JORDAN, Minn. — The Grand Rapids Thunderhawks switched to their black jerseys at the start of their current nine-game winning streak. And despite playing in the southern Minnesota sun, with temperatures hovering around 90, they won’t be changing into white or orange for the season finale.
On Wednesday, June 16, 2021, the Thunderhawks got a complete game from sophomore right-hander Myles Gunderson and held off a late rally by St. Thomas Academy for a 4-3 win in the Class AAA state semifinals. That sends the Thunderhawks to the state championship game, Friday afternoon at Target Field in Minneapolis.
The early forecast calls for bright sun and close to 90 on Friday.
“We can take the heat. We’re used to taking saunas up north, so this is like normal,” joked Thunderhawks coach Bill Kinnunen, who was all smiles in his sweaty black uniform after the win. “And we’re riding a school bus. If we had a charter bus we’d be soft and we’d be hot with these blacks (uniforms) on.”
As has been their hallmark in the state tournament, pitching and defense led the way for Grand Rapids, which started the season 2-5, but improved to 19-7 with the win. Senior Andrew Sundberg, hitting eighth in the lineup, continues to be a surprising source of offense. His fifth-inning single scored two runs.
“I’ll stay in the eight spot as long as they put me there. It looks like I’m seeing the ball well there. The ball’s just finding me and I’m finding the ball,” said Sundberg, who said he could never have envisioned that his high school baseball career would end in the Twins’ home ballpark. “After the game in the huddle I looked at everyone and covered my eyes. I was like, ‘Holy cow, boys, we’re going to Target Field.’ This is indescribable.”
The Thunderhawks struck first in the top of the third inning when Ben Keske was hit by a pitch, advanced on a groundout and scored on Kodi Miller’s RBI single.
In the bottom of the third, the Cadets worked a 1-1 tie. Gunderson had retired the first seven batters he faced before Michael Miller hit a double to right. The Thunderhawks missed a chance to get out of the inning damage-free when Tristin Thilmany’s long shot to left just eluded the glove of Grand Rapids left fielder Dan Wohlers for an RBI double.
In the top of the fifth, with two outs, the Thunderhawks opened up a three-run lead when Cadets starter Ben Taxdahl walked two, surrendered a single to Holcomb to load the bases, then hit Henke on the top of the helmet to bring in the go-ahead run. The Cadets lifted Taxdahl for Zachary Klemz, who faced Sundberg. The Thunderhawks second baseman dropped a single into short right, scoring two for a 4-1 lead.
The Thunderhawks' habit of exemplary defense prevented a Cadets run in the fourth. With Cunningham on third and one out, Young hit a sharp grounder to Gunderson, catching Cunningham in a rundown.
They were inches from an insurance run in the sixth when a solid throw by Cadets center fielder Cunningham and a tag by catcher Miller cut down Keske trying to score from second on a Ren Morque single.
In the bottom of the sixth the Cadets led off with three consecutive hits, and scored a pair to pull back within a run at 4-3. St. Thomas refused to go quietly in the seventh, getting a baserunner on the game’s only error, then a bloop single with two outs to put runners at first and third. But Gunderson coaxed a grounder to second to end the game.
“He threw strikes and kept us off balance. You tip your hat to him. We didn’t make adjustments and probably should have...He hit the corners, he changed speeds, and that was kind of the recipe for success for him,” said Cadets coach Jon Engeswick, in praise of Gunderson. “We needed one more inning and one more bounce and it’s a different story.”
St. Thomas Academy had averaged more than a dozen runs a game over its previous four outings, but Gunderson managed to keep them more quiet. The Cadets fell to 1-6 in games where they have scored three runs or fewer.