Baseball: Panthers push Brainerd into consolation bracket
ST. PAUL - Dalton Lehnen proved that's he's ready to take the next step in his baseball career at the University of Cincinnati.
Lakeville North's exceptional senior left-hander overpowered the Brainerd Warriors on Thursday, striking out 12 in five innings, and elevating the Panthers to a 10-0, 6-inning victory in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state tournament Friday at Midway Stadium.
With an overpowering fastball and dipping curve and slider, Lehnen walked just two and allowed only two hits — singles in the first and fourth innings by Warriors' shortstop Tory Miller. Five Warriors took called third strikes.
"Maybe it was a good game to get that out of our system, but he was good," Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy said of Lehnen. "There's no question he's a good pitcher. We just had trouble getting the bats on him.
"They're good, no question about it. They've been the No. 1 team kind of from start to finish this year, and they are. As far as I can see, until somebody beats them they're very good."
Only one Warrior runner advanced beyond first base. That was in the sixth against reliever Wesley Ahlers, who yielded Conor Gessell's leadoff single that bounced off of shortstop Angelo Altavilla. Miller's fielder's choice forced Gessell at second. Drew Sannes followed with a single, but Ahlers extinguished the threat with two groundouts.
"(Lehnen has) been on the varsity for three years, so he has a lot of experience, a lot of leadership," Panthers coach Tony Market said. "As soon as we got off the field in the state tournament last year, he gets up in the morning and is going on a run. He's lifting after practice, doing all of those little things to get himself ready to pitch in this game.
"Those are the kinds of blessings that you get when you get good kids. They just know what it takes. It's easy to jump on the backs of guys like that."
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Lehnen also carried Lakeville at the plate as he drove in three runs and the top-ranked and top-seeded Panthers sent unseeded Brainerd into Friday's consolation semifinals. The Warriors are scheduled to play fifth-seeded Elk River, a 4-0 loser to fourth-seeded Mounds View, at 10 a.m. Friday at Siebert Field at the University of Minnesota.
"We need to rally the troops here and come back and play well (Friday) morning," Scearcy said.
Second baseman Matt Arnold was 3-for-3 for the Panthers, who rapped 12 hits against Warrior starter TJ Graumann and reliever Hayden Bukowski. Catcher Ben Jensen, third baseman Joe Haider, left fielder Kyle Rhodus and designated hitter Bryce Buckley each had two hits and center fielder AJ Sayer scored three runs.
"That helps takes the jitters off," Market said of his team's offense. "You can grip the bat a little looser when you get a couple runs on the board. Especially when (Lehnen's) throwing as well as he is you're like 'Maybe two is enough. I can go up and hit now if two's enough.' That's a fortunate position to be in."
After the Panthers loaded the bases in the first, Lehnen's sacrifice fly to center scored the game's first run.
Another Lehnen sacrifice fly to center instigated a 4-run Panthers third. One Lakeville run scored on a throwing error, the others on an RBI triple by Joe Haider that center fielder Beau Janousek dove for but missed, and on an RBI base hit by Rhodus.
Lehnen's RBI fielder's choice and a 2-run single by Jensen inflated Lakeville's lead to 8-0 in the fourth.
The Panthers ended the game in the sixth on run-scoring singles by Haider and Buckley.
"That's a quality group of kids that we went against," Market said of Brainerd. "They came down, they played hard, they battled. That's all you can ask when you get to this stage of the game."
Lakeville North 10,
The key: The Panthers' Dalton Lehnen struck out 12 Warriors.
Overall: Brd 21-4, LS 22-4
Next: Brainerd vs. Elk River in state consolation semifinals, Siebert Field, University of Minnesota, 10 a.m. Friday.
Brainerd 000 000 — 0 4 1
Lakeville North 104 302 — 10 12 0
Brainerd: TJ Graumann, Hayden Bukowski (5) and Nate DeChaine.
Lakeville North: Dalton Lehnen, Wesley Ahlers (6) and Ben Jensen.
3B: LN-Joe Haider
SF: LN-Lehnen 2
RBIs: LN-Lehnen 3, Haider 2, Kyle Rhodus, Jensen 2, Bryce Buckley
LOB: Brd 4, LN 8