Right now in Plainview, Elgin and Millville, baseball is the talk of the town.
The Plainview-Elgin-Millville team is fresh off its first section title in baseball since the three towns merged as a school district back in the 2000s. Plainview, which won a Class A state title in 1978, last earned a state berth 36 years ago.
“You can just tell how positive it is in small towns like this,” P-E-M baseball coach Scott Flattum said. “Everybody wants to talk baseball and shake your hand and give you ‘Good luck’ wishes.”
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The Bulldogs (21-3) won the Section 1AA title last week and will play in the state quarterfinals on Tuesday in St. Cloud. After beating Lourdes for the section title, Flattum had 68 text messages waiting on his phone.
“People from all over, our town and other coaches in our conference,” Flattum said. “Just well-wishers and they know it’s rare that we haven’t gone (in a long time). So it’s just nice, you can feel that vibe in the town. Hopefully it’s a pick-me-up.”
P-E-M is the No. 5 seed in the eight-team tournament and will face No. 4 Wadena-Deer Creek (25-3) in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Tuesday in St. Cloud.
“We just have to keep our momentum going, it doesn’t matter who they put in front of us,” P-E-M senior Luke Stevens said. “We know we can compete with anybody.”
Wadena-Deer Creek, the Section 8AA champion, enters with a five-game winning streak. It averages 8.4 runs and allows 3.1 per game.
“It sounds like they have two really good pitchers, but that’s what everybody has to qualify for a state tournament,” Flattum said. “That’s nothing new, pitching, pitching, pitching."
P-E-M has a trio of strong left-handed pitchers in ace Conner Schumacher (9-0, 1.38 ERA), Stevens (3-0, 4.14) and junior Carson Reeve (4-1, 1.37). Sophomore Jameson Brinkman (2-0, 0.93) has come on at the end of the season and earned the win in relief in two straight games to wrap up the Section 1AA title.
Schumacher is slated to start the state tournament opener.
“Just keep doing what I’m doing and trust the practice you put in all year, in the fall and in the winter,” Schumacher said. “And trust the guys behind you. We have great defense when (opponents) put the ball in play, guys behind you make plays.”
The Bulldogs also have two or three other capable pitchers.
“I don’t know if you have to go that deep in a state tournament, but we have a lot of pitching,” Flattum said.
P-E-M enters the tournament on a nine-game winning streak. The Bulldogs are averaging 10.0 runs per game and allowing 3.1.
“We’ve always played this year with a lot of confidence,” Flattum said.
Schumacher also likes the tough competition that P-E-M played this season.
“I think that our section has some of the best teams with Lourdes, Caledonia, us. I think we have some of the best teams in the state,” Schumacher said. “I feel if we keep playing how we’re playing, we should be all right.”
The Bulldogs have a solid lineup up and down the order and have a .381 team batting average.
Stevens has hit six homers and has 37 RBIs and a .400 average while junior Matthew Keller is hitting a lusty .526 with three homers and 32 RBIs. Schumacher (.418, 20 RBIs) sparks the top of the order and has scored 37 runs. Others with 20-plus RBIs are Brock Martinez (.400, 27 RBIs) and junior Baden Fenton (.291, 24 RBIs).
“Our kids love to hit,” Flattum said. “They have that about them. … I mean hitting the baseball is obviously what we can do.”
Glencoe-Silver Lake (23-3) is the No. 1 seed and the likely state semifinals foe of the P-E-M and Wadena winner. Albany (22-3), on the other side of the bracket, is seeded second and Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (22-2) is No. 3. Teams that lose in the quarterfinals are eliminated.
“We’ve been preaching all year to stay hungry and stay in routine and hopefully we can do that,” Flattum said.
Flattum doesn’t think it should be a problem.
“Kids just love coming to the ballpark,” he said. “They’ll sit around an hour after practice is over just to be at the park and to be with each other. I think that’s the key, they want to win for each other.”