FAIRMONT - New Ulm Gold ended up taking the long way through the Division 1, 2nd District American Legion Baseball Tournament, but on Sunday the team still ended up exactly where it had hoped to all along - as tournament champions.
After entering the loser's bracket following a 1-0 loss to Sleepy Eye on Thursday, New Ulm won its next three games to set up a rematch with Sleepy Eye in the final. Needing to win two games in a row against Sleepy Eye on Sunday to take the title, Gold belted four home runs in a 6-3 victory in Game 1 and continued its hot hitting in an 11-0, seven-inning victory in the decisive Game 2.
"It was really, truly a team effort this weekend," New Ulm Gold head coach Bob Weier said. "We used everybody, we used some kids in some certain situations and they came up big for us."
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
New Ulm Gold first baseman Zach Hoffmann (11) grabs the throw from teammate Kevin Larson to force out Sleepy Eye’s Kyle Krzmarzick (left) to complete a double play in the seventh inning of Game 1 of Sunday’s Division 1, 2nd District American Legion Baseball Tournament championship in Fairmont. The runner at second base is Sleepy Eye’s Nolan Helget.
Sleepy Eye scored first in Game 1, with Nolan Helget notching an RBI double in the bottom of the first inning to make the score 1-0.
New Ulm took the lead in the top of the second on a two-run home run by Erich Prokosch (2-for-3, two home runs, three RBI, two runs).
Zach Hoffmann (3-for-5) delivered a solo home run in the top of the fifth and Prokosch added a solo shot in the sixth to make the score 4-1 in Gold's favor.
"We were all just swinging well," Prokosch said. "We didn't really play too much small ball that game, but we sure got the runs across when it mattered."
Sleepy Eye threatened by loading the bases with no outs in the bottom of the sixth, but was only able to push across one run in the inning.
After Jason Shaul hit a solo home run for New Ulm in the top of the seventh, Sleepy Eye threatened again in the bottom of the inning, but Gold reliever Drew Pfaff (3 1/3 innings, four hits, no earned runs, one walk, three strikeouts) induced a double play to end the inning with only one run having crossed the plate.
Kevin Larson (2-for-4, two stolen bases) hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth to give the game its final score.
Prokosch (5 2/3 innings, five hits, two runs, four walks, two strikeouts) earned the win in Game 1, with Mike Zinniel (5 2/3 innings, nine hits, four runs, one walk, one strikeout) taking the loss despite a strong effort.
"They got a few balls out of the ball park, but other than that he did a really nice job for us," Sleepy Eye head coach Alan Woitas said of Zinniel. "Give the kid a ton of credit for stepping up against a quality team and throwing well today."
Jordan Anderson (three hits, two runs, three walks, three strikeouts) pitched the final 3 1/3 innings in relief of Zinniel.
Sleepy Eye's offense in Game 1 was led by Adam Sellner (2-for-5, stolen base) and Helget (2-for-4, double, run, RBI).
Although Sleepy Eye was given a second chance to earn the title in Game 2, New Ulm took the first lead of the game with two runs in the bottom of the first inning and didn't look back from that point on, adding a run in the second, three runs in the third and five runs in the fourth.
While New Ulm's offense continued to score runs, Gold starter Colin Wendinger shut down Sleepy Eye's bats with five dominant innings. He allowed only one hit, didn't give up a single walk and struck out five.
Wendinger's performance came despite pitching nine full innings on Thursday.
"Coming into today I knew I wasn't going to have all my greatest pitches, I just had to use my defense, and it worked out, I kept my pitch count low," Wendinger said.
Matt Bergmann pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Wendinger to complete the shutout for New Ulm. Sellner (two plus innings, six runs, three earned runs, three hits, six walks, two strikeouts) took the loss for Sleepy Eye.
Sean Mathiowetz (1 1/3 innings, four hits, five runs) and Mitch Neid (2 2/3 innings, no runs, one hit, one walk, three strikeouts) completed the game on the mound for Sleepy Eye.
New Ulm's offense in Game 2 was paced by Dan Blackstad (2-for-3, three RBI, two runs), Jordan Guggisberg (2-for-2, three RBI), Shaul (1-for-1, double, three runs) and Larson (2-for-4, double, run, RBI).
Sellner and Scott Salfer accounted for Sleepy Eye's two hits.
Although Sleepy Eye fell short of taking home the championship, Woitas was proud of his players for exceeding expectations by earning wins against Gold and Fairmont on the way to the final.
"The kids played hard," Woitas said. "We weren't supposed to be in this game, and we played good all weekend. Just give the kids a lot of credit, I'm proud of their efforts this weekend."
New Ulm Gold will now move on to the state tournament for the second year in a row.
"It feels great," Wendinger said. "We made it to state last year and kind of had a disappointing first game at state, so hopefully we'll get off a little better start this year and see what we can do."