by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Elk River Elks were ready to play, and not awed by the situation, their coach assessed, as they took the field Thursday in their school’s first state tournament game since 2003.
However, the Elks were facing the defending state champs, Mounds View, and the state’s premier player, pitcher/slugger Sam Hentges, who was as good as advertised, and went down 4-0 at Midway Stadium.
“The kids didn’t seem like they were caught up in the whole state tournament thing,” said Elk coach Ryan Holmgren, “and played it like just another baseball game. But their guy was throwing the ball pretty well.”
Hentges, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound left-hander with long, long limbs, limited the Elks to two singles and two walks, and struck out 11 batters. He had a no-hitter until the fifth when Riley Givens singled.
“There’s a reason why that guy is pretty highly touted,” said Holmgren. “The biggest thing our guys noticed was the movement on his fast ball. That’s what we are not used to. His velocity was not anything we haven’t seen before, but the movement he brought to the ball made it tough to hit.”
Erik Nyquist took the loss for the Elks (17-9), who are not done. They move into the consolation rounds Friday against Brainerd at the U of M’s Dick Siebert Field at 10 a.m. If they win, they play again for fifth place at 3 p.m.
Hentges, also a slugging first baseman who had the game’s biggest hit, a double off the wall, was named Gatorade Player of the Year in Minnesota, and Star-Tribune Metro Player of the Year, and by the way was recently drafted in the fourth round by the Cleveland Indians, who had a scout at the game.
After beating the Elks, he’s 7-0 with 77 strikeouts in 43 innings.
“He’s pretty good,” said Brandon Meyer, Elks No. 3 hitter who had a strikeout, walk, and ground out. “He throws pretty hard —low 90′s, upper 80′s. His curve was all right but his fast ball was the main thing.”
Meyer didn’t want to rate Hentges the top pitcher he’s seen in his five-year prep career, but put him right up there with the other two best he’s faced, Logan Shore of Coon Rapids, currently a Florida Gator, and Austin Molinowski of Centennial, currently in the Twins’ organization.
“You don’t see that kind of pitching every day,” Meyer said. “I think we started to figure him out later on and started hitting the ball better.”
Holmgren said the Elks, after suffering eight strikeouts in the first three innings, adjusted in the second and third at-bats by squaring up on some pitches and getting a few base runners
The Elks had a chance to get on the board in the seventh when Jordan Hollom lined a single over the shortstop and stole second. With two outs, Givens ripped a line drive that looked like an RBI single until Charlie Callahan, the Mustangs 6-foot-4 first baseball, leapt to snag the ball and end the game.
The Mustangs bunched five of their seven hits in the second and third innings to score two runs each inning. Hentged bashed a 340-foot double off the fence in right-center for one of the RBI’s. Ethan Madsen had an RBI single and Callahan and Chance Carnahan each delivered a sacrifice fly.
“They had good contact hitters,” said Nyquist. “You couldn’t make them swing and miss. They always put the ball in play.”
Nyquist (8-2) gave up four earned runs, seven hits and no walks, striking out just one, in five innings. Joe Gonrowski pitched a 1-2-3 sixth with one strikeout.
The Elks took in stride their loss in a game where it would have been a huge upset to win.
“It’s awesome to be here,” said Meyer. “The ball park, the crowd, college scouts, it’s great.”
Holmgren said it’s special to be just the fourth Elk team to play at state.
“We are honored to be here,” Holmgren said. “To look at the history of the program, and how few times Elk River has been here, and we got here, so we are enjoying this. And we’ve got a couple games to play.”
In the other first-round games, top-seeded Lakeville North drubbed Brainerd 10-0, Lakeville South upset No. 2 Mahtomedi 4-3 and No. 3 Eden Prairie edged Armstrong 5-4.
In the semifinals Friday, Lakeville North (22-4) faces Mounds View (19-6) at noon, and Eden Prairie (19-6) faces Lakeville South (8-18) at 2:30 p.m., at Midway Stadium. The championship will be played Saturday, 6 p.m., at Target Field, after the Class A and AA finals.
The Elks (17-9) meet Brainerd (21-4) in the consolation bracket at Siebert Field on Friday at 10 a.m., followed by Armstrong (14-10) vs. Mahtomedi (21-4) at 12:30, with the fifth-place game to follow at 3 p.m.
Mounds View 4, Elks 0
Elk River ……… 000 000 0 — 0 2 2
Mounds View … 022 000 x — 4 7 0
Batting — Elks: Jordan Hollom 1-for-3, sb; Riley Givens 1-for-3 … Mustangs: Tucker Gran 2-for-3; Sam Hentges 1-for-3, 2b, RBI; Alex Abercrombie 2-for-3; Ethan Madsen 1-for-2, RBI
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Elks: Erik Nyquist (L) 5-7-4-4-0-1, Joe Gonrowski 1-0-0-0-0-1 … Mustangs: Hentges (W) 7-2-0-0-2-11