VFW: Stingers earn state tournament berth
PERHAM — Fergus Falls and the Perham Stingers completed a three-game set in two days for a berth in the VFW state tournament, culminating in a Sunday twinbill for the District 9 championship.
Facing elimination after Perham’s 10-7 semifinal victory, Fergus Falls won the opening game 7-4 Sunday, but Perham clinched a state berth with a 7-1 victory in the deciding game.
“We played the season without a seed or overall record in mind,” Head Coach James Mulcahy said. “I told the boys from day one, ‘don't worry about the scores and overall record, just keep playing the game the right way. Hustle everywhere, respect the game, learn the small ball game, be a team player and at the end of the season, we will be in a position to get to state.’ They bought into the system and it is working.”
Zach Thunselle rebounded from a tough finish to Saturday’s loss to Perham. Thunselle evened the series with a complete game pitching victory to force the winner-take-all second game.
Thunselle appeared on the mound in Saturday’s semifinal and left with an infinity ERA and three walks.
After giving up four runs in two innings to Perham Sunday, he settled down and allowed one Perham batter to reach scoring position the remainder of the first game.
Both teams scored twice in the first inning. Dylan Kruzel doubled home Mathew Benke and Kruzel scored on a double by Joe Solberg for an early 2-0 lead. Benke doubled to get the rally started.
Fergus answered scoring their runs on a long fly that got behind Perham left fielder Alex Tostenson near the fence. Noah Strom and Jared Christenson scored to tie the game.
Nathan Currier hit Perham’s fourth double to plate Alec Meyer and Currier scored on a Benke RBI single to put Perham up 4-2 in the second inning.
The Stingers held the lead until the bottom of the third when three errors aided four Fergus Falls runs and a 6-4 advantage. A frustrated Patrick Murphy left the mound after 2.1 innings. He allowed six runs, none earned by way of four Perham errors. He walked three in taking the loss.
Murphy saved Saturday’s game, pitching the seventh to send Fergus Falls to the loser’s bracket.
The game remained quiet until Fergus Falls tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth for the 7-4 final.
All seven Fergus runs were unearned. Perham committed five errors in the loss. The Stingers were able to overcome seven errors in Saturday’s victory over Fergus Falls.
Play tightened offensively and defensively for both teams in the deciding game.
Kruzel and Solberg combined for Perham’s first run. Kruzel walked to open the second inning, stole second base and scored on a Solberg single.
Kruzel is good nearly half the time at the plate batting .429 this summer. He leads the team with 39 hits, almost half of which are for extra bases. He has team highs in doubles (14) and triples (3). He also leads the team in RBI (19), runs scored (27), stolen bases (6), on-base percentage (.485) and slugging percentage (.659).
Perham was able to get ahead first on the scoreboard in all five tournament games.
Thunselle scored in the third inning on a Tosten Mann single and the game remained tied at one until the fifth inning.
Chase Curtis led of the inning with a single and Mason Malikowski singled with two away to set up Kruzel, who doubled to score both players. Curtis was the eventual game-winner and Malikowski put his run on the board to back up an excellent defensive day at second base.
Despite winning four of five games, the Stingers will have to shore up basic fundamentals on defense to make any noise at state. Malikowski was very consistent at second base and made multiple big outs to kill Fergus rallies.
Perham put the game away in the top of seven with four runs on singles by Tostenson, Kruzel and an intentional walk to Solberg to load the bases. Dylan Perrine had the big hit of the inning, a two-RBI double to score Solberg and Benke.
Alec Meyer took the hill in the final frame with a 7-1 lead and the game ended on a fitting 4-3 putout by Malikowski.
Meyer was a catalyst for wins, as well, pitching a complete game in the second round of the tournament to take out the No. 1 seed East Grand Forks.
For a team that began the season 0-4 and battled to stay at .500 all season, the Stingers head to the state tournament winners of six of their last seven and have a lineup that can overcome the shaky defensive inning.
“We obviously had way too many errors in the field this weekend but we have 10 days to get things tightened up there,” Mulcahy said.
Perham has scored 10 or more runs in four of their past seven games.
Solberg, Murphy, Kruzel and Meyer give Perham plenty of arms to depend on, as well, which will be of the most importance at state-level play. Having a full lineup has helped, also.
“This tournament was the first time all season that we had our top nine players in the lineup together,” Mulcahy said. “There was always something that prevented us from having a full roster; church retreats, other sports camps, family vacations, etc.”
Kruzel, Meyer, Perrine and Solberg were all nominated to the All-Tournament team.
The 59th annual Minnesota VFW Baseball State Tournament will take place at Veterans Memorial Field in Ely, Minn., Aug. 8-11 featuring nine other teams, including the hosts. A few early games will be played in nearby Soudan, Minn.
Admission is $7 per game. Ely is 112 miles north of Duluth, approximately a five-hour drive from Perham.
According to Mulcahy, the District tournament in Perham was another in a line of successful tournaments hosted here. It is common for Perham to be lauded on these kind of baseball weekends. Perham is a baseball town.
“I can't say how many times fans and parents of the other teams complimented us on our facilities, snack bar and overall hosting of the tournament,” said Mulcahy. “We have a great community that supports our kids, great parents that jump at the chance to help wherever needed, and of course, Bob Schepper keeps the field in tip top shape.”