Baseball team holds off Totino-Grace for 2-1 victory in 11-inning final
BY NICK CLARK
They’ve been dominant from the very start, and the Champlin VFW baseball team would like to end it that way as well.
The club won its way into the Minnesota state VFW baseball tournament July 29, outlasting Totino-Grace for a 2-1, 11-inning victory at Schumacher Field in Forest Lake.
Tanner Christle scored the game-winning run, crossing the plate on a balk of all things. But after the pitching performances turned in by Kale McElroy and Brandon Rushmeyer, no one was going shy away from celebrating – even on if the run was a gift.
McElroy started the game, taking it into the fifth. Head coach Terry Christle then summoned Rushmeyer out of his stockpile of pitchers, and the moved work.
“It usually does,” Christle said. “From Kale to Rushmeyer, it is well-placed fastballs and the ability to locate a curveball and changeup to heat, heat, heat and a wicked slider that nobody can touch. They are a pretty tough combination.”
Contrary to most of the summer, Champlin really needed it in the District final. The team had averaged over eight runs a game for much of the regular season, but the offense found itself handcuffed by Totino-Grace’s pitching in the final.
That added some stress for both McElroy and Rushmeyer, but each handled it with ease.
“I just told myself I could do it,” said Rushmeyer. “It was nerve-wracking, because you can win or lose at any point, but I felt pretty calm out there.”
He lasted through the 11th inning, giving the offense a chance to manufacture the game-winner.
Tanner Christle reached on a single, and Rushmeyer eventually moved him to third. Rushmeyer then stole second, and the Totino-Grace pitcher proceeded to balk in Christle.
“That,” Rushmeyer said, “was pretty crazy.”
There are other adjectives to use in describing the rest of the team’s season.
That victory marked Champlin’s 27th of the summer, a number the team reached in just 30 games. They went 21-2 in District 7 play, cruising to an Air Force Division title and earning the top seed for the playoffs.
Champlin took care of the postseason with back-to-back, one-run victories over St. Anthony (3-2) and then Totino-Grace, sending the club to Mankato this week for the 57th annual VFW Junior Baseball Tournament.
Champlin was scheduled to open up the tournament against District 5 champion Alexandria at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 9.
The double-elimination tournament also includes Bemidji, Marshall, St. Cloud, Ely, North St. Paul, Rochester, Shakopee and the host team from Mankato.
Play continues through the weekend, when Champlin hopes it can finish off a year in which they’ve pretty much dominated from the outset.
Their play has lived up to the expectations Christle set upon at the start, as he essentially merged two youth teams from Champlin and Brooklyn Park to build what has a chance to be the areas first VFW state champion ever.
“It’s a bunch of kids from the Champlin, and a bunch from Brooklyn Park that have always had a good rivalry,” Christle said. “They’ve always wanted to play together too. Now they are, and look at what has happened.”
Much of the success, Christle added, has come behind a pitching staff that pitches to what has turned into, as he put, “a brilliant infield” defensively.
“They could all play high school baseball today,” Christle said of third basemen Trevor Kiminksi, shortstop Kipp Youngquist, second basemen Calvin Spencer and first basemen Jason Anderson. “Nothing gets through, and that has helped with everything we do.”
Which, as the record would indicate, is win.
“We want to win every game,” Rushmeyer said. “I think that has helped make us good, and that will be the same thing this week. You have to always want to win it all.”