The Rangers squeezed in another seven games this week in their condensed spring schedule, going 5-2 on the week, closing their regular season as co-conference champions and winning one of the most exciting games in head coach Tal Gravelle’s career at Forest Lake.
The pins-and-needles victory came last Wednesday in game two of a home double-header against Cretin-Derham Hall. Forest Lake took game one in a 5-0 shutout by senior pitcher Phil Sauer. To date, Sauer has pitched 26 innings in four appearances with a record of 3-1.
Following the shutout, the Rangers struggled defensively in the first inning and dug a 9-0 deficit. But Forest Lake made a run in the top of the second inning with runs scored by seniors Kyle Parker, Reid Larson, Dylan Dresel and juniors Brett Gravelle and Alex Egle to make it a 9-5 game.
The Rangers scored again in the third inning when Brett Gravelle reached base on a single, then later scored off a single by Dresel.
With the Raiders leading 9-6 heading into the seventh, Forest Lake came alive at the plate.
Senior Beau Fandel reached base on error, followed by a double to left-center field by senior Noah Brown. Sauer hit an RBI single to drive Fandel home and bring the Rangers within two, 9-7. Parker reached first base on a fielding error, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Brett Gravelle to advance the runners to second and third.
The Raiders needed just one out and loaded the bases with an intentional walk on Larson, bringing up the top of the order for the Rangers.
Dresel, who is hitting .500 in 18 games so far this season and .640 this past week, drilled a triple to right center field to bring in the tying and go-ahead run for an 11-9 lead.
But it wasn’t over. The Raiders came back in the bottom of the seventh to earn a run before Brown was brought in to pitch. With the bases loaded and one out following an intentional walk, a Raider batter hit a drive up the middle. Shortstop Dresel knocked it down, stepped on second before firing to first for the game-saving double play.
“This is my 12th year coaching, and that was one of the most exciting wins I’ve ever seen, especially with the conference title on the line,” Tal Gravelle said. “Between being down 9-0 in the first inning to scratching our way back in, and then a game-ending double play, it was a pretty dramatic win. The guys just kept pushing and fighting and answering back.”
To accompany the sweep of Cretin-Derham Hall, the Rangers lost 7-5 to Woodbury last Thursday, swept Roseville in a double-header (8-7, 7-2) on Friday and split with Hastings on Monday, losing 2-1 in game one before pulling out the 4-0 in game two.
Forest Lake, now No. 9 in the state, earned a conference record of 13-5. The record ties them with No. 5 Mounds View for the Suburban East Conference championship title.
Section 7AAA tournament play begins on Monday, May 27, but if the Rangers hold their current seeding of No. 3 in the section, Forest Lake won’t play until the second round on Thursday, May 30.
Tal Gravelle said he thinks they have the tools to take the section title.
“We have such great senior leadership, talent and our coaching staff is just tremendous,” Gravelle said. “They work really hard for this program from the ninth grade to varsity, and it has made a huge difference in our success. We have got a good team this year, and I definitely believe we can do this.”