Prep baseball: Grand Rapids rolls to 7AAA championship
The Thunderhawks will make a second straight bid for the state title after losing the title game last season.
HERMANTOWN — With a line drive in his glove for out number two and out number three stranded far off the base, it was celebration time for first baseman Easton Sjostrand and his Grand Rapids teammates.
There were some gloves thrown on the grass in the aftermath of the Thunderhawks making a return trip to the Class AAA state baseball tournament by dispatching Chisago Lakes 9-2 in Wednesday’s Section 7AAA final at Fichtner Field. But wild, injury-inducing dogpiles of teenagers were largely saved for another day.
It was a professional celebration befitting a professional performance from a team that wants to go one place better than their state runner-up finish in 2021.
“Once the playoffs started, they really locked in and focused and we’ve played defense and pitched the way we’re capable of,” Rapids coach Bill Kinnunen said.
The liner off the bat of the Wildcats’ Reed Marquardt, doubling off Nicholas Wasko, was the third double play the Thunderhawks (16-6) turned in the championship game.
“That’s more than we’ve turned in the last 10 games, I bet. We work on it every day. We were inside so long this year, we spent a lot of time working on the double plays,” Kinnunen said.
The first double play, a 6-4-3 hit into by the Wildcats' Storm Opdahl, got Rapids out of its only significant jam of the game after the Wildcats pushed two runs across in the top of the third inning by collecting four consecutive singles off Thunderhawks pitcher Myles Gunderson.
“I know Myles. He’ll dial it back in. His arm slot gets down a little bit, but most of the time he stays good. I have a lot of confidence in him,” catcher David Wohlers said.
Chisago Lakes scored early when the teams met six days ago in the winner’s bracket semifinals and Grand Rapids responded. It was no different this time.
Wohlers reached on an error in the bottom of the inning and came around to score on Garett Drotts’ single. After a one-two-three fourth, Ben Keske hit a two-run homer to double the lead to 6-2.
Wohlers then doubled in the sixth, driving in the first and scoring the second of Rapids’ three insurance runs in the inning.
Gunderson had control of the rest, allowing two runs on eight hits (five of them in one inning). Throw out the bad frame and Gunderson threw six scoreless innings with three hits and two walks.
“We weren’t too worried, because we’d seen it before, what had happened, and Myles is such a competitor, he gets up there and shuts the door any time they get a rally going,” Kinnunen said.
Rapids finished with eight hits, two of them from Nolan Svatos.
The Thunderhawks dominated the seven-team section tournament, defeating Chisago Lakes 12-3 in their opening game and routing Hermantown 14-1 before putting the trophy away. It hasn’t always been that easy to take care of business.
“That was definitely a concern. We had a problem with overlooking teams and not putting 100 percent into each inning, each pitch, and we really had a long talk about it,” Wohlers said.
The Thunderhawks await their assignment for the state Class AAA tournament, which begins on Tuesday in Chaska, Minnesota.
“Same amount of energy, same mentality, and let’s do it again, hopefully we’ll win it this time,” Gunderson said.