Shortstop Alex Naasz sprinted toward the Maple Grove Senior High dugout at reckless abandon speed, bouncing off teammates like a pinball as he weaved toward catcher Tanner Ruprecht.
Ruprecht’s throw to third picked off Coon Rapids High School senior Luke Hite trying to advance on a passed ball, promptly ending the sixth inning in game two of the Section 5AAA championship Wednesday, June 8.
The inning-ending toss left the Crimson one frame away from a state berth, and Naasz knew its importance.
“That’s huge,” he said. “Two outs to make the last out at third, that kills any team’s momentum at all."
“I definitely felt like that was the nail in the coffin.”
Maple Grove swept Coon Rapids Wednesday at Midway Stadium in St. Paul, winning 9-2 in the first game and 6-4 in the second game to advance to its first state tournament since 2007. The Crimson’s Class AAA quarterfinal will be Thursday, June 16 at Midway Stadium.
Maple Grove Senior High needed two wins Wednesday because Coon Rapids beat the Crimson 4-1 on Saturday in the double-elimination tournament. It was Maple Grove's first loss of the year.
Ruprecht said the team could have done without the defeat, but it reminded them that their fairytale season could end at any moment.
“It hit us hard,” Ruprecht said. “Nobody talked on the bus ride home. Everybody was upset, and we weren’t going to let it happen again.”
The Crimson (24-1) proved it early.
Maple Grove jumped out to an early 5-0 lead in the first inning of game one and never looked back. The run support was more than enough for starting pitcher Mitchell Bauer, who allowed two runs and 10 hits over seven innings while striking out five.
“[The early lead is] big for your pitcher, but I think it’s big for everyone on the team,” coach Darby Carlson said. “It’s just a confidence boost.”
That confidence spilled into game two. Trailing 2-1 in the second, Taylor McWilliams's RBI single scored Naasz to tie the game. Ruprecht then belted an inside-the-park home run to right field, giving the Crimson a 4-2 lead.
After Coon Rapids (18-7) knotted the game at 4-4, Maple Grove took control for good in the fifth. Brady Jacobs hit an RBI double, and Karl Sorensen scored on an infield putout to give the Crimson a 6-4 lead.
Pitcher Tyler Field did the rest, allowing eight hits and four runs to pick up the complete-game win.
“These kids are very deserving,” Carlson said. “They had an awesome year. They battled and scrapped, and I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Naasz, a senior captain, said the focus now shifts to the state tournament. He said it’s a new season and continuing to play error-free baseball while collecting timely hits will be necessary for success.
But those are thoughts for another day. On Wednesday, the Crimson took time to reflect on their magical ride to state—enjoying each and every moment with one another.
“No words explain,” Ruprecht said. “I love this team. There is no other team I’d rather be playing for.”
Maple Grove 5 0 0 1 1 0 2 — 9 9 2
Coon Rapids 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 — 2 10 1
Maple Grove 1 3 0 0 2 0 0 — 6 8 0
Coon Rapids 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 — 4 8 1