AUSTIN -- After so many years of being denied, Austin is now making a habit of advancing to the American Legion baseball state tournament.
Post 91 earned a state spot on Saturday on the strength of Zach Bollingberg’s pitching, a 12-hit offensive attack and sound defense all game. It led to a decisive 5-1 win over the top-seeded Rochester Redhawks in the Sub-State 1 championship game at Marcusen Park.
Austin had been seeded third, behind the Redhawks and the Rochester A’s.
There was no state tournament last year due to the COVID 19 pandemic. But Austin has now reached state in three of its last six tries (2015, 2019, 2021). Prior to that, it hadn’t gone since 1990.
Obviously, based on that No 3 seed, it wasn’t favored to reach state this year.
Or was it?
“We had a very bad end of our (regular) season,” Austin coach Joe Ciola said. “We lost two straight to end the year, which dropped us from the No. 1 seed to the third seed. I knew if we played the way we are capable of that we’d come back to that No. 1-seed type of baseball.”
Ciola certainly got his wish. It was in resounding style that Post 91 returned to its dominating style in the playoffs. Austin finished the tournament unbeaten, including two wins over the Redhawks.
In the championship game, Austin did pretty much everything well. That included committing just one error, while the Redhawks had three as well as some wild pitches and passed balls that hurt.
“It was a pressure situation and we just came out on the wrong side of it today,” said Redhawks coach Chris Prindle. “Austin is aggressive, they come out swinging and they force you to make all the plays. And good for them. That’s what it takes.”
Also on Austin’s side was its veteran makeup compared to the Redhawks. Post 91 has a bunch of players who just graduated from high school, while the Redhawks have just two of that type.. For Austin, the graduates include Austin Pacelli grad Bollingberg, who was in command from start to finish and used his relaxed style in allowing just five hits and two walks. Tony Ciola came on in the top of the seventh to record the game’s final out.
Bollingberg, who is headed to state with the Austin Legion just like his older brother Dan Bollingberg did in 2019, wanted the ball on Saturday.
“I love pitching in big games,” Bollingberg said. “I’ve been pitching in big games in school ball my whole life. To finally get to do it in Legion and get to pitch in the championship game meant a lot to me.”
Bollingberg had rarely felt or pitched better than he did against the Redhawks.
“I just feel like I can place my fastball wherever I want to right now,” he said. “I feel like I can dial in and hit the glove. And then when I can do that and switch things up with my curveball, that really helps.”
Austin’s Sam Nelson had three hits, and Teyghan Hovland joined Bollingberg in getting two, one of them a booming double to deep center field.
Hovland, who is going to play baseball at St. Cloud State in the fall, is savoring this final opportunity with Post 91.
“This is huge, not only for me but for a bunch of our other guys who won’t be playing at the next level,” Hovland said. “I’m just really happy battling and doing it for these other guys who may not have the opportunity again.”
Austin 5, Redhawks 1
Redhawks: Brevin Goetz 1-for-3; Adam McPhail 0-for-2; Kyle Prindle 1-for-3; Liam Dah 1-for-2; Mason Leimbek 0-for-2; Ian Regal 0-for-3; Payton Kor 0-for-1; Sam Hruska 1-for-3; Kasey Carlson 1-for-3, 1 RBI; Spencer Kober 0-for-1. Pitchers: Brevin Goetz (LP) 4 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K; Mason Leimbek 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K.
Austin: Teyghan Hovland 2-for-3; Jordan Ransom 1-for-2; Logan Murphy 1-for-4, 1 R; Sam Nelson 3-for-4, 1 RBI; Anthony Ciola 1-for-4; Dusty Copley 0-for-4; Zach Bollingberg 2-for-3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 R; Jed Nelson 1-for-2, 2 RBI; Cole Wolter 1-for-3, 1 R. Pitchers: Zach Bollingberg (WP) 6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K; Anthony Ciola 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K.