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Baseball | Underdogs the rule in 1AA final four

This is a story about the Cinderella baseball team that no one expected to see in the Section 1AA final four tournament. But which one?

craig Anderson .jpg
Craig Anderson, Pine Island baseball coach, 2013

This is a story about the Cinderella baseball team that no one expected to see in the Section 1AA final four tournament. But which one?

Three of the four teams playing in Rochester on Saturday for a trip to the Class AA state tournament were seeded in the lower half of their subsection.

No. 6 seed Lake City (12-10) emerged as the champion of the East subsection, and No. 5 seed Chatfield (12-9) was the runner-up in 1AA East. But the biggest surprise might be Dover-Eyota (8-15), the No. 6 seed from the West which entered the playoffs with just five wins.

Pine Island (16-7) is the only No. 1 seed to last this far, making one final playoff push under retiring hall of fame coach Craig Anderson.

• D-E has averaged just 2.3 runs per game with only one batter averaging over .300, but the the Eagles advanced in the playoffs with great pitching.

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Luke Franke tossed a 3-hit shut-out over eight innings on Wednesday as the Eagles won 1-0 over top-seeded Cannon Falls in the West second place game.

Franke (3-3, 2.68 ERA) and Brady Sveen (3-3, 1.09 ERA) have pitched well all season but gotten little run support.

D-E coach Brad Wick said that the players whose efforts have most contributed to the Eagles' playoff success will not be found in any of the box scores coming out of Canon Falls.

"Nate Johnson, a senior did not step foot on the playing field in Cannon Falls, but his work and sacrifice throughout the season resulted in great performances by Sveen and Franke," Wick explained.

"During the course of the year Nate led the team in starts and in innings pitched. By doing so both Brady Sveen and Luke Franke had fresh arms as we entered the playoffs."

Wick also said that his team is playing improved defense.

• Lake City has shown an ability to win close games in the playoffs, including a 3-2 win over No. 3 seed Caledonia to open the playoffs, and a 4-3 win over Chatfield in the East subsection final on Monday.

After a 1-7 start this season, the Tigers have won 11 of their last 14.

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"Pitching and defense has been playing well," said L.C. coach Perry Iberg. "We average less than two errors and two walks per game on the season. Offensively we do a pretty good job of limiting strikeouts and putting the ball in play."

Iberg noted that L.C. played error-free ball in two of its three subsection wins.

Thomas Lewis (5-3, 4.98 ERA) is the leader of the pitching staff and pitched two complete games in the sub section tournament allowing five runs in the two wins over Caledonia and Chatfield. He has struck out 43 in 56 innings, both team highs.

Alex Scharpen (.473 with 11 Doubles, 21 RBI) and Josh Matanich (.371, 16 RBI) lead an L.C. offense that averages 5.3 runs per game.

• Chatfield has won eight of its last 10, and the losses were close including the 1-run loss to Lake City in the subsection final.

"After a slow start to the season, our hitting has improved quite a bit," said Chatfield coach Brian Baum. "Riley Ahern has really stepped up during the postseason. After hitting .171 during the regular season, he is hitting .426 including a walk-off home run that propelled us to sections."

The Gophers average a robust 6.4 runs per game, led by Ben Ihrke (.345, 13 runs), Aaron Paulson (.393, 18 runs, 14 RBI), Tristan Aguiar (.352, 12 RBI) and Carter Duxbury (.300, 14 RBI), and Baum said Braden Brehmer (.237, 11 runs) has hit well in the postseason.

Brehmer (3-2, 1.44 ERA) is Chatfield's No. 1 pitcher, with two wins and a save in the playoffs. Aguiar (2-2, 3.08) has also really pitched well as of late according to the coach.

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Baum has been especially pleased with his team's defense, especially in the outfield which has been "spectacular all season."

"Our infield has played better the second half of the season but continue to not be as consistent as we need to be," he said. "If we can catch the ball and our pitchers throw strikes we have a chance."

• Pine Island has won seven of its last eight, including three close playoff wins to claim the 1AA West title. The Panthers won 2-0 over Triton in the first round, 4-3 in nine innings over Zumbrota-Mazeppa, and 2-1 over Cannon Falls in the subsection final on Tuesday.

Brady Braaten (4-1, 1.98 ERA) has starred on the mound, with a 2-hitter against Triton and a 2-hitter against Cannon Falls. In the middle, Aaron Gillard (2-2, 1.93 ERA) and Matt Lien (4-0, 1.41 ERA) combined for the win over Z-M.

Coach Craig Anderson noted that P.I. has used 10 pitchers this season with an overall ERA of 2.53.

The Panthers average 5.8 runs per game and has seven batters hitting over .300, led by Drew Lohmeyer (.395), Gillard (.359), Braden Aakre (.353) and Noah Koenig (.333).

"We have some solid pitching depth and have been playing good defense, which are the keys every year when you get to tournament time," said Anderson, who led P.I. to state three straight times from 1991-1993.

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