AUSTIN — Kasey Krekling knew his Hayfield lineup hadn't really gone up against a pitcher like Lyle/Pacelli's Zach Bollingberg this season. So in the practices leading up to Monday's Section 1A Final Four showdown, the Vikings head coach ramped up the velocity and preached to his squad that it needed to be short to the baseball and drive it where it was pitched.
Bollingberg had rampaged lineups all year long using his powerful fastball and biting curveball.
But Krekling and the Hayfield coaching staff had one other trick up its sleeve. They knew that this Hayfield squad loves facing fireballers.
The Vikings executed Krekling's game plan to perfection from the very start in a 13-3 win at Riverland Community College that lifts Hayfield into Thursday's section championship game.
Monday, Easton Fritcher whacked Bollingberg's first pitch of the game into right field for a single. Joey Tempel followed with a single. Fritcher came around to score on an error, and Lucas Hansen and Isaiah Tempel loaded the bases with singles. Ethan Slaathaug's run-scoring groundout plated the second run of the inning and Bollingberg was one out away from escaping the inning with the bottom three guys coming up in the Hayfield order.
But it doesn't matter who hits first or last for Hayfield. Everybody has bashed the baseball this season.
Bollingberg learned that the hard way. Erik Bungum, the No. 7 hitter in Hayfield's order, laced a two-run double into the right-center field gap. Isaac Watson followed with a hard-hit RBI single up the middle on a two-strike pitch. Nine-hitter Nolan Klocke stayed short to the baseball and walloped a triple into the right-center field alley. Two batters later, Joey Tempel got his second hit in the first inning alone with a double roped to the outfield. He came around to score on a Karver Heydt single that exploded off the bat, too.
"We know there's a giant target on our back," Joey Tempel said. "We've definitely embraced it from the beginning. We played with so much emotion and were so hype."
When the smoke cleared, the Vikings had finished with nine hits and nine runs in the first inning alone. A Lyle/Pacelli team that had been itching to end Hayfield's perfect season was overwhelmed, and the Vikings cruised into the section final, where they'll again face L/P, which beat Southland 7-5 in a loser-out game later Monday night.
"They were locked in," Krekling said of his Hayfield team. "I think our guys were excited for a good test and they got it. They handled it really well. One through nine in the lineup have hit all year. I haven’t messed with the lineup. Our No. 7 (Bungum) and No. 8 (Watson) hitters are both hitting over .400. We have a team batting average of .396 right now. I don’t care who’s in the box. Everyone has confidence. Everyone has had big hits this year. Top to bottom, we’re tough to get out and that’s what makes us so dangerous."
Lyle/Pacelli vs. Hayfield was billed as a pitcher's duel between Fritcher and Bollingberg. But the duo managed to only throw four combined innings. Bollingberg was pulled after the first inning. Fritcher allowed just one hit and fanned five through three scoreless innings, but the Vikings were able to pull him with a nine-run lead, so their superstar junior will be in line to start on Thursday with a trip to state on the line.
“We have full faith in him to shove and he’s shoved all year," Joey Tempel said.
Krekling added: "To get him out early, means that he can be fresh for Thursday. We’re excited for a fresh Easton."
Joey Tempel finished 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and four RBIs. He's part of a Hayfield senior class that's had as much success as any senior class in Minnesota. The Vikings won the Class A boys basketball state title and their baseball team improved to 22-0 by beating L/P.
When Fritcher is on the hill and with this loaded lineup, the Vikings have a sense they can bring home another state title.
"It’s amazing," he said. "I knew we were supposed to be good but this is just a great feeling. Just riding the emotions throughout the whole season. We’ve always been up."
The town of Hayfield rallied around the basketball team in a pretty special way. They celebrated when the Vikings came back to town with the state basketball title, and they came out strong yet again on Monday for the baseball team.
“The crowd was unbelievable," Krekling said. "They know that this is like a once-in-a-generation type team. No matter the sport, they’re going to be competitive. They get the job done. And come playoff time, they go even harder and they’re even harder to beat. Basketball was a great example and now baseball, we’ve looked very good so far. Hopefully, we can continue that and I know our fans are going to be there to support us.”
With the double-elimination format of the section tournament, Hayfield needs to beat L/P just once on Thursday to advance to the state tournament. L/P must beat Hayfield twice if it wants the section title.
That's a tall task, considering just one team has come within seven runs of Hayfield this season. And with Fritcher on the mound, a the odds seem in Hayfield's favor. But Krekling isn't taking anything for granted.
"Lyle/Pacelli is a good team," Krekling said. "Don’t let the score fool you. They’re a tough team. ... That will be a very big test. We had one really good inning today and that’s baseball. It helps you win games but the job is not done. It’s a four-step job and we need No. 4."
Hayfield 13, Lyle/Pacelli 3
Lyle/Pacelli: Sam Nelsen 2-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 R; Hunter VaDeer 1-for-2 1 R. Pitchers: Jed Nelson 4.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K; Zach Bollingberg (LP) 1.0 IP, 9 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 0 BB, 0 K; Hunter VaDeer 0.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K.
Hayfield: Joey Tempel 3-for-4, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2 R; Erik Bungum 1-for-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 R; Lucas Hansen 1-for-3 1 R; Isaiah Tempel 2-for-3, 1 2B, 2 R; Easton Fritcher 1-for-2 3 R; Karver Heydt 2-for-4, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 1 R; Nolan Klocke 2-for-3, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 2 R; Isaac Watson 1-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 R. Pitchers: Easton Fritcher (WP) 3.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K; Nolan Klocke 2.0 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K; Karver Heydt 1.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K.