Section baseball final four is set
Burnsville, Eastview, Lakeville North, Eagan to play for 3AAA title
In professional baseball you almost never see a team with a nine-run lead put on a squeeze play because that often leads to harsh words from the opposition, not to mention a brushback pitch or two.
It’s different in high school baseball, particularly in the playoffs where reducing wear and tear on pitchers is paramount.
So with the bases loaded in the fifth inning and Eastview leading Lakeville South by nine in a second-round Section 3AAA playoff game Monday afternoon, Lightning coach Tom Strey called for the squeeze. His son Patrick put down the bunt and a run scored – the final run of the Lightning’s 10-0, five-inning victory.
By ending the game in the fifth inning by the 10-run rule when it had the chance, the Lightning saved its pitchers a couple innings of work, which could help when the final four phase of the section tournament starts Friday at Alimagnet Park in Burnsville.
“Once you’re in the playoffs, you have to save your pitching,” Tom Strey said. “Al (Lakeville South coach Al Iversen) is a veteran coach, and he understood what we were doing. In fact, he told me he called it from the dugout. If the situation was reversed, I think he would have done the same thing, and I would have understood.”
The victory sends Eastview (16-5) to the double-elimination phase of the section tournament, where it will play Lakeville North (15-5) at 5 p.m. Friday at Alimagnet Park. Burnsville (19-2) plays Eagan (11-10) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Three games will take place at Alimagnet Park on Saturday at noon, 2:30 and 5 p.m. Two teams will remain after Saturday’s final game, and they will meet for the section championship at 7 p.m. June 5 at Alimagnet. If a second championship game is needed, it would be 7 p.m. June 6.
The top four seeds in Section 3AAA made it past Monday’s quarterfinal round. No. 1 seed and defending state champion Burnsville dispatched Simley 14-6, No. 3 seed Lakeville North edged St. Thomas Academy 5-4 and No. 4 seed Eagan defeated Park of Cottage Grove 9-4.
Eastview, the No. 2 seed, has won nine of its last 11 games.
“When you get to Alimagnet (for the section final four) it’s definitely a lot different,” said Eastview shortstop and captain Scott Nelson. “People tend to be more uptight. But I love it. I think it’s a lot more fun.”
Eastview pushed its lead over Lakeville South to 5-0 with a four-run third inning, then added five more in the fifth to end the game. Four Lightning players – Austin Hebig, Quinn Trusty, Brennan Espinda Banick and Evan DeCovich – had two hits apiece, and Hebig, Espinda Banick and Patrick Strey drove in two runs each. DeCovich pitched a five-inning two hitter with eight strikeouts.
After Monday’s game, Tom Strey wouldn’t name a starting pitcher for Friday’s matchup with Lakeville North. DeCovich seems an obvious choice because he leads the team in victories (five), complete games (four), earned-run average (1.32) and innings (42 1/3). But he has had at least six days’ rest before each of his starts and if he pitches Friday it will be on three days’ rest. Still, he’s all but certain to start one of Eastview’s games this weekend, with Trusty (26 innings) and Patrick Strey (23 1/3 innings) also likely to see time on the mound.
Eastview is still seeking its first trip to the state tournament. The Lightning has been to the section final four several times recently but has yet to get past that stage.
“No. 1, you see some good teams there,” Tom Strey said. “Year in and year out, it’s one of the toughest sections in the state, and the team that wins it often has been one of the favorites to win the state championship.”