Hayfield bunts past Spring Grove in section championship game, 8-7

ABOVE LEFT: Caleb Nerstad applies the tag as Hayfield runner slides into third base. ABOVE RIGHT: Lion catcher Carter Bratland catches a foul ball during section showdown versus Hayfield. BELOW: Noah Elton is greeted by teammates after crossing home plate to give Spring Grove a 3-0 lead in the section championship game. The senior had driven in the first two runs with a two-out, full-count, 2-RBI triple. Elton had the only two extra-base hits of the game, later driving in a go-ahead run with a double. Photos by S. Lee Epps
S. Lee Epps

It was extreme "small ball" as Hayfield had four straight batters bunt while scoring the winning run in an 8-7 victory against Spring Grove in the Section 1A championship baseball game.

The score was closer than the statistics might indicate, but Lion pitching did not give up a big inning, stranding Viking base runners in each frame.

It began on May 4 and concluded on May 5 with the intervening rainstorm only one dramatic turn in a back-and-forth battle that would send either team to state for the first time.

The Vikings (22-2) had to come from behind twice to win for the 22nd time in 23 games (after dropping the season opener).

Sub-section East champion Spring Grove, after falling to Sub-section West champion Hayfield 3-0 in the section semi-finals, had eliminated Southland 7-2 in the losers' bracket and would have to defeat Hayfield twice to win the double-elimination tournament.

The Lions had a tremendous start, getting to Viking junior starter Brady Nelson for three runs in the bottom of the first inning and making it 4-0 in the second inning before the downpour drenched the diamond at Riverland Community College in Austin. The game would have to be continued the next day.

 But to the consternation of Lion fans, there was a cruel twist of rainfall fate for Spring Grove. With the player-protection, pitch-count rule, starting pitcher Carter Bratland, who would have been able to continue for quite a while on Tuesday, had pitched enough that he would not be eligible to pitch at all on Wednesday.

Thus, the already two-time all-conference standout was limited to only those two pre-rain innings of scoreless pitching, giving up only one hit and two walks while striking out five of the 10 batters he faced.

After the strong Spring Grove start on Tuesday, it looked like it might be all Hayfield on Wednesday when the Vikings scored two runs in the third inning (aided by two Lion errors), another two runs to tie in the fourth (one more Lion error) and then two more runs to go ahead 6-4 in the fifth.

And then Viking ace pitcher Easton Fritcher came in to close it out. But the Lions got to the freshman lefty for three runs with two walks, a hit batter, a single from Bratland and an RBI-double from Noah Elton. The Lions were back ahead 7-6 after five innings.

But that would be all for the Spring Grove offense, which went three-up, three-down in the final two innings as Fritcher struck out four of the last six Lion batters.

The Vikings tied it at 7-all in the sixth inning with a two-out RBI single from sophomore Joey Tempel. They then went into bunt-mode to score the winner in the top of the seventh.

Hayfield out-hit SG 11 to 6, but Elton had the only two extra-base hits in his final game in a Lion uniform. His clutch, two-out, full-count 2-RBI triple had scored the first two runs in the first inning, and his RBI-double put Grove back in front 7-6 in the fifth.

With five more hits, three fewer errors and two more free passes (walks, hit batters), Hayfield had 21 batters reach base to only 12 for Spring Grove.

Yet, the Vikings prevailed by only one run. The Lions stayed in contention by not allowing Hayfield a big inning. The Vikings never scored more than twice in any inning while leaving 13 runners on base (at least one in each inning.) 

Spring Grove put together a pair of three-run innings and stranded only four runners.

All three Lion errors were costly; two Hayfield runs were unearned. The Vikings had one error.

Elton batted 2 for 3 with singles from Nerstad (RBI), Folz and Bratland. A Peterson single was the first hit of the game.

Seven of the nine Hayfield batters had base hits, four of whom with two singles each.

The defensive plays of the game came on ground ball stops and throws from Nic Peterson at shortstop and Caleb Nerstad at third.

"It was very up and down," said Lion coach Chris Strinmoen. "We were very focused Tuesday night and knew what we needed to do. 

"It was fun to jump out to the early lead and hand the ball to Carter. But the rainstorm just wiped out all of our momentum. It was disappointing not having Carter the next day (due to the pitch count policy), but we just couldn't afford to mess around with our pitching situation on Tuesday. 

"Hayfield was in a much different position, where they could afford to gamble and survive a loss," added Strinmoen. '

I honestly expected to get the first game in, even when the rain first began. I couldn't believe how the skies opened up and wouldn't let us continue - a definite bummer."

With only one senior seeing action against Spring Grove, the Vikings (22-2) take the No. 3 seed into this week's Class A State Tournament. The Lions are also familiar with conference rival Randolph (21-2), which received the No. 4 seed after winning Section 4A.

Spring Grove closed at 16-8, the most baseball wins in program history. The Lions won the 2019 sub-section championship, the program's seventh all-time postseason title - but the first in 40 years.



Hayfield 8, SG 7

Hay  002 221  1 - 8  11 1  

SG   310 030  0 - 7   6  3   

LOB: SG 43, Hay 13

SG:  triple, double, 4 singles

Hay:  11 singles

WP-Fritcher, LP-Folz

Bratland 2 IP, 1H, 0R, 2W, 5K, 1HB

Nerstad 0 IP, 2H, 2R, 1 ER, 0W. 0K, 1HB 

Folz 5 IP, 8H, 6R, 5ER, 4W, 6K

Nelson 1 IP, 3H, 4R, 4ER, 2W, 0K

Bungum 0 IP, 0H, 0R, 0W, 0K

Dudycha 3 IP, 1H, 0R, 1W, 3K

Fritcher  3 IP, 2H, 3R, 3ER, 2W, 6K, 1HB



SEMI-FINAL: Hayfield 3, Spring Grove0


Southland 6, Lyle/Pacelli 1

Spring Grove7, Southland 2

CHAMPIONSHIP: Hayfield 8, Spring Grove7


Spring Grove varsity baseball (16-8, 9-5 SEC) 

W at Schaeffer Academy 11-1

W vs. Wabasha-Kellogg 6-1

W at Glenville-Emmons/Alden-Conger 11-5

W vs. Lyle/Pacelli 2-0

W vs. Houston 14-3

W vs. Glenville-Emmons/Alden-Conger 7-0

W vs. Mabel-Canton 11-1

L vs. Schaeffer Academy 3-9

L at Randolph 6-11

L vs. Randolph 0-5

L at Southland 1-5

W at Mabel-Canton 12-0

L vs. GMLOK 1-2

L vs. GMLOK 3-10

W at Cotter/Hope Lutheran 7-1

W at Lyle/Pacelli (at Austin) 6-2

W at Houston 14-3

W vs. Rushford-Peterson 5-0


W vs. Mabel-Canton 14-3

W vs. Rushford-Peterson 6-0

W vs. Southland 5-4


L vs. Hayfield 0-3

W vs. Southland 7-2

L vs. Hayfield 7-8


B-team (5-2)

W at Glenville-Emmons/Alden-Conger 7-4

L vs. Caledonia 3-9

W vs. Glenville-Emmons/Alden-Conger 4-0

W vs. Mabel-Canton 3-1

W vs. Mabel-Canton 6-3

W vs. Houston 7-6

L vs. Rushford-Peterson 2-3


Eighth grade (10-3)

W at Caledonia 4-2

L at Glenville-Emmons/Alden-Conger 1-7

W at GMLOK 6-1

W vs. Lyle/Pacelli 4-2

W vs. Houston 10-0

W vs. Mabel-Canton 4-2

W at Cotter 13-5

L vs. Fillmore Central/Lanesboro 5-6

W vs. Mabel-Canton 22-4

W vs. GMLOK 12-0

L at Lyle/Pacelli 1-3

W at Houston 9-3

W vs. Rushford-Peterson 2-1


Seventh grade (7-3-1)

W at Caledonia 6-4

L at Glenville-Emmons/Alden-Conger 5-6

W at GMLOK 9-6

T vs. Lyle/Pacelli 4-4

W vs. Houston 7-0

W vs. Mabel-Canton 7-0

L at Cotter 7-8

W vs. GMLOK 9-2

L at Lyle/Pacelli 3-6

W at Houston 14-4

W vs. Rushford-Peterson 2-0