Talent is to be expected at the 13-year-old level. It has to start showing up sometime, and for many kids, that’s by the time they’re in middle school.
Consistency on the other hand, is a concept that can often be foreign to athletes, at any level, especially through the high school level.
And dominance, well, that’s reserved for the greats, and only the greats. It’s something that takes a combination of talent and consistency, plus a lot of hard work and a little luck.
And that, dominance, is exactly what Monticello’s top 13 and under youth baseball team has achieved this year.
Fresh off winning the Minnesota Baseball Tournaments State Championship, becoming the first team from Monticello to do so, Monti headed to the other premier state tournament this past weekend and walked away from the collection of the state’s top teams with a second place finish.
And that was a bit of a disappointment – which says everything about the season it’s been for Monticello.
With a 10-0 win over Champlin/Dayton in a league playoff game Tuesday night, Monti recorded their 50th win of the year, against just two losses. They finished league play with a record of 16-0. And they won five out of six tournaments they played in.
“[The boys] have been outstanding,” said Coach Mike Skarie.
Skarie said their ability to respond to any situation has been particularly impressive. They soak up whatever they’re taught at practice and apply it immediately on the field. They have an innate ability to put teams away when they have a lead. And they never feel like they’re out of a game.
“The kids never seem to get down,” said Skarie. “If they’re behind in a game, they rally back.”
That was necessary a couple of times this past weekend, when Monti headed to the Gopher State Tournament in Burnsville for their final tournament of the summer.
Just days removed from a grueling state tournament in Lakeville, and the day after an opening round league playoff game, Monticello was set to play six more games in three days. And in order to be successful, they couldn’t afford a single slip up as only the top team from each pool advanced to the single elimination championship bracket.
Two of the pool play games were easy enough, with Monti picking up a 4-0 victory over Osseo/Maple Grove and a 7-2 win against Mankato.
But in the middle of those was the type of game coaches dread, a trap game against the St. Cloud Blue Sox, a team Monti had already beat twice this year.
This time, Monticello let them hang around all game. Monti took a lead in the fifth, but St. Cloud tied it in the last inning, forcing extra innings in a game that could decide Monti’s fate.
The boys weren’t phased by the pressure though. They held St. Cloud scoreless in the eighth and the ninth. Then, in their final at bats before the game would be called a tie, they came through.
The rally was started by Tommy Blackstone. Blackstone led the team in hitting this season with a scorching .622 average and he came up big Saturday morning with a double to start the ninth. He moved to third on a groundout, before a walk and an error filled the bases. After St. Cloud got the second out, Blake Thompson stepped to the plate and stepped up to the challenge. Thompson hit a single to the outfield, bringing in Blackstone and giving Monticello a 4-3 victory.
Thompson was the seventh hitter in the lineup. The next day, Zach Skarie, the 11th hitter in an 11-man lineup would jump start a quarterfinal comeback over Chanhassen with a line drive single in the sixth inning. It was proof that while Monticello has some studs at the top of their line up, they rely on all parts to keep the machine chugging along.
“It takes the whole team,” said Skarie. “Every one of them, in my opinion, is an intricate part of the team.”
Following the Chanhassen quarterfinal victory, Monticello moved to the semifinals where they squared off with Hopkins, a team they had dominated in the MBT State Championship game a week prior.
New week, same result.
With Blackstone, and his team-leading .86 earned run average on the mound, Monticello dominated once more.
After Blackstone escaped a bases loaded jam in the first, Monti put up a four spot in the bottom half and never looked back.
The offensive onslaught was led by Hunter Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum, who also hit over .500 this season, laced a line drive home run, his seventh of the year, to open the scoring in the first inning. Thompson and Carson Sawatzke would also drive in runs in the first inning.
In the second inning, more Monti hitters got in on the act. Ethan Bosacker ripped a line drive single to score a run and Isaac Frandsen followed with an RBI single of his own.
On the mound, Blackstone cruised through three, with Frandsen pitching two in relief to close out an eventual 11-1 victory over a very good Hopkins squad.
In the championship game, Monticello would fall just short as the bats went silent in a 3-0 loss to East Ridge.
But the loss hardly put a damper on what has been a remarkable, fun and memorable year for the boys.
“Every single game, every tournament is a blast,” said Tommy Blackstone.
He added that the talent of his teammates takes the pressure off everyone, allowing them to have fun while they play.
“I think we’re good enough that we can go out there and have fun rather than being all tense,” he said. “If you don’t do your best, someone else will.”
Other guys who have stepped up often this year include Shawn Sellner, who went three for three to lead Monti on Tuesday night, leadoff hitter and starting shortstop, Alex Otto, and Jace Pribyl and Ty Ulven.
Working as a team, the group has put together one of the best youth seasons in Monticello history.
But as impressive as the past has been, the future could hold even bigger things for this group. The boys are just a couple years away from high school ball, something that varsity coach Cole Deibele is well aware of.
“When you see a team that is that successful, against top competition, it gets you really excited for the future of Monticello baseball,” said Deibele. “It’s just a really talented class.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at firstname.lastname@example.org