Spring Grove captures sub-section baseball crown, first in 40 years

ABOVE: Kai Bjerke is safe below the tag applied by Southland third baseman Nick Boe during 5-4 win in sub-section title game at Winona. BELOW: Caden Grinde slides past Southland catcher Noah Lamp, scoring the first run of the Lions’ 7-2 win in a section elimination game at Austin. Photos by S. Lee Epps
S. Lee Epps

The Spring Grove boys, with the No. 2 seed, won their first postseason baseball championship in 40 years by taking the 2019 Sub-section 1A East title. The Lions swept all three games, including last week's wins over No. 3 seed Rushford-Peterson and No. 1 Southland on Saturday, May 25, at Winona State University.

The last-inning, nail-biter versus Southland was dramatic and momentous, breaking the postseason title drought.

Current assistant coach Blaine Storlie had played a significant role in the 2012 sub-section title for the shared Caledonia/Spring Grove program. But this 2019 sub-section championship is the first for a stand-alone Spring Grove baseball team in four decades - since back-to-back district crowns in 1978 and 1979.

"It isn't very often you get to play for a sub-section championship on a beautiful day outside in front of your supportive fans," said Lion the coach Chris Strinmoen. "I was glad that the kids got to experience that environment and also happy that we could bring that title back home to our community."

On to section

The current Lions improved to 15-6 and advanced to the Section 1A Tournament on Saturday, June 1, at Dick Seltz Field at Riverland Community College in Austin.

That four-team event featured two sub-section champions, Spring Grove and Hayfield, along with both runners-up - Southland and Lyle/Pacelli.

Already with one play-off loss, the Rebels and Athletics played an elimination game on one field while the Lions faced the Vikings a few yards away.

Southland eliminated L/P, 6-1, and awaited the loser of the other game. That would be Spring Grove, which had fallen to Hayfield, 3-0.

The Lions then eliminated the Rebels, 7-2, to earn another shot at Hayfield. That section rematch took place (after the Herald went to press) on Tuesday of this week. In the double elimination tournament, one-loss Spring Grove (16-7) would have to defeat Hayfield (21-2) twice to punch a ticket to state. 

"Tuesday will be an exciting night," said Strinmoen. “Any time you get to play in a section final for a chance to go to state, it's a thrilling experience. I know my guys will show up and battle hard. They've done it all year in every sport. Hope to see everyone there."

Sub-section semi-final: SG 7, Rushford-Peterson 0

Carter Bratland struck out 14 Trojan batters and walked only three while tossing a masterful three-hit shutout.

"Carter completely dominated the Rushford-Peterson lineup," said Strinmoen. "It was as good as I've ever seen him. That was nice to see after his rough outing in the previous Mabel-Canton game. 

"Caleb Nerstad really broke the game open for us with two clutch hits with runners in scoring position. That allowed Carter to relax and do his thing on the mound."

The Lions took a 2-0 lead in the second with an Alex Folz double, an infield hit by Nic Peterson and with two strikes and two out a critical two-RBI single by Nerstad.

Two frames later in the fourth, singles by Bratland and Caden Grinde set up RBI hits from Peterson (double) and Nerstad. 

Bratland (3 for 3) added his third hit as the Lions took advantage of two errors to score the final run in the sixth.

Nerstad (4 RBIs) and Peterson (RBI) each hit 2 for 3.

The defensive play of the game was a pitcher-to-shortstop-to-first-base double play that erased the final Trojan base runner in the final seventh inning.

R-P senior Nolan Mueller took his second pitching loss against Spring Grove despite striking out 11 and walking only one. The Lions had blanked the Trojans 5-0 in the regular season finale. 

It was the 11th loss for R-P, which would finish 8-12-1 after another playoff loss. 

Sub-section final: SG 5, Southland 4

The first two Southland batters of the final seventh inning had just struck out; Spring Grove was one strike away from victory and the championship. Lion players were on their feet ready to rush onto the field in celebration.

But there was an infield hit, then a hit into right field. Then there was an RBI-single to cut the Lions' two-run lead in half with the potential tying run in scoring position at second base and the potential game-winning run - for Southland - on first base. 

The Lions had not trailed or been caught on the scoreboard all day (13 and two-thirds innings). Would all that come crashing down after being one strike away from a championship? 

Then Spring Grove third baseman Kyle Hagen ably fielded a ground ball and threw to first base for the final out, and the Lions - after sighs of relief - could finally celebrate.

Spring Grove out-hit Southland 8 to 7; three clutch Rebel hits came when the game appeared all but over. 

The first batter of the game (Folz) had scored after drawing a walk, stealing second base, going to third on a throwing error and coming home on a wild pitch.

That 1-0 lead held until the fifth inning when the Lions added three runs on two hits, including an RBI-double by Bratland (2 for 3).

That 4-0 lead only held a few minutes; The Rebels finally got their first hit while making it a 4-2 count in the bottom of the inning.

Two more Southland hits made it a one-run game (4-3) in the bottom of the sixth.

Then Bergrud (2 for 3) opened the SG seventh with a double and scored on a sacrifice fly from Peterson to make it 5-3 and set up the do-or-die drama in the bottom of the seventh.

Folz struck out 11 while walking only one in picking up the hard-earned pitching win. 

"Alex matched Carter with another great outing in the second game today," said Strinmoen. "Southland had beaten Carter earlier in the year, so we thought we'd throw Alex at them to change it up. He really kept them off balance and got a huge win for us.

“Chandler Bergrud had a nice game at the plate, and Carter Bratland continued his career day with a couple hits as well. It got a little crazy towards the end, but we were able to hang on and make one last play to get that final out."

There were four Lion errors, but there was also a dazzling Isaac Griffin catch in center field.

Southland senior Lee Wilson had previously tossed a one-hitter in a 5-1 win against Spring Grove. In this championship rematch, the Lions scored four runs on seven hits before Wilson was forced to retire with the pitch-count rule one batter into the sixth inning.

In two innings against senior reliever senior Eli Schwartz, Bergrud's double was the only hit. But two subsequent walks set the stage for Peterson's RBI-sacrifice fly that plated what would become the winning run.

Besides two hits each from Bratland and Bergrud, there were solo singles from Nerstad, Folz, Hagen and Caden Grinde, 

Wilson and Corey Retterath each went 2 for 4 for Southland. The Rebel batting order consisted of five seniors, two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman.

Southland dropped into the losers' bracket where the Rebels (9-13) eliminated Rushford-Peterson 9-1 to advance to the Section 1A Tournament as the sub-section runner-up.

Section semi-final: Hayfield 3, SG 0

The Vikings, who came in with a gaudy 20-2 record and a 14-game winning streak, received a solid pitching performance from freshman southpaw Easton Fritcher, who struck out eight, walked only one and gave up only two hits in five and two-thirds innings.

It was the first time Spring Grove had faced a left-handed hurler all season. And Viking reliever Luke Dudycha was also left-handed. Fritcher left the mound to limit the pitch count, so he would be eligible to pitch again in the championship game.

"We ran into a really tough lefty today," said Strinmoen. "We just couldn't get the bats going. And Hayfield seemed to bunch a couple hits and walks together to squeeze a couple runs out of us.

"We got a little sloppy in the field, and you just can't do that against top quality teams like Hayfield. The extra outs really hurt us. I thought Alex did a great job giving us a chance throughout the game. We just couldn't generate any runs for him. It was frustrating."

Folz started for Spring Grove and was relieved after four innings, also to limit his pitch count. He and Nerstad combined to fan five and walk only three. But with three errors, all three Vikings runs were unearned.

It was scoreless until Hayfield loaded the bases with no outs in the third inning and scored with a pair of sacrifices to center field.

Two errors on the same play led to a third run in the next inning.

The Lions had two of their four hits in the sixth inning, but a double play helped Fritcher preserve the shutout. Only two Lion runners got as far as second base.

Peterson went 2 for 3 while Bergrud and Grinde added the other two hits.

The Vikings out-hit the Lions only 5 to 4; there were no extra-base hits.

The defensive dandy was an outstanding stop and throw to first by second baseman Nerstad.

Elimination game: SG 7, Southland 2

"I was extremely happy with how we bounced back from that first loss," said the coach. "We were in a difficult situation coming off our loss, and having to play a Southland team who was coming off a big win. But our guys responded well and kept our season alive. "

It was scoreless until the Lions pushed across an unearned run with a passed ball on a strikeout, a single from Folz, an error and a sacrifice fly from Bratland.

In the next inning, the Grove guys added three runs on three hits, including an RBI-double from Folz. Noah Elton also had two hits with one each from Griffin, Grinde and Bergrud.

"It's always nice to score first," added Strinmoen, "because it takes the pressure off our pitching and defense. It also sets the tone for the game." 

The Lions had a 7-to-4 advantage in hits, but seven Rebel errors helped Spring Grove take a 7-0 lead into the final inning. 

Bratland was again in control from the mound, striking out nine and walking none while giving up only two hits through five innings.

Southland had only two hits until two additional singles and two Lion errors allowed the Rebs to avoid the whitewashing in the final seventh inning.

"Carter was dominating again and was able to avenge his loss to these guys from earlier this season," said Strinmoen.

One defensive gem was a leaping grab by Peterson at shortstop. The game ended with a double play, initiated by splendid shoe-top stop of a line drive to second baseman Payton Leahy.


Sub-section 1A East

#1 Southland, bye

#5 Wabasha-Kellogg 5, #4 Schaeffer 0

#2 Spring Grove14, #7 Mabel-Canton 3

#3 Rushford-Peterson 13, #6 Houston 8



Spring Grove6, Rushford-Peterson 0

Southland 15, Wabasha-Kellogg 5


Wabasha-Kellogg 4, Rushford-Peterson 0



Spring Grove5, Southland 4

Southland 9, Wabasha-Kellogg 1




SEMI-FINAL: Hayfield 3, Spring Grove0


Southland 6, Lyle/Pacelli 1

Spring Grove7, Southland 2


CHAMPIONSHIP: Hayfield vs. Spring Grove(SG has to defeat Hayfield twice)


STATE TOURNAMENT, June 13, 14, 20


Spring Grove varsity baseball (15-7, 9-5 SEC) end of regular season

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

June 5 vs. Hayfield


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