ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

High school boys in black and orange uniforms with white pants play baseball
Garett Drotts (7) of Grand Rapids raises his arms in celebration after winning the 7AAA Section championship game against Chisago Lakes on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, at Fichtner Field in Hermantown.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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.

High school boys in black and orange uniforms with white pants play baseball
David Wohlers (3) of Grand Rapids hits the ball during the Section 7AAA championship game against Chisago Lakes on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, at Fichtner Field in Hermantown.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“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.

High school boys in black and orange uniforms with white pants play baseball
Myles Gunderson (1) pitches the ball during the Section 7AAA championship game against Chisago Lakes on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, at Fichtner Field in Hermantown.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

High school boys in black and orange uniforms with white pants play baseball
Benjamin Keske fields a ground ball during the Section 7AAA championship game against Chisago Lakes on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, at Fichtner Field in Hermantown.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

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.

High school boys in black and orange uniforms with white pants play baseball
Grand Rapids baseball players hold the trophy during the 7AAA section championship game against Chisago Lakes on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, at Fichtner Field in Hermantown.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
What to read next
Abbey McDonald, the former Bluejacket star, still has her “ups and downs,” but hopes her story can help others battling similar problems.
After going 11-1 in 2021 and falling in the state quarterfinal for the third straight time, the Tigers are looking to take the next step this season.
The Spartans won just a single game last season, but they’ve learned from their mistakes and are ready to put that in the rear view mirror.