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Mounds View returns to state championship game
The formula for the Mounds View High School baseball team this spring has been strong pitching plus solid defense plus timely hitting equals success. The Mustangs followed that plan to a T in the first two rounds of the state tournament late last week and by doing so earned a trip to finals.
Mounds View beat Elk River 4-0 and Lakeville North 2-1 to set up a championship game showdown with Eden Prairie.
The Mustangs got complete-game pitching performances in both games. Sam Hentges blanked Elk River 4-0 with a dominating effort on the mound. At one point early in the game, he had struck out six batters in a row and finished with 11 Ks. He no-hit the Elks through four innings and surrendered just two hits total.
“This might have been his best performance of the year and it came at the right time,” said Mounds View head coach Mark Downey. “He came up big when the lights were bright.”
It was in sharp contrast to his previous start, which came against Maple Grove in the section semifinals. Hentges struggled with his control in that game but against Elk River was as sharp as can be.
“I threw more in between starts and I had more rest in between starts,” Hentges said. “My control was definitely a little better today. It just felt a lot better being out there today.”
Not to be outdone, Kellen Rholl went out the next day and held the No. 1 team in the state, Lakeville North, to one run on three hits. He walked just one and kept the Panthers off balance with his sidearm delivery.
“Kellen was outstanding,” Downey said. “That’s two times in a row, 14 innings with one run against two really good baseball teams that can hit the ball.”
Rholl’s previous start came in the section final and he shut out Champlin Park 3-0. The game against Lakeville North was much closer.
Mounds View got its first run in the bottom of the third as Ethan Madsen led off with a walk, moved to second on Ryan Plasencia’s sacrifice bunt and scored on an infield base hit and error. Tucker Gran hit a roller wide of first that Lakeville’s Dalton Lehnen fielded but threw high to pitcher Nick Dorfman covering first.
Rholl kept the Panthers off the board until the sixth when he gave up a leadoff double, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly.
The game was still tied when Rholl came off the mound after the top of the seventh. Downey was planning on sending Rholl back out if the game went to the eighth inning but Rholl was confident he wouldn’t have to take the mound again.
“We had the guys coming up who could do it,” Rholl said. “Anybody in our lineup can do it. Timely hitting is what we’ve done all year and we did again today.”
That timely hitting came from the bottom half of the batting order as No. 6 hitter Wyatt Meyer led off with a single. Chance Carnahan then bunted pinch runner Joe Janey to second and Madsen walked. No. 9 hitter Plasencia laced a single to right field and when the ball scooted away from Lakeville right fielder Drew Stewart, the Mustangs had the victory.
“Couldn’t be happier for him,” Downey said of Plasencia. “A very deserving kid.”
Plasencia’s role in last year’s state tournament was mainly as a pinch runner but this year he stepped in as the starting second baseman. Downey called him a great leader by example and workman-like. His hard work and perseverance paid off.
“It felt amazing,” Plasencia said. “When you’re up there, you’re just thinking put it [in] play somewhere, hit it hard somewhere. Once it’s down, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Playing a limited role on last year’s championship team was one thing but for Plasencia, being in the thick of it this year is a totally different feeling.
“It was a lot of fun last year, but to be able to really feel like you’re a part of it this year, it’s a great feeling,” Plasencia said.
Mustangs’ title shot delayed
For the first time since Target Field became the site of the high school baseball state championship games, the 2014 tournament was scheduled to be contested on three consecutive days. The weather forecast didn’t cooperate, however, and the Minnesota State High School League made the decision to delay the three finals until Monday.
Instead of taking the field Saturday night, Mounds View and Eden Prairie were forced to wait until Monday. This edition of the Bulletin went to press before Monday’s first pitch.
Brian Meyers can be reached at email@example.com.