Mora outlasts Cloquet to win Section 7AA baseball title
After 20 innings spread over five days and two locations, the Section 7AA baseball title came down to one swing of the bat. Dylan Graves' solo home run to center field in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted Mora to a 4-3 victory over Cloquet i...
After 20 innings spread over five days and two locations, the Section 7AA baseball title came down to one swing of the bat.
Dylan Graves' solo home run to center field in the bottom of the eighth inning lifted Mora to a 4-3 victory over Cloquet in the Section 7AA championship game on Saturday morning at Fichtner Field in Hermantown.
Mora downed Cloquet 1-0 in 12 innings on Tuesday to send the Lumberjacks into a loser-out game with Esko in the double-elimination tournament. Cloquet advanced with a 3-0 victory, setting up a rematch with Mora on Thursday at Wade Stadium. That game, however, was suspended, because of rain, with Cloquet batting in the top of the seventh inning with runners on first and second and two outs. Conditions were still too wet on Friday, so the game resumed Saturday in Hermantown.
Mora (16-9) advances to play Section 1AA champion Winona Cotter at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud, Minn., in the Class AA quarterfinals. It will be the Mustangs' third state tournament appearance and second in three years.
"I felt if neither team scored quickly, this game could go another 11, 12 or13 innings," Mora coach Jay Pautzke said. "The teams are almost identical. Both teams rely on great pitching, tremendous defense and timely hitting. Fortunately, we've been getting the hits when we've needed them in the playoffs."
Minnesota State High School League rules only allow a pitcher to log14 innings over three days, so the postponements allowed Cloquet to bring ace Thomas Rogers back for an encore Saturday after the sophomore logged all 12 innings of the Lumberjacks' loss to Mora on Tuesday. Rogers looked dominating, retiring the first four batters he faced, including two on strikeouts, but then he let an 0-1 pitch to Graves hang a little high in the strike zone. Unlike the gusting wind that blew in on Tuesday, the wind on Saturday was more favorable, and Graves' ball sailed in the breeze. Some Mora fans were in disbelief, saying, "It's over."
"I give that kid all the credit in the world, but Thomas made four other guys look really weak," Cloquet coach Steve Jezierski said. "The kid is a good hitter."
Graves couldn't have picked a better time to hit the first home run of his high school career, but it was no fluke. The sophomore second baseman had a triple to the center-field wall at Wade Stadium on Thursday and showed good power on Tuesday.
"The pitch was pretty perfect. Right there," Graves said, holding his hand about waist high. "It was just what I was hoping for. I knew it was gone when I hit it. I could tell right away."
Mustangs pitcher Logan Orazem recorded the win. Cloquet rallied to take a 3-2 lead with three runs in the sixth inning Thursday at Wade Stadium when the junior came in and got two outs to end the threat. Mora tied the game in the bottom half of the inning before Orazem walked two batters in the seventh when play was suspended with two outs.
On Saturday, Orazem celebrated his 18th birthday by retiring all four batters he faced.
"Logan has been excelling in the reliever's role all season," Pautzke said. "If Cloquet would have gotten a hit when we resumed play, who knows what would have happened? We could still be playing."
Cloquet, which was vying for its first state tournament appearance since 1975, finished 17-5, with seven shutout victories, including three in the playoffs.
"We've struggled off and on offensively all year," Jezierski said. "We need more discipline at the plate. I didn't think we saw dominant pitching, but at times we made it look that way. We played into it a lot.
"But it was a good year. I remember that '75 team well. Those two [Cloquet] teams are very similar, with good pitching and defense, but they had a Pete Franz [who became a standout at Minnesota Duluth] in the lineup, though, and we never did. That was the difference."