Gopher Classic teams gut out busy schedules

Eagan Patriots win 90-team baseball tourney

Matt Fiedler (left) of Eagan reaches for a throw but keeps his foot on the base to record a forceout against Coon Rapids in the Gopher Classic American Legion baseball tournament. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
Matt Fiedler (left) of Eagan reaches for a throw but keeps his foot on the base to record a forceout against Coon Rapids in the Gopher Classic American Legion baseball tournament. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

This is the time of baseball season the Eagan Patriots refer to as “The Grind.”

It’s as much a test of willpower as talent as Eagan’s American Legion team tackles a schedule that would have the Major League Baseball Players Association howling in protest. After an off day on Wednesday of last week, the Patriots played 10 games in the next six days, ending with a 2-1 victory over West St. Paul in the championship game of the Jim Hanus Gopher Classic tournament Tuesday in Minnetonka. Eagan went 8-1 in the 90-team tournament, which it won for the first time in the program’s history.

When they were done with the Gopher Classic, the Patriots were scheduled to play Apple Valley on Wednesday and Lakeville South on Thursday in league play before heading to another tournament in Wayzata/Plymouth this weekend, where they could have four games in three days. Then there will be two days off before the sub-state playoffs begin July 24 in Dundas.

So, how do you play that many games in that short a time without losing it mentally?

“You can’t really look at the big picture,” said the Patriots’ Collin Olstad, who homered three times in two Gopher Classic games Saturday. “You have to pace yourself. You have to tell yourself, ‘One pitch at a time,’ no matter how hard it might be to do that.”

On Monday, Eagan disposed of Edina 9-0 and two-time defending tournament champion Coon Rapids 7-3 in the playoff phase of the Gopher Classic. The schedule had been so grueling that even though the Patriots were done for the day shortly after 4 p.m., several players talked about wanting to go home and get some sleep.

Eagan was 19-4 after defeating Moline, Ill., 7-0 and West St. Paul in its final two Gopher Classic games Tuesday. This week the Patriots were eighth in the state American Legion baseball poll, their first top-10 ranking of the summer.

“Our game against Edina was a big one for us because they’re one of the best teams in the state,” Eagan coach Kevin Nagel said. “We played Edina in our second game of the season and they just hammered us, beat us 11-0. Since then we’ve played really well, and it’s because we’ve got 16 great guys who can all play.”

Eagan also was one of 15 pool-play sites for the Gopher Classic. A downpour Saturday morning disrupted the schedule and caused some games to be cancelled, although none of the Patriots’ games were affected.

“It went smoothly, at least for us, considering the rain we had Saturday morning,” Nagel said.

All the same, it might have been a relief for the Patriots to arrive at Braemar Park in Edina for Monday’s games needing only to worry about playing baseball.

Matt Fiedler pitched a one-hitter with nine strikeouts against Edina, in addition to going 2-for-4, scoring a run and driving in two. Chad Czaplewski also had two RBI.

Josh Loew had three hits and two RBI in the victory over Coon Rapids. Ed Olson also drove in two runs, and pitcher Jon Estes held Coon Rapids to five hits and one run over the first six innings.

A Legion schedule does not allow much time for practice, so a key to Eagan’s success is “chemistry,” Olstad said. “We’ve been playing together for eight years and we know each other well. It’s definitely an advantage to have chemistry.”

The Patriots hope it continues to prove useful as they face more of The Grind this weekend.
Gopher Classic notes

Three other teams from the Sun Thisweek coverage area reached the playoff stage of the Gopher Classic.

Burnsville, ranked second in the state, went 4-1 and placed first in its pool at Alimagnet Park. The Cobras lost to Coon Rapids 3-1 in the round of 16.

Eastview defeated Excelsior 3-2 in eight innings in its final pool-play game in Minnetonka. That gave the sixth-ranked Thunder a 4-1 record, the same as Minneapolis Southwest, but Eastview advanced because it defeated Southwest 1-0 earlier in pool play. Eastview defeated North St. Paul 2-0 in its first playoff game before losing to Rapid City, S.D., 6-4 in the quarterfinals.

Seventh-ranked Lakeville North was 5-0 in pool play at Lakeville North High School and Frederickson Field in Elko. North lost to Rapid City 5-0 in the first playoff round Monday.

Apple Valley, host of pool play at Legion Field, went 1-4. The victory was 2-1 over pool champion Yankton, S.D.

Lakeville South was 1-3 in pool play at Edina. South’s victory was 11-0 over Oakdale.

Farmington went 1-4 at Bethel University, beating Bemidji 4-2 in its second game of the tournament. Rosemount was 1-4 in pool play at Maple Grove High School. The victory was 5-3 over Chippewa Falls, Wis., in its final game.