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Somerset baseball helps decide Middle Border Conference champion

Somerset pitcher Zac Waalen gets set to fire the ball to first after fielding a New Richmond bunt during last Friday’s Spartan win. 1 / 2
Somerset’s Tyler Lueck (above) was involved in all three of the Spartans’ runs in Friday’s win over New Richmond. 2 / 2

The Prescott baseball team owes the Somerset boys a huge “thank you!”

The Somerset baseball team rallied from a six-run deficit to upend Ellsworth 11-9 last Tuesday. This loss dropped Ellsworth into a tie with Prescott for the Middle Border Conference 2014 championship.

That win, followed by Friday’s 3-1 win over New Richmond, propelled the Spartans up to a third place finish in the MBC final standings with an 8-6 record.

The win over Ellsworth will rank as one of the most improbable wins for the Spartans in recent years, but it also could be a measure of an upturn in the Spartans’ play.

Ellsworth’s second batter of the game homered and by the end of the first inning last Tuesday, the Panthers were leading 4-0. That lead grew to 6-0 by the middle of the third inning.

The Spartans didn’t get a baserunner in the first two innings. Coach John Ball instructed his team to start with getting a few guys on base. They were able to do that in the third inning and it produced two runs. It started with a single by Tommy Grygienc, then Jon Sullivan was hit by a pitch. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners ahead and Grygienc scored on Zac Waalen’s sacrifice fly. Aaron Moore then singled home Sullivan.

Momentum began to swing in the fourth inning. Luke Peters started the inning with a single and Tyler Lueck doubled. Grygienc, Sullivan and Brody Penman followed with RBI singles and suddenly the Spartans trailed 6-5.

If momentum wasn’t already on the Spartans’ side, it swung fully in Somerset’s direction in the fifth inning. The Spartans scored five times in the inning to take the lead. The Spartans discovered that Ellsworth had trouble fielding bunts, so Ball called for three straight Somerset batters to put down bunts. All three reached base on hits or Ellsworth errors. The final blast in the crescendo was a two-run double by Waalen.

Ellsworth then showed why it’s a conference champion, scoring three times to erase most of the Spartan lead. Somerset added one insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on an error and Grygienc’s third hit of the game.

Ellsworth threatened in the seventh against Somerset reliever Andy Peters, getting the winning run to the plate before Peters struck out the final two batters of the game.

The Spartans bashed out 15 hits against Ellsworth. Somerset’s 11 runs are the most Ellsworth has allowed in a game this season.

It seemed like the Spartans had that many baserunners in Friday’s win against New Richmond, but it was mainly because the Spartans were leaving so many runners on base. The Spartans also ran themselves out of huge scoring possibility with one of the bigger baserunning gaffes in years, where one of the Spartans tried to steal a base that was already occupied by another teammate. That blunder was turned into an inning-ending double play.

Tyler Lueck had a hand in all three of Somerset’s runs. He walked with the bases loaded in the first inning to send home Waalen with the first run of the game. New Richmond tied the game in the top of the third, but the Spartans broke the tie minutes later. Lueck led off with a single, followed by singles from Cody Cunningham and Grygienc. Sullivan then put down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to score Lueck.

Lueck led off the fifth with a walk, the first of three walks the Spartans took in the inning that moved him to third base. He scored on a wild pitch.

That was all the support Waalen needed. The Spartan senior didn’t have his sharpest control, but he pitched his best when the Tigers had runners on base. Waalen finished with a complete game six-hitter, walking two batters with three strikeouts.

The Spartans played a non-conference game last Thursday, losing at St. Croix Falls 3-1. The best news out of the game was the pitching of sophomore Michael Piletich, who allowed five hits and one earned run in five innings of work.

Somerset has advanced to the WIAA Division 2 regional final. The Spartans defeated Amery 3-0 in the WIAA playoffs on Wednesday. The Spartans will host Osceola at 5 p.m. at Larry Forrest Park in Somerset in the regional championship game.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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