RED WING — A section championship game appearance in football.
A state tournament appearance in boys basketball.
A state runner-up finish in boys hockey.
Now, a section finals appearance in baseball.
It’s been quite a year for boys athletics at Byron High School. And the outcome of Wednesday’s Section One, Class AAA baseball championship games doesn’t diminish, it only adds to the fantastic school year the Bears have had.
“It just, it becomes part of the culture of all the sports in town,” Byron baseball coach Ryan Hanson said of the Bears’ success in multiple sports. “One program kind of starts getting on a roll and a couple of those kids play other sports … I just love multiple-sports athletes. We’re still able to do that a lot in small towns.
“These kids, they know how to win and they bring that to whatever sport they’re playing.”
After rolling to an 8-1 victory in the first championship game, top-seeded Byron battled back from a three-run deficit to force extra innings in the second and decisive championship game at the Red Wing Athletic Field, only to fall to Albert Lea 9-5 in eight innings.
The tournament’s double-elimination format required Byron to beat Albert Lea twice on Wednesday to earn the section title, while Albert Lea needed to beat Byron just once.
The third-seeded Tigers — who went 2-1 against Byron in the section tournament — let a 5-2 lead slip away in the decisive title game on Wednesday.
“We’ve been there before” in other sports, said Byron junior left fielder Jake Isaak, who went 3-for-4 in the second title game Wednesday and whose two-out RBI double in the bottom of the fifth tied the score 5-5. “It’s not the way we wanted it to come out, but we’re all happy about how we played, too. We gave it our all.”
Following Isaak’s key hit, the Tigers (12-11 overall) shut down the Bears the rest of the way. Once the game got to extra innings, Albert Lea used four hits and a hit batter in the top of the eighth to string together four runs and turn a 5-5 tie into a 9-5 victory.
The win lifts Albert Lea into the state baseball tournament for the first time since 1969, a span of 52 years.
“It’s crazy, a night to remember for sure,” said Albert Lea senior pitcher Blake Ulve. “Back in early spring, we had interviews with the coaches and each one of our guys said our goal is the state tournament. We’ve been working every day for that and we got it done.”
Ulve played a big role on the mound and at the plate for the Tigers. He had the biggest hit in their four-run eighth, belting a two-run double to center field.
Ulve, who took the loss in Wednesday’s opener, then pitched 2⅓ innings late in the second game before handing the ball to teammate Trevor Ball, who recorded the final two outs after Byron put two runners on base.
“I just told our guys ‘I love to watch you guys compete,’” Hanson said. “We still had a chance right down to the last inning. We could have caved, but we got a couple guys on and gave ourselves a chance. We hit some hard balls, and I give it to Albert Lea. They’re gritty.”
Byron had won eight of its previous nine games going into Wednesday’s title games. The only blip in that stretch was the section semifinal loss to Albert Lea. The Bears responded to that loss by walloping Jordan 18-0 in a loser-out game, to set up a rematch with the Tigers in Wednesday’s championships.
The Bears were looking for their first trip to state since 2000. They have plenty of key players returning and should be among the favorites in Section 1AAA again next season. Byron had just talented seniors in the starting lineup Wednesday night — catcher Isaac Rogne, pitcher Lance Jacobs and designated hitter Ryan Von Arx.
“We have guys in the lineup … we talk about having a role,” Hanson said, “from the guys who are on the bench or the guys doing the book, and guys on the field, they all showed up every day and gave us everything they had. They’re great leaders, and I’m talking about all of them. We had a lot of adversity to overcome at times, some different roles for guys to take on, and I just couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The Class AAA state tournament begins Tuesday at the Mini Met in Jordan. The semifinals and third-place game are set for Wednesday in Jordan, with the state title game scheduled for next Friday, June 18, at Target Field in Minneapolis. The state tournament bracket will be released once all eight qualifying teams are determined.
Byron closes its season with a 17-6 record.
“I’d say that, we’re a team that never gives up, it’s always a battle to the end,” Isaak said. “That’s what I love about these boys, they never give up.”
Byron 8, Albert Lea 1
John Lutzi got the Bears off to a strong start Wednesday, pitching 4 1/3 scoreless innings and allowing just three hits to pace Byron to an 8-1 win in the first championship game.
Lutzi also returned in the second game to pitch three-plus standout innings, allowing one run on just one hit.
"John Lutzi was fantastic," Hanson said. "We got out of the first game and were getting ready to start the second game and he goes ‘coach, I’m coming in in relief in this game.’
"That’s just the type of kid he is, one of the hardest workers on the team. He does a lot behind the scenes and is a great leader."
In the opener, Byron hit the ball well up and down the lineup, building a 5-0 lead after three innings. Isaiah Petersen led the way at the plate, going 3-for-3 with two RBIs. Tyler Fox (2-for-5, with two runs scored and an RBI) and Ryan Von Arx (2-for-4, run, RBI) also had multi-hit games.
SECTION 1AAA CHAMPIONSHIP
BYRON 8, ALBERT LEA 1
Albert Lea 000 000 1 — 1 5 1
Byron 113 111 x — 8 12 3
Albert Lea: Jack Jellnger 2-for-3, 2B; Caden Jensen 1R. Pitchers: Blake Ulve (L) 2⅓ IP, 5 R, 4 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 3 K; Trevor Ball 3⅔ IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 2 K.
Byron: Tyler Fox 2-for-5, 2 R, 1 RBI; Jake Coshenet 1-for-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI; Reid Bielen 1-for-3, 1 R, 1 RBI; James Durst 1-for-2, 1 2B, 2 RBI; Travis Underwood 1-for-1, 1 R; Jackson Schroeder 1-for-5, 1 RBI; Ryan Von Arx 2-for-4, 1 R, 1 RBI; Isaiah Petersen 3-for-3, 2 RBIs; Jake Isaak 1-for-2, 1 RBI. Pitchers: John Lutzi (W) 4⅓ IP, 0 R, 3 H, 4 BB, 2 K; Lance Jacobs 1⅔ IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB; James Durst 1 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 H.
ALBERT LEA 9, BYRON 5
Albert Lea 110 300 04 — 9 13 1
Byron 101 210 00 — 5 9 3
Albert Lea: Jack Jellinger 2-for-4, 2B, 2 R, RBI; Henry Eggum 2-for-5, 2B, 5 RBIs; Blake Ulve 2-for-4, 2B, 2 RBIs; Cody Yokiel 2B, R. WP: Blake Ulve 2⅓ IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K.
Byron: Jackson Schroeder 1-for-4, 2B, R; Jake Coshenet RBI, R; Reid Bielen 3-for-5, 2 RBIs; Isaac Rogne RBI; James Durst 1-for-3, R; Jake Isaak 3-for-4, R, RBI. Pitchers: Lance Jacobs 2 IP, 2 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 K; James Durst 2 IP, 3 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 2K; John Lutzi (LP) 3 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 3 K; Reid Bielen 1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 0 BB.