By Clay Sawatzke
With a partial doubleheader against St. Michael-Albertville last Thursday, the Magic had a chance to track down the conference leaders and tie for a championship.
Colton Lajoie’s game-winning hit in the first game, a game that was picked up in extra innings after being delayed weeks back, moved the Magic within one game of the Knights, and that elusive championship.
But seven innings, and just one run later, it was the Knights that would be crowned.
Jake Frederick turned in a masterful performance, going all seven innings — after throwing the final two of the previous game - and allowing just one run, but it went for naught as the Magic were blanked in their final conference game.
That 1-0 decision erased the championship hopes that had been so high a couple of hours prior when Lajoie’s two-out single scored Tyler Mros in the top of the ninth inning, and the Magic held on for a 4-3 win in a game they had once trailed 3-0 heading into the final inning.
Playing at St. Michael on the first of May, the Magic had rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh inning, using a big two-out, two-run double from Hayden Laimer. Once the seventh inning was completed, the game was suspended due to weather.
Back at home, but playing as the visitor, it took just two innings for the Magic to get on the board. In the field, Frederick was able to escape trouble in both innings, including getting a hard lineout with the tying run in scoring position in the ninth.
Frederick admittedly didn’t have great control of his off-speed stuff on Thursday, which got him into trouble a couple of times. But his fastball had perhaps even a bit more zip than usual, and he used it to get himself out of trouble in both games.
“Luckily, my fastball was really good tonight,” said Frederick. “That got me through the game.”
In the second game, the early innings didn’t take long to get through. Both teams remained hitless through four-and-a -half innings, until the Magic’s Michael Fisette doubled down the left field line with one out in the bottom of the fifth. Fisette moved to third on a wild pitch, and with one out was in position to put Monticello in the driver seat. But the Knights starter — who also threw all nine innings - got Jake Bond to strike out, and when Tyler Streich ripped a one-hopper right to the second basemen, the scoring threat was eliminated.
In the sixth, Frederick faced his first serious trouble. A hit batter and infield single combined with a couple of Magic mental mistakes to put runners on second and third with one out. But Frederick, like his counterpart before him, buckled down. A foul pop preceded a fly out to left, and the Magic avoided disaster. After a quick turn at the plate for the home team, the game, with championship hopes on the line, was headed to its final inning.
Despite Frederick already throwing eight innings, there was no discussion in the Magic dugout if anyone else would be run back out for the seventh. Frederick is the unquestioned ace. He wanted the ball, and they wanted him to have it.
“You go at it with your best, and see what happens,” said Stanger.
Unfortunately for the Magic, they couldn’t have loved what they saw in the seventh. Trouble started with a leadoff hit that doubled the Knights’ hit total for the game, and put the Magic right back on edge.
With a strong wind gusting in from the outfield and making throws difficult, the Knights had taken advantage of a couple of running chances early in the game. In the seventh, they were at it again. With no outs, the Knight base runner took off for second, and as the throw from catcher Zach Johnson sailed into the outfield, he continued his advancement all the way to third base.
With the infield in, the Magic recorded one out. But before they could get the second one that would push the infield back to a safe depth, a Knights batter poked a single over second baseman Sam Taufen’s head, bringing in the eventual winning run.
The Magic got Lajoie and Kounkel — two of only a handful of guys who looked comfortable at the plate — on in the bottom of the seventh, but again came up just short in the game, and in the conference race.
It marks the second straight year the Magic were one game away from a conference championship. And as it’s easy to do, it left them a little reflective of what could have been.
“We hurt ourselves a
little in the middle of the year,” said Stanger. “A couple of games you’d like back.”
But, he was happy with how the Magic battled this season, getting themselves in position to play the all-or-nothing conference championship game. And he thought they turned in a solid performance in their biggest game of the year to date.
“We gave ourselves a shot,” he said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Monticello finished the regular season with a big 2-1 win over section opponent Rocori on Tuesday night.
Frederick went the distance again, allowing just the one run.
Section playoffs are scheduled to start this weekend for the Magic.