Ranger bats cool off after forcing final game
Forest Lake lost its Section 7AAA baseball title last week, but the three-time defending champs did not go down without a fight.
The Rangers faced a dire situation upon losing in the round of four to Grand Rapids on June 2: win three straight games or go home. They stayed alive by beating St. Francis last Monday, then crushed Grand Rapids in the first leg of the championship round last Tuesday. Ultimately, the top-seeded Thunderhawks advanced to state, as they beat Forest Lake 7-0 in the winner-take-all matchup later that night.
First-year head coach Tal Gravelle was proud that his team rallied to within one game of the section title after a tumultuous season that began with high expectations. Injuries affected the squad as it went 12-8 in the regular season. The Rangers won four of six playoff games.
“We had a dry spell [from 2002-08] where we couldn’t make it to state – it’s tough to do,” Gravelle said. “Everything’s got to kind of click. Obviously you’re very disappointed when you don’t make it, but we came together as a team and they played hard and focused and that’s all you can ask.”
After winning by nine runs in the afternoon game, the Rangers appeared to take all the momentum into the championship game. They knew Grand Rapids would be starting Osha Brewer, the right-hander who impressed while beating them 5-1 three nights earlier. However, Gravelle said, the homestanding Rangers felt they got to Brewer late in the prior outing and saw their familiarity with him as a positive.
“We were very confident, the kids were focused,” Gravelle said. “We definitely felt good about it, but in the back of your mind you’re always hoping from one game to another that we didn’t waste all our hits.”
Phil Sauer set down the Thunderhawks in the first inning, and the Rangers appeared set to pick up where they left off. CJ Franklin led off with a single, took second base on a wild pitch and was bunted to third by Jack Schmidt. Franklin was thrown out at home plate after a ground ball, though, to end the threat.
That appeared to change the tone of the game, as Grand Rapids struck for two runs with the help of an error in the second inning. The Thunderhawks added a third run on a pair of two-out doubles in the third, providing Brewer with more than enough cushion. The senior allowed only four baserunners after the first inning, as the Rangers struggled to lay off his late-breaking overhand curveball. Brewer finished with 10 strikeouts, seven of which came over the final three innings.
“You’ve got to give their pitcher credit, he flat-out beat us,” said Gravelle. “We were seeing 3-1 breaking balls. He was tough.”
Grand Rapids chased Sauer and sent 10 batters to the plate in a four-run sixth inning to blow the game open. The Thunderhawks will face Totino-Grace today, June 14, in their first state tournament appearance since 2008.
The Rangers were indeed riding high after a convincing win in the first game of the day. They trailed 2-0 after four innings but the offense erupted late in the 12-3 victory.
Dylan Dresel gave his team the lead with a three-run triple in the fifth inning. Forest Lake scored five times in the sixth against Thunderhawks ace Grant Carlisle. The senior’s fastball touched 89 mph but the Rangers were right on it.
“He was the hardest thrower we’ve seen all year, but we’ve always hit fastballs very well,” said Gravelle.
Dresel finished with two hits and five RBI. Franklin reached base four times and scored three runs, while Beau Fandel went 2-3 with two RBI. Trent Rabel allowed seven hits and two runs over 5.2 innings to earn the win.
Forest Lake ends the year with a record of 16-10. The team will lose eight seniors from the active roster: Franklin, Bryce Kinder, Alek Zentzis, Matt Hultgren, Lucas Kohls, Carter Burgoyne, Adam Nielsen and Zach Bye.