MINNEAPOLIS – After a 29-year absence from the state baseball tournament, the Austin Packers used all of their pent-up desires and energy to play a masterpiece Thursday in the Class AAA quarterfinals at the University of Minnesota’s Siebert Field.
Two lead artists guided things in unseeded Austin’s dramatic 3-1 win over No. 2 seed Hill-Murray – pitcher Teyghan Hovland and third baseman Dawson Mills.
Indeed, it was pitching and defense that carried the Packers into Friday’s 2:30 p.m. semifinals. There was Hovland tossing a five-hitter over 6 2/3 innings and not allowing a run after the first inning. And there was his team’s defense, led by Mr. Automatic at third on Thursday, Mills, that made things so comfortable for him.
Austin was spotless in the field. Mills had all kinds of chances to mess up, but never did. That included him snaring a line drive in the sixth inning, then turning it into an inning-ending double-play by lasering a throw to first to get a baserunner who’d taken a couple of steps toward second.
Austin didn’t need much offense to advance. But it got just enough and almost all of it in the top of the sixth inning, when it scored all three of its runs.
The Packers finished with seven hits, Hill-Murray with five. Thanks to Hovland’s right arm and those Packers behind him, they didn’t need any more than that.
“We got behind 1-0 (in the first inning), but we didn’t let that stop us,” said Mills, a former catcher and first baseman who was wisely moved to third this season, where he’s thrived. “We just kind of build off of everything that happens in a game, good or bad. And we didn’t approach this game with much worry. We just saw Hill-Murray as another team in our way. Once we settled in, we were fine.”
That was especially true of Hovland, an all-around athlete who had one thing working against him – his youth. He’s just a sophomore.
Hovland showed his age early, getting knocked around for a run on two hits in the first inning.
The second frame didn’t go great for him, either, Hovland walking three, but wiggling out of it with no Hill-Murray runs scored.
“I just wanted to stay positive after that,” Hovland said. “I know I’ve got really good teammates behind me.”
He accomplished that, from then on resembling the No. 1-starter that he is for Austin. And a guy who has already played sports in big spots, such as this past basketball season when he was a key sixth-man on the Packers’ state tournament team.
“Teyghan played in the state basketball tournament at Target Center,” Austin coach Joe Kroc said. “So, this wasn’t a huge thing for him today, playing in front of a lot less people at Siebert Field.”
As good as Kroc felt about Hovland, who also had a clutch two-run single in the sixth inning when the Packers totaled four of their seven hits, he felt just as good about Mills.
He knew that his team likely wouldn’t have won this game without Mills' consistent excellence at third base.
“He’s done great since we moved him to third,” Kroc said. “He’s got really good hands and his arm is accurate. I’m just really proud of Dawson.”
Austin takes a 14-8 record into Friday’s semifinals at Siebert Field, taking on the winner between No. 3 seed St. Thomas Academy and Little Falls.
Austin 3, Hill-Murray 1
Austin: Riley Wempner 1-for-4, 1 R; Hunter Guyette 1 R; Andrew Mueller 1-for-3, 1 R; Teyghan Hovland 1-for-3, 2 RBI; Nathan Murphy 2-for-3, 1 RBI; Dawson Mills 2-for-3. Pitching: Teyghan Hovland (WP) 6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 3 K; Guyette 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K.
Hill-Murray: Matt Fleischhacker 1-for-2, 1 R, 1 RBI; Mitch Gutknecht 1-for-3; Jack Schwartz 1 RBI. Pitching: Gutknecht (LP) 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K.