Baseball tourney opener is against familiar opponent
Burnsville believes it has learned its lesson about letting tension creep in at the state baseball tournament.
The stakes are higher and the ballparks (CHS Field and possibly Target Field) are nice, but it’s still the same game.
“We definitely have to block it out,” Burnsville senior captain Max Hanson said Monday. “I think it’s a factor for some guys, especially the ones who have never been on a field like that. I know I’m going to talk to our guys before we go there and try to tell them to keep it simple and pretend it’s a field in our back yard.”
Burnsville, which qualified for the state Class 4A tournament for the second consecutive year, will play a familiar rival – Lakeville North, the team the Blaze tied for the South Suburban Conference championship – in the quarterfinal round at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at CHS Field.
“I like the idea of playing them,” Hanson said. “We’ve grown up with them, played them every year in traveling. It’s always been good competition. I’m excited to see them again. We’re familiar with all their players, and it should be a good game.”
The Blaze (21-6) also thinks it will be better prepared mentally for its first-round game. When Burnsville played Woodbury in the state quarterfinals last year, its pitchers were uncharacteristically wild and its defense broke down in a 7-0 loss. The Blaze went on to win its next two games and the consolation championship, but coach Mick Scholl and several players said the team was probably too intense for the first game.
Five starters from last year’s team returned this year, and they understand the team needs to approach the first game differently.
“Last year we came out a little too tense,” said star pitcher-outfielder Sam Carlson. “If we play our game we’ll have no problem.”
Burnsville was 5-4 nine games into the season but has gone 16-2 since. A deep pitching staff led by Carlson – who was picked by Seattle in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft Monday – has been a key. So has improved hitting. Burnsville averaged about 4.5 runs in its last five Section 3 games, all of which the Blaze had to win after losing to Rosemount in the second round of the double-elimination tournament.
“If you relax, good things happen, especially when you’re batting,” Scholl said. “If you start thinking about your swing, one little thing can set you off. We tried not to put pressure on them, let them have some fun and let things happen.”
The Blaze needed two victories over East Ridge in the Section 3 finals June 7 at Dundas Memorial Park.
East Ridge led 3-1 after two innings in the first game but Burnsville chipped away, taking the lead in the sixth inning on RBI singles by Ryan Brunner and Jack Madsen.
Winning pitcher Max Carlson worked the first five innings and Sam Carlson pitched the final two, earning a save.
Sam Carlson also pitched the first two innings of the second game but left with the Blaze trailing 1-0. Burnsville’s offense eventually struck back, scoring two runs in the third inning, two in the fourth and three in the fifth. Dan Sandvig was 3-for-3 with three RBI and Max Carlson was 3-for-4 with three runs. Winning pitcher Henry Ristvedt held East Ridge to two hits over the final five innings.
Burnsville and Lakeville North split two regular-season games. North won the first game 1-0 on April 21, with Burnsville taking the rematch 10-0 in five innings May 10.
The Burnsville-Lakeville North winner plays Eden Prairie or Wayzata in the semifinals at noon Friday at CHS Field.
Scholl said he would just as soon not have conference opponents matched against each other in the first round, as is the case with Eden Prairie vs. Wayzata and Burnsville vs. Lakeville North. The players have decided to embrace the way the bracket is set up because they can’t control it.
“It would have been fun to play a team we don’t always play, but we know (Lakeville North), and it’ll be fun to play those guys for big stakes,” Brunner said.
Victories in the first two rounds of the state tournament would send Burnsville back to Target Field on Monday for the state championship game at 7 p.m. Monday. Burnsville’s last game at Target Field produced the baseball program’s signature moment, when the Blaze scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat Maple Grove 6-5 in the 2011 Class 3A championship game.
Hanson said he wasn’t at that game, but “I’ve heard all the legends about it.” He’s heard enough to know he wants to be there, too.
“The goal from the start of the season was winning the state tournament,” Hanson said. “That’s what we expected to happen, and that’s what we’re still going for.”