Monticello had plenty of opponents to battle Monday morning.
Fatigue, as they were playing their fifth game in as many days.
Momentum, as they were coming off a 0-3 effort at the St. Cloud tournament this weekend.
Heat, as they played through abundant sunshine and warm temperatures for their typical day game.
Mistakes, as they ran themselves out of a couple potential runs and worked themselves into a few jams with walks and errors.
Oh, and Foley, a pretty good baseball team.
Through it all, Monticello came out on top, earning an impressive 4-2 victory that guaranteed them the opportunity to host a three-game playoff series beginning today.
Despite entering the game with a lack of momentum, after losing to Maple Grove, Maplewood (Hill-Murray school area) and Duluth East, Monticello got off to a quick start at the local high school field.
The opening two batters drew walks, immediately putting one man in scoring position. A passed ball then moved both runners up a spot, leaving them at second and third. An ensuing RBI groundout got Monticello on the board, and moved the other baserunner to third base with one out. After a walk to Aaron Wisecup, another passed ball brought Jack Bourgeois home, putting Monticello up 2-0 in the bottom of the first.
For the next few innings, Monticello relied on its pitching and its ability to battle, two things that have been important to them all year.
“Our pitching has been our bright spot,” said Coach Joe Rosh. “It’s not dominant, but we throw strikes and we work out of jams.”
They had to work out of one of those jams early.
In the second inning, Foley loaded the bases. But starting pitcher Dan Blackstone forced a missed bunt attempt on a suicide squeeze try by Foley, and the catcher, Wisecup, ran down the baserunner to record the second out of the inning. Blackstone finished off the at bat with a strikeout, ending the threat.
In the third, Foley again loaded the bases with one out. This time Blackstone responded with back-to-back swinging strikeouts, wiggling out of another jam.
In the bottom of the third, Monticello put three different men on base, but a base running error erased one of them, and a two-out groundout ended the scoring chance.
In the fifth, Monticello turned to Bourgeois on the mound. Foley didn’t welcome him kindly, putting together a single, RBI double and a successful squeeze play to tie the game at two in the top of the inning.
Bourgeois would bounce back.
With the game tied, and facing another threat in the sixth inning, Bourgeois induced a strikeout, followed by a chopper on third, to strand baserunners at second and third.
Bourgeois, one of numerous kids on the team playing up a year, is recognized as a battler.
“The word bulldog, that’s him,” said Rosh. “It’s unbelievable how he gets us out of jams. He just bears down when he has to.”
After getting out of yet another jam, Monticello entered the bottom of the sixth with some newfound energy at the plate.
“We just had to battle,” said Wisecup following the game.
Battle they did.
A.J. Young led off the sixth inning by quickly falling behind in the count. He battled, fouling off a few good pitches, before eventually taking enough bad pitches to earn a walk and his spot at first base. After a missed sacrifice bunt, Monticello decided to steal Young. He made it, putting the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Braydon Hanson was at the plate and he was following Young’s lead with a good battle. When Hanson finally got a pitch he could put in play, he hit a slow chopper to third. Facing a tough play, the third basemen tried to get the out at first, but wound up throwing it into right field, allowing Young to score and Hanson to advance all the way to third base. An ensuing sacrifice fly by Tyler Otto scored Hanson and put Monticello up 4-2 going to the last inning.
Foley threatened again in the seventh, putting runners on second and third base, but Bourgeois and Monticello had the answer again. A strikeout, looking, was followed by a groundout to shortstop, and just like that, a 4-2 win was secured.
Bourgeois said after the game that his defense behind him is a huge help in his confidence level and getting out of jams.
“Usually we’re pretty solid in the field,” said Bourgeois. “I just have to put strikes out there and I know they have my back.”
His and Blackstone’s ability to work with the defense and get key outs had Monticello celebrating a victory they had to have.
“It did feel good, because we didn’t do too well in the tournament,” said Kyle Goodwin. “It’s good to bounce back and get a win.”
Despite a close loss to Princeton Tuesday morning, Monticello’s win over Foley kept their final league record at 7-7, earning them the seventh seed in the 14-team league and a chance to host St. Cloud Red (Apollo) Thursday for the first two games in a best-of-three playoff series.
If they can advance past that, they’ll begin play in their eight-team district tournament, where the young bunch will have a chance to continue to grow together, something that they’ve done quite nicely already.
“It’s fun playing with these kids,” said Wisecup, about having over half of the team be a year younger than the age of most VFW players. “You know some of them are going to be up on the varsity level next year. It’s good to have them up here to get the experience.
They’re all great kids, they’re all fun to play with,” he added. “We all get along great. We’re a team.”
Monday, they battled together, as a team. And they earned the chance to do the same thing Thursday, on the same field.
The first game begins at 10 a.m. today, with the second one set to follow immediately after. If necessary, game three will be in St. Cloud Friday.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org