top-seeded Grand Rapids on Saturday put the Rangers on the brink of elimination. In order to win their fourth straight section crown, they would need to win three straight games. Coach Tal Gravelle’s squad took the first step towards that goal by beating St. Francis 6-3 at home on Monday.

That moved the third-seeded Rangers into the championship round for a rematch with Grand Rapids at Schumacher Field. A Forest Lake victory would have forced a winner-take-all game Tuesday night. A Thunderhawk win in either contest would have advanced them to state. (Editor’s update: The Rangers went on to beat Grand Rapids in Tuesday’s first game, but they lost the second to end the season.)

Forest Lake (15-9) looked sharp in Monday’s elimination game. The home team took control early against sixth-seeded St. Francis. A four-run second inning provided all the scoring the Rangers would need. Dylan Dresel was hit to open the frame, and Carter Burgoyne followed with a single to left field. Trent Rabel then laid down a perfect bunt along the third-base line to load the bases. One out later, Phil Sauer drove in the game’s first run with a sacrifice fly. Leadoff man CJ Franklin pulled a single down the first-base line to plate another run and took second base on the throw to home plate. That paid off, as Jack Schmidt followed with a single up the middle and both runners scored.

Schmidt added another RBI single in the fourth to make it 5-0.

Senior CJ Franklin connects during a game Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Clint Riese)

The Fighting Saints finally got to starter Lucas Kohls in the fifth inning. He was charged with two earned runs in the frame and relieved by Matt Hultgren.

Burgoyne got one run back with an RBI single in the fifth. Noah Brown took the hill for the first time all year in the seventh and retired St. Francis to end the game after allowing one run.

Kohls worked around baserunners in the second, third and fourth innings. He got help from Hultgren in what may have been the defensive play of the year on a hard grounder in the third inning. The third baseman dove to his right and snared the ball, rolled over and fired from his knees across the diamond. First baseman Trent Rabel picked the throw up on one hop just in time to record an energizing out.

“We’ve seen some great web gems, and that was one of the best,” Gravelle said. “That was a huge play and a great momentum builder.”

It was no surprise to Gravelle that the team showed up to play when its back was against the wall.

“We’ve been here before,” he said. “They stepped up. They’re giving us everything they’ve got and that’s all we can ask. Baseball is a funny game, it can be a humbling sport, but they’re giving us everything and we’re very grateful.”

The team’s pitching depth has come in handy during section play. Beau Fandel has been limited to playing infield due to an arm injury, and fellow starting pitcher Matt Jellum is no longer with the team due to a school discipline issue. Rabel, who won the team’s section opener, was set to start Tuesday afternoon’s game.

Thunderhawks 5, Rangers 1

A four-run inning fueled Grand Rapids to a 5-1 win in the late game at Schumacher Field on Saturday afternoon. In relief of Schmidt, Hultgren inherited two runners and a 1-0 deficit in the fifth inning. An error loaded the bases, and a walk and wild pitch made it 3-0. A single added two more runs.

Fandel walked and went on to score on a fielder’s choice in the sixth inning, but that run was all the Rangers would muster against Thunderhawk right-hander Osha Brewer.

“They’re deep, they’re athletic and they have lots of pitching,” Gravelle said of Grand Rapids.

Rangers 2, Huskies 1

Forest Lake opened the round of four with a 2-1 victory over No. 2-seed Andover Saturday afternoon.

Sauer held down the Huskies for 6.2 innings to earn the win.

The Rangers, playing as the visiting team, took the lead on an Andover error in the top of the third. They added on to the lead in the fourth, as Dresel was hit by a pitch, took second base on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Burgoyne.

The Huskies pushed one across the plate with three straight singles in the sixth. After Sauer got the first two batters in the seventh, Andover followed with two singles, putting the tying run 90 feet from home. Hultgren came in and got a strike out to end the game.

Rangers 3, Wildcats 1

One week after beating Chisago Lakes to end the regular season, Forest Lake opened the postseason by beating them again. The 3-1 outcome here last Thursday eliminated the Wildcats and sent the Rangers into the double-elimination final four. Rabel picked up the win on the mound.