For the third straight game fifth-seeded Anoka (15-8) was part of a one-run contest, including a 3-2 loss to Duluth East before a walk-off double by Jason Brumbaugh on Saturday for a 2-1 win over rival Andover set the table for Monday’s Section 7AAA elimination game.
Down 8-2 to start the top of the seventh inning at Castle Field, Anoka scored five runs before No. 2 Chisago Lakes preserved the season for at least one more game.
“Baseball is a funny game,” Anoka coach Shannon Blansette said describing a similar comeback at Champlin Park during the regular season that net a win for the Tornadoes. “We cleared the bench but sometimes it’s just a different look at the plate.”
Going into the seventh inning, the team gathered in front of the dugout where Blansette reminded the team about the Champlin Park game. “We told the seniors, this most likely will be the last hurrah and ‘you can either go out on top or go out with a whimper.’ Regardless of the outcome these guys busted their tails to the end.”
Pinch hitting for Chase Thomas, senior Cullen Olson drew a lead-off walk in a theme of senior at-bats. Aspen Vetter laced his second opposite field double of the game to left field and Ben Fredenberg reached first base on a catchers interference to load the bases for power hitter Jason Brumbaugh.
Going for a grand slam in one swing, Brumbaugh, a senior, connected with a pitch that had plenty of distance to clear the fence, but the ball sailed foul down the left field line, splashing in a holding pond beyond the parking lot.
Instead he bounced a grounder to the Wildcats third baseman whose throw home skipped past the catcher allowing two Anoka runs to score to make it 8-4.
Joe Redmann dropped a bloop single in short right field to allow another run to score to cut the lead to 8-5 with no outs.
Christian Tanner drew a walk to load the bases and chased Wildcats starting pitcher Christian Mueller from the game.
Anoka junior Alex Glick knocked a grounder to the shortstop who got the force out at second base but misfired on the throw to first base to complete the double play.
The result was two more runs for Anoka to pull within one run, down 8-7.
The inning ended with nine Anoka batters coming to the plate scoring five runs but couldn’t complete the comeback.
“We finally had some good at-bats but came up just a little short,” Brumbaugh said. “It just kept adding on, once we started everyone was up on the bench with some enthusiasm.”
Chisago Lakes scored five times in the fourth inning on four walks and two hits.
Despite graduating 10 seniors from the squad, Anoka will return plenty of key contributors for next spring including first baseman Alex Glick, Monday’s starting pitcher Alex Farley and freshman starting third-baseman Trent Palmer.
“It bodes well for the future for us,” Blansette said. “We’ve got a fantastic sophomore group and we took three of them (to varsity) right away, similar to what we did at Park Center. It’s not that we don’t have upper-level talent, which we do, but those younger kids are super-talented and we said, ‘let’s go right now and see what they can do.’”
The Tornadoes certainly turned the program around to win a share of the Northwest Suburban Conference for only the third time in 46 seasons (1968 and 2000).
“It was a special year and I don’t think anyone, including myself, expected us to win 15 games,” Blansette said. “We’re one pitch away from advancing to the quarterfinal of a tough section.”
Brumbaugh, whose walk-off double moved the Tornadoes past Andover Saturday, credited the new varsity coach for helping turn the program around this season. “We wouldn’t have done half as good with another coach. He had faith in us,” he said.
“I realized something was different after two games this season,” Glick, a junior and one of the top pitchers in the program said. “A few years ago if we got one win it was a rally and this year we started 8-1. It was unexpected, but it was awesome.”
Glick realized something was different after a 2-1 win against perennial power Maple Grove.
The junior pitcher put together a 7-1 record on the mound with a 1.19 ERA and an 0.87 WHIP. He struck out 50 batters and walked 14 in 53 innings.
In two section games he went 2-0 with a 1.75 ERA with one walk and nine strike outs over 12 innings.
Jason Olson is at