By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
In a must-win game between Albertville and Big Lake, a combination of both physical and mental Villain errors resulted in a 15-5 Big Lake victory – eliminating Albertville from the Section 2-B playoffs.
With both teams already with one loss in a double-elimination format, it was red-hot Jake Saari making an early statement. The Villains all-star outfielder smacked a first-inning RBI double that scored shortstop Jesse Berg from first base. Saari would later come around to score giving the Villains an early 2-0 advantage.
“Last year I was kind of injury prone,” said Saari, who flirted most the season with a .500 batting average. “It’s nice this year to be able to get that many at-bats and to get in a rhythm.”
While Saari and Berg were the leaders this season offensively, last year’s North Star League MVP Jeff Jarvis was one of a few key bodies missing from a pivotal elimination game.
Villains skipper Paul Schumacher – who missed action all season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament – said the difference in the Big Lake game was the lack of a full lineup. The Villains made six defensive errors that led to eight unearned runs.
“We were missing some key guys and had some guys out of position,” Schumacher said. “It was nice to jump up 2-0 right away, but we threw the ball around a little bit and stuff snowballed from there.”
Albertville starting pitcher Mitch Roberts left after walking two straight batters in the bottom of the fourth inning. Brad Koltes came in relief and Big Lake stretched its lead to 6-2 thanks to a successful double steal of second and home.
Albertville mounted a threat in the sixth inning when two men reached base and Saari hit a blooper to center. Big Lake center fielder Nicholas Sundberg would end the rally making his second highlight-reel diving catch of the game.
“We were right in it until the end,” Saari said. “When we have everybody, we can play with anyone. We lacked a bit of consistent pitching this year and we were missing a few of our pitchers in this game. We had a few more walks than they did and that hurt us.”
With the score 8-2 after six innings, Albertville was able to mount one final rally off Big Lake starter Micah Loegering. After loading the bases with nobody out, the Villains closed the game to 8-5, but a base running mistake cost Albertville big time.
With a run already in on a base hit, Berg stopped at third. After the Big Lake right fielder bobbled the field attempt, Berg tried scoring and the throw beat him by 20-feet and cost the Villains a chance for a bigger inning.
It was the fourth time in the game the Villains were thrown out attempting to run the bases.
“Jake was heading to third and Berg pulled up and was forced to go home,” Schumacher said. “That’s kind of bad luck. It takes an out away and probably two runs right there. It may have forced them to bring in a different pitcher and who knows.”
The White Caps put the game on ice after Brian Dietz walked the bases loaded and Steven VanVleet came in from center field to eventually allow four eighth-inning runs, ending the game on the 10-run rule.
The Villains finished the season 11-19 overall and look to return most of its lineup from this season into next.
Schumacher said he hopes to see one major change when it comes to next season’s schedule.
“Playing Class B, we’re kind of biting off more than we can chew. We think we’re a Class C team, especially splitting a school district and players,” he said. “Hopefully everyone comes back and we can get some guys off the high school team and we’ll come back next year and battle again whether it’s Class B or C.”