Baseball: Pine Island falls in pitchers' duel

ST. CLOUD — Matt Lien didn't know what was harder to believe Thursday at Dick Putz Field; that he held a top-seeded high-scoring opponent to two hits and one run, or that Pine Island was headed to the consolation bracket of the Class AA state...

Pine Island Baseball 002.JPG
Pine Island pitcher Matthew Lien watches as catcher Derek Rucker makes the throw to first base to get out Belle Plaine's Ryan Bremseth-Vining during the fifth inning Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt

ST. CLOUD — Matt Lien didn't know what was harder to believe Thursday at Dick Putz Field; that he held a top-seeded high-scoring opponent to two hits and one run, or that Pine Island was headed to the consolation bracket of the Class AA state baseball tournament.

If someone had told him beforehand that it would go down like this, "I wouldn't have believed 'em right away.

"And then I would have known that we are normally a good-hitting team, but today they tamed our bats and we couldn't pull through to get one."

Lien was on the losing end of a swiftly-played pitchers' duel, as No. 1 seed Belle Plaine held off unseeded Pine Island 1-0 in a state quarterfinal game.

While the lanky P.I. senior right-hander shut down a Belle Plaine team with a .360 team batting average that scores more than 8 runs per game, the Tigers countered with another shutout from their ace, junior right-hander Brody Curtiss.


Curtiss tossed a three-hitter with seven strikeouts and two walks, improving to 10-0 and lowering his sub-1.00 ERA.

It was Belle Plaine's sixth shutout in its last seven wins and the Tigers (24-1) take a 16-game winning streak into the semifinals against No. 4 seed Maple Lake (23-6), a 1-0 winner over Proctor.

Pine Island (18-8) will meet Proctor (18-6) in a consolation semifinal game at 10 a.m. at Joe Faber Field, which is next to Dick Putz Field.

"I mean we were the underdogs, so to play that kind of game, a 1-zero finish against them, is pretty amazing," said Lien, who took his first loss this season and is 4-1. "We just wish we could have gotten them. But we played such great ball."

Lien settles in after 1st

Belle Plaine got both of its hits and its only run in the first inning. Lead-off batter Jon Vinkemeier reached on a single up the middle that caromed off second base. He scored from second with two outs on a well-hit double to the left-center field gap by cleanup hitter Nathan Herman.

Lien was in control after that, allowing just five more base runners on four walks and an infield error. He benefited from a 6-3 double play in the fourth, and stranded two on base in the sixth.

Pine Island coach Craig Anderson said that Lien "threw great" had no reason to doubt himself, even against a vaunted batting lineup.


"Sometimes I think people try to do more than what they're capable of; hey it's the state tournament," he said. "But (Lien) deserves that right, too. Don't worry about all those high batting averages. You're a quality pitcher and go right after people. Hey, it was a fantastic effort."

Belle Plaine coach Pat Schultz said he expected a close game because scouting reports told him that Lien, who plans to walk on next season at South Dakota State University, is "the real deal."

"(Lien) was throwing his fastball, he seemed to be changing speeds within his fastball, and he was throwing his curveball and a change-up for strikes," Schultz said. "He really was mixing it up well and keeping our guys off balance. We didn't get a lot of good swings on the ball today, but we got enough early."

Double play ends P.I. threat

Curtiss retired 10 of the first 11 Pine Island batters he faced, and then pitched out of trouble in the fourth and sixth innings.

Pine Island put two on with one out in the fourth on back-to-back singles by Aaron Gillard and Brady Braaten. But Curtis got the next batter on a fly-out, and then first baseman Mitch Stier made a nice stop and unassisted put-out on a sharply-hit ball by Bryce Hinrichsen.

"I think it was maybe too early for us, because we were kind of sleeping on some balls; you could tell our bats weren't alive right away," said Gillard, a left-handed hitter who was 2-for-2 with a walk.

"(Curtiss) was just throwing the low curve, and we don't hit the curve well, and it showed," Gillard said. "He just pitched well. We just didn't hit it. It is what it is."


Curtiss was involved in the defensive play of the game in the sixth. He started a 1-6 double play on a come-backer off the bat of Lien, relaying to second base where pinch runner Jacob Navratil was unable to get back in time, despite a diving attempt. Gillard followed with a single to left that possibly would have scored that tying run, but that's where the threat ended.

Curtiss retired the Panthers in order in the seventh for the fourth time in the game.

"We had some opportunities, but just didn't quite get the clutch hit when we needed it," Anderson said. "Obviously running into that double play in the sixth was big. But hey, you see that at every level of baseball. It's just a hard thing to do. He tried to plant, cut, couldn't quite do it."

"That (double play) was big," Schultz said. "But in a 1-nothing game there are a lot of plays that we made that kept runs from happening, and kept big innings from happening. All around we've made some very good plays defensively, and that's been a strength of ours down the stretch here. It has helped us in these tight games."


Belle Plaine 1, Pine Island 0

Pine Island #000#000#0#—#0#3#1

Belle Plaine #100#000#0#—#1#2#1


Pine Island:Drew Lohmeyer 0-for-2; Matt Lien 0-for-3; Aaron Gillard 2-for-2; Brady Braaten 1-for-3; Bryce Hinrichsen 0-for-3; Derek Rucker 0-for-3; Matt Huus 0-for-2; Derek Fall 0-for-2; Jacob Navratil 0-for-0. Pitchers: Matt Lien (L,4-1) 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 4 K.

No. 1 seed Belle Plaine:Jon Vinkemeier 1-for-3, 1 R; Luke Narveson 0-for-3; Aiden Ladd 0-for-3; Nathan Herman 1-for-1, 1 RBI; Brody Curtiss 0-for-3; Wes Sarsland 0-for-2; Mitchel Stier 0-for-2; Jonathan Schmidt 0-for-1; Ryan Bremseth-Vining 0-for-2. Pitchers: Brody Curtiss (W,10-0) 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K.

Pine Island Baseball 003.JPG
Pine Island shortstop Jacob Navratil can't quite reach a grounder in the first inning of a Class AA state quarterfinal baseball game against Belle Plaine on Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud. Jon Vinkemeier reached on a single on this play and came around to score on a double for the only run as top seed Belle Plaine held on for a 1-0 win. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt

What To Read Next
Get Local