The Ranger baseball team took on fourth-seeded Mounds View for the third time this season in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament at Midway Stadium in St. Paul Thursday, June 13.
Going up against the St. Paul Pioneer Press Player of the Year, pitcher Max Knutson, senior Dylan Dresel attacked the Mustang lefty with a single to right field right away in the top of the first inning, but was left stranded.
Senior Phil Sauer held off the Mounds View offense until the bottom of the fourth inning, when the Rangers recorded two errors in the field. Knutson singled and advanced to third on an error. Senior Noah Brown got the next two outs at first base with a groundout and foul catch. The next Mustang batter laced an RBI single to put Mounds View ahead, 1-0.
Junior Alex Egle opened the top of the fifth inning with a walk but was out by fielder’s choice on a bunt by senior Reid Larson. Senior Jack Schmidt singled to left field to put runners on first and second with one out. Senior Beau Fandel faced Knutson next and ripped an RBI single off of his future teammate at Nebraska to tie the game up at one before the Mustangs recorded two more outs to close the inning.
Forest Lake wiggled itself out of a tight situation in the bottom of the sixth inning when Mounds View hit a leadoff single to right field, then advanced the runner on a sacrifice bunt for the first out. Sauer intentionally walked the next batter to put runners on first and second. Junior Brett Gravelle then fielded a sharp grounder, tossed to Dresel for the forceout at second base, who then fired to Brown at first base for a key double play to close the inning.
While the Rangers came up short in the top of the seventh, going one-two-three on offense, Mounds View came back firing on all cylinders again in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs.
Following a groundout to Brown at first base and Sauer jamming the next batter with a looking strikeout, Mounds View laced a single to right field to put a runner on with two outs. The next Mustang batter hit a short-hop single to center field to put runners on first and second. The home team then squeezed another single just past the infield up the middle to score the winning run at 2-1.
“That was a very tough loss,” head coach Tal Gravelle said. “I feel very bad for the players. You know, baseball is a funny game. You have a couple of bad breaks, bad bounces, couple of infield hits and, in a close ball game, it comes down to a few big plays, and they executed at the end. But I’m really proud of our kids. Their pitcher is tremendous and you might see him pitching in the major leagues someday. I just couldn’t be prouder of how our kids battled to the end.”
Dresel went 2-4 on offense for the Rangers while Schmidt and Fandel both went 1-3.
The Mustangs recorded nine hits off of Sauer, who struck out four and gave up just one earned run in 6.2 innings. The Rangers recorded five hits off the hard-throwing Knutson.
Tal Gravelle said Sauer also pitched an unbelievable game.
“Phil is just an absolute gamer,” Tal Gravelle said. “He goes down as one of the greatest pitchers we’ve ever had in our program, without a doubt. He pitched unbelievable today. They only had two hard hits off of him, and I just can’t say enough about him.”
With the loss, the Rangers moved to the consolation bracket to take on Wayzata last Friday, who lost to the top seed Coon Rapids on Thursday.
Senior Kyle Parker pitched a five-hit shutout for a 3-0 win over the Trojans at Siebert Field at the University of Minnesota.
This time the Rangers took over on offense with two outs in the top of the first inning when Fandel singled through the left side, then stole second to reach scoring position. Brown drove in the first run with a double down the right-field line to put Forest Lake up 1-0.
The Rangers scored again off of Fandel and Brown hits in the top of the third inning. With two outs again, Fandel doubled to center field, followed by a Brown RBI single to give their team a 2-0 lead.
Forest Lake sealed the win in the fourth inning when Parker reached base after being hit by a pitch, advanced to second off an infield sacrifice by Brett Gravelle, then scored when Larson laced an RBI double to put their squad up 3-0 and close the scoring.
Brown led the offense by going 2-3 with two RBIs, followed by Brett Gravelle (2-3), Fandel (2-4) and Larson (1-3) with one RBI.
Forest Lake advanced to the consolation championship later that afternoon, but fell 9-1 to the third-seeded Lakeville North Panthers, who were upset by Rocori in the first round.
Rocori went on to face Mounds View in the state championship game at Target Field on Monday night, where the Mustangs won the title, 8-0, with Knutson striking out nine batters and throwing 60 of 90 pitches for strikes in the shutout win.
Forest Lake closed its season with an overall record of 19-7, earning both a conference and section championship. The Rangers graduated eight seniors.
“It’s been an amazing year with an amazing group of seniors, and I’ll say this much: I’ve been around here 12 years, and this is probably the best team we’ve ever had,” Tal Gravelle said. “They’re just awesome.”