Section 8-3A Baseball: Flyers head to state for first time since 1999
Flyers 7, Bemidji 4 Overall: LF 19-5. Next: Little Falls vs. TBA in Class 3A state quarterfinals at Dick Siebert Field, University of Minnesota, June 16. COLLEGEVILLE--It's been a long time coming, but the Section 8-3A top-seeded Little Falls Fly...
Flyers 7, Bemidji 4
Overall: LF 19-5.
Next: Little Falls vs. TBA in Class 3A state quarterfinals at Dick Siebert Field, University of Minnesota, June 16.
COLLEGEVILLE-It's been a long time coming, but the Section 8-3A top-seeded Little Falls Flyers are finally headed back to the state tournament following a 7-4 win over the second-seeded Bemidji Lumberjacks in the championship game Wednesday at St. John's University.
Many of the Flyers on this year's team weren't even born and senior winning pitcher Thomas Miller was just a toddler the last time Little Falls reached the big dance in 1999.
The right-handed ace for Little Falls pitched all but the final out giving up eight hits, striking out four and walking three while improving his season record to 7-1.
He survived a shaky start start when Bemidji jumped on him for two runs on three hits and then gave up two more runs in the seventh on four hits. In between, he settled into a groove and allowed only one other hit while retiring 15 of 19 batters over the middle five innings.
"To be completely honest, the first inning was just nervous jitters," said Miller. "I wasn't putting my pitches in the spots they needed to be and they were hitting it so my hat's off to them for that. After that, I was able to settle in and throw some zeros and our offense just kept going. We just kept coming which is our team motto this year."
"The kids came excited to play, said Little Falls head coach Chad Kaddatz. "The way we came out, falling behind 2-0 early, was kind of a punch in the face, but it was great the way they responded. They just kept adding on and adding on and it showed at the end when we needed those extra runs."
Little Falls rallied with three runs in the bottom of the first on a pair of walks, a single by Dan Marod and a Bemidji error.
A three-base throwing error by Bemidji third baseman Erik Fitzgerald allowed two more runs to score in the second and the Flyers added insurance runs in the third and fifth.
With two out and one on in the Bemidji seventh, Miller finally ran out of gas. He gave up three consecutive singles that drove in two runs making it 7-4 with runners still on second and third.
With the tying run at the plate, Mitch Boros took over on the mound and got Cam Boen to fly out to left for the final out.
"In that last inning, I wasn't real concerned when it was was 7-2," said Kaddatz, "but when they started tacking on, we went from our kids planning on how they were going to storm the field from the dugout with two outs, to looking at Mitch (Boros) and asking 'Are you ready to close this out and get that last out?'
"I made the decision we were going to take (Miller) out going to the seventh and Mitch was ready to go, but I asked Tom if he wanted to close it out and he said he'd like to take a shot at it. He's a gutty kid. He's such a competitor in every sport and a leader in every sport and at school, that he's the type of kid you could trust in this situation."
"I was tired the last inning, but I asked coach if I could finish and got the first two outs and then just kind of gave out," said Miller. "My location wasn't there and obviously my velocity and movement was down, but I'm proud that I was able to go six strong."
The Flyers were outhit 8-6 by the Lumberjacks. AJ Jenks finished with a triple and a single and Justin Jenks added a pair of singles. Hunter Swanson contributed a double and Marod a single.
Little Falls is 19-5 and had beaten Bemidji 3-0 in the winners' bracket semifinals last Thursday before the Lumberjacks bounced back to beat Albany 10-0 in the losers' bracket to get to the title game.
"It's hard to describe the feeling," said Kaddatz. "It's such a culmination of so many years of hard work and working in the summertime with these kids. When you think of all the kids in the past who have been so close (in the section finals four of the last five years), it's really a celebration of Flyer baseball. It's been a long time since 1999, but this feels fantastic to get over the hump.
"You can't question these kids, they made plays, especially some of the seniors. They won't let us lose."
Miller will be playing next year for the St. John's University Johnnies.
"I'll be playing right here on this field and it's a cool experience for me here (today) because it's the first time I've been able to set foot on this field," he said. "I'm looking forward to next year, but for now we're focused on winning the (state) championship. We definitely have the talent and we know that it's going to require a lot of work and mental work as well, but that's our goal."
Bemidji 200 000 2-4 8 3
Little Falls 321 010 x-7 6 1
WP: Thomas Miller. LP: Matt Morgan. 2B: LF-Hunter Swanson; B-Caleb Carlson. 3B: LF-AJ Jenks; B-Erik Fitzgerald.
For more photos: Little Falls Flyer Baseball vs. Bemidji Lumberjacks at St. Johns - 165 photos (Steve Kohls, Brainerd Dispatch) click here.