FAIRMONT - It was going to take a special effort for Sleepy Eye starting pitcher Adam Sellner to out-duel New Ulm Gold counterpart Colin Wendinger in their District 2 American Legion Baseball Tournament second-round game on Thursday.
Sellner rose to the occasion by putting together perhaps his finest performance of the year, throwing a five-hit shutout to lead Sleepy Eye to a 1-0 upset victory over Gold, which entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed.
"It was probably the best game I've thrown all year," Sellner said. "I tend to get deep in counts a lot, I just tried to make sure I stayed up, stayed ahead - that makes them have defensive swings."
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye catcher Josh Kopacek holds on to the ball as New Ulm Legion Gold’s Jason Shaul runs into him during Sleepy Eye’s 2nd District playoff win Thursday in Fairmont.
Wendinger allowed only two hits in a complete-game effort opposite Sellner, but Sleepy Eye was able to string together both of its hits in the fourth inning to eke out a 1-0 lead that lasted throughout the rest of the game.
"Colin's a really good pitcher - he's probably the best pitcher we've seen all year," Sleepy Eye head coach Alan Woitas said. "We were just fortunate to get two hits in the same inning and were able to squeeze a run out of there, because if we didn't get that run that inning we may be playing 14, 15 innings the way that ball game was going. There wasn't a whole lot of opportunities for either team to score runs."
Neither team was able to produce an inning in which they sent more than five batters to the plate, meaning that both teams had to make the most of their opportunities with runners on base.
Sleepy Eye only had one runner make it as far as third base, with Sean Mathiowetz advancing to third on a passed ball after a lead-off double in the fourth. Nolan Helget brought him home with a clutch one-out single.
Aside from the fourth inning, Sleepy Eye didn't have a single runner advance past first base.
"In ball games where there's two good pitchers pitching, your offense is not going to have a whole lot of opportunities," New Ulm Gold head coach Bob Weier said. "They had one opportunity, they got a clutch hit out of their hitter, we had a couple of opportunities and we weren't able to execute. That's the difference right there."
Gold twice advanced a runner to third base, but failed to score a run on both occasions.
Jason Shaul led off the bottom of the second for Gold with a double to deep right field and advanced to third on a Dan Blackstad sacrifice bunt, but Sellner retired the next two batters in order to end the threat.
Shaul hit another lead-off double in the bottom of the seventh, and again Blackstad sacrificed him over. However, Shaul was caught in a rundown between third and home when Drew Pfaff failed to get the ball down on a squeeze bunt on the first pitch of the next at bat. Shaul was tagged out despite a desperate attempt to avoid Sleepy Eye catcher Josh Kopacek.
"I kind of know Weier, that's something he typically would do, so it didn't come as a shock to us," Sellner said of the squeeze bunt attempt. "I knew I couldn't throw a fastball, so I made sure to throw a curve ball, something that would dance and they couldn't touch it and we could get them out at home."
Zach Hoffmann hit a two-out double in the bottom of the ninth inning to give New Ulm one last breath of hope, but Sellner struck out Blackstad to end the game.
Sellner struck out 11 batters in the winning effort and allowed only one walk. His performance came on the heels of a complete-game victory by teammate Jordan Anderson earlier in the day against Worthington.
"Really it just came down to pitching and defense," Woitas said. "Jordan threw really well against Worthington earlier today, and Adam Sellner maybe threw one of the better games I've seen him throw this year, and maybe ever. He really attacked hitters, didn't fall behind and was constantly up in the count against a very good New Ulm Gold ball club."
Few Sleepy Eye hitters were able to keep up with Wendinger's heat, with Wendinger notching 12 strikeouts in the game. He also allowed six walks, but didn't let any of the players he walked to reach second base. The New Ulm defense helped Wendinger by turning two inning-ending double plays behind him.
Rounding out Gold's five-hit attack were Tim Kehren and Jory Dove. Kehren had a two-out single in the fifth and Dove singled in the eighth, but was caught stealing at second base to end the inning.
New Ulm Gold will face New Ulm Blue today at 1 p.m. today in the loser's bracket. The winner of the game will face either Worthington or Mankato at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
"We're going to evaluate things here as to what we're going to do personnel-wise," Weier said. "We need to kind of save our gas for Saturday and Sunday, because at this point you need to win out, here, so we need to set things up that we feel gives us the best chance of winning."
Sleepy Eye will face No. 2 seed Fairmont at 7 p.m. today, with the winner earning a spot in the championship game. Sean Mathiowetz will make the start for Sleepy Eye.
"We played Fairmont twice this year, we split with them," Woitas said. "It just kind of comes down to this time of the year, if you get a guy who's going to pitch well and play good defense behind him, you're going to be alright, you're going to stay in the game. Sean will be ready to pitch tonight, so we feel pretty confident about putting him on the mound, also."