MINNEAPOLIS — It’s been 69 years since the city of Duluth celebrated a high school state baseball championship.
But the number on the Hilltoppers' mind Thursday at Target Field was 365. That’s how many days had come and gone — and then some — since last year’s state championship loss to Maple Lake at the home of the Minnesota Twins.
“I think 365 days in this case is longer than the years it takes to get from 1950,” Hilltoppers coach Joe Wicklund said.
Marshall rewrote Duluth’s baseball history Thursday, scoring three runs in the seventh inning to defeat Minnehaha Academy 4-2 in the Class AA final, joining the 1950 Duluth Denfeld Hunters as the city's only state champions.
The top-seeded Hilltoppers (26-1), who fielded a lineup of nine seniors Thursday, scored three runs in the top of the seventh inning to pull ahead of the only team to beat them in 27 games this season — Minnehaha (20-5).
A leadoff double by senior first baseman Cole Maccoux and an RBI single by senior right fielder Alex Busick tied the game at 2-2. Senior catcher Carter Sullivan drove in Busick for the winning run with a two-out RBI triple, and senior shortstop Peter Hansen brought home Sullivan with an RBI single.
“It’s amazing, you don’t get many opportunities to do this, let alone do it twice,” said Sullivan, who in his second trip to Target Field finished 3-for-4 with a double, triple, RBI and two runs scored. “To come back here and finish it up and complete our goal is just an unreal feeling.”
The Redhawks handed the Hilltoppers their lone loss, 5-4, on April 20 in neighboring St. Paul, taking the lead on a three-run home run in the sixth inning.
Hansen was responsible for that homer — he and Wicklund joked about it earlier in the week during practice — but got his revenge Thursday by going 3-for-3 with two RBIs.
In addition to driving home Sullivan in the seventh to put Marshall up by two, he put the Hilltoppers on the scoreboard in the top of the sixth by driving home Sullivan after the catcher’s leadoff double.
“That one’s stuck in the back of my mind for a very long time,” Hansen said of the homer he gave up April 20. “I’ve been looking forward to this moment. I wanted to perform during this game for my teammates.
“My teammates, I can’t thank them enough. Without them this is not possible. It’s a team sport. Everyone did a huge part in this game. We put in the work and got what we deserved — a (win) in the state championship.”
Senior pitcher Ben Pedersen nearly went the distance to earn the win. The Missouri recruit and 38th-round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles gave up two runs on five hits with two walks and nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.
Pedersen ran into trouble in the bottom of the third inning after Minnehaha used a lead off single, a wild pitch and passed ball to jump ahead 2-0. It was the third time in three games this year at state that Marshall fell behind after torching the Section 7AA tournament by a combined score of 67-2.
The Hilltoppers trailed Glencoe-Silver Lake 3-0 after the first inning of the quarterfinals — before scoring four in the second — and Paynesville Area 2-0 after three innings of the semifinals before rallying to win in extra innings.
“The previous two games were a huge part of our success today,” Pedersen said. “When we got down early like we had the past two games, we knew not to panic. We’ve played our best baseball in the last three innings of the game at state.”
Pedersen’s last K of the day for the first out of the seventh came on his 115th pitch, meaning he had to leave the mound two outs shy of the state title.
Was he a little bummed to be yanked due to pitch-count limits? Yes, especially after being denied the chance to pitch in the championship game last year after throwing a complete game in the quarterfinals under the three games in three days format.
Pedersen knew the Hilltoppers were in good hands, however, as for the third consecutive game, senior closer Brett Benson took the mound to finish off a win.
“The most efficient pitcher in the state,” according to Pedersen, forced Minnehaha into a groundout and strikeout via just seven pitches, setting off a celebration 369 days and 69 years in the making, just as the raindrops began to fall on Target Field.
“We’ve always been a group that worked incredibly hard,” said Wicklund, who joins Walt Hunting as the only baseball coaches in Duluth to win a state title. “I would tell you we worked harder in the last 365 days than I could have imagined. We told the guys all along that at some point, you will have to answer the call and they did with the bats in the top of the seventh with a big way.”
Class AA State Championship
Duluth Marshall 4, Minnehaha Academy 2
At Target Field, Minneapolis. WP: Ben Pedersen 6.1IP, 5H, 2R (2ER), 2BB, 9K.; save Brett Benson 0.2IP, 0H, 0BB. LP: Bennett Theisen 1IP, 3H, 2R, (2ER), 0BB. DM: Carter Sullivan 3x4 (2B, 3B), RBI, R; Peter Hansen 3x3, 2RBIs; Alex Busick RBI, R; Cole Maccoux 2B, R. MA: Noah Dehne RBI; Jake McCabe RBI.