Panthers pounce early, win state baseball opener

North scores seven runs against Blaze’s Carlson in two innings

Lakeville North shortstop Gavin Baker makes a relay throw as Burnsville’s Max Carlson slides into second base during Thursday’s state Class 4A baseball quarterfinal game at CHS Field. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

At first glance, the pitching matchup looked like a mismatch.

Burnsville had Sam Carlson, acclaimed as the state’s best pitcher, rested and ready for Thursday’s Class 4A baseball quarterfinal game against Lakeville North. The Panthers countered with junior Nick Spitt, who hadn’t pitched in almost a month – and was roughed up the last time he did take the mound.

Final: Lakeville North 8, Burnsville 0. Spitt pitched into the seventh inning, while Carlson didn’t make it past the second of a game between the South Suburban Conference co-champions.

“I did as well as I possibly could,” said Spitt, who consistently pitched out of trouble and got two double plays from his defense. “I battled. I didn’t have my best stuff today, but it worked out.”

The victory sends Lakeville North (20-5) back to CHS Field in St. Paul for the Class 4A semifinals against Eden Prairie at noon Friday. Eden Prairie (16-9) beat No. 1 seed and defending state champion Wayzata 6-1 in Thursday’s first quarterfinal game.

A victory Friday would put fourth-seeded Lakeville North in the state championship game for the second time in three years. The Class 4A final is 7 p.m. Monday at Target Field.

It was another puzzling performance at CHS Field for Burnsville (21-7). The Blaze had its leadoff hitter on base in the first five innings and six times in seven innings, but couldn’t score. Burnsville was shut out for the second time in as many games at CHS Field; last year the Blaze lost to Woodbury 7-0 in the state quarterfinals.

The Blaze plays Wayzata in the consolation semifinals at 10 a.m. Friday at Toni Stone Field in St. Paul.

Spitt allowed seven hits and five runs (two earned) in 3 2/3 innings in his last appearance, a 7-5 loss to Farmington on May 19. He did not pitch in North’s four Section 1 tournament games. However, one of his other four victories was a five-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory over Burnsville on April 21.

That helped seal Thursday’s pitching decision for North coach Tony Market, who wanted a right-handed starter against Burnsville’s predominantly right-handed lineup.

“We’d seen Burnsville face right-handers and left-handers,” Market said. “We saw we had to go right-handed against them.

“Nick’s a competitor and he battled through some things. He’s got a lot of live movement and was having a hard time keeping that in the strike zone. But if you turn some double plays behind him, that goes a long way toward helping a pitcher calm things down.”

Carlson, selected by Seattle in the second round of Monday’s Major League Baseball Draft, entered the game 5-1 with a 0.67 ERA. North hit one ball sharply against Carlson in the first inning but wound up with four runs. Spitt’s grounder just inside the first-base line brought in the Panthers’ first run and a bloop single by Tyler Fietek scored another. Nathaniel Peterson hit a line drive up the middle for two more RBI.

The Panthers also benefited from one hit batter, one walk and two wild pitches. Ryan Bastyr was allowed to reach base after striking out on a pitch in the dirt because the Blaze catcher didn’t throw to first, which was open.

“We’ve talked about it all year – you’ve got to be right there, ready to go, ready to compete from the beginning,” Market said. “A lot of our guys know (Carlson). There’s a lot of mental preparation involved. If you start to see yourself being successful, then your body knows it can happen.”

North’s Brandon Keeley led off the second inning with a single, reached second on a wild pitch and scored on an error. Nick Juaire hit a two-run homer to right field as North’s lead grew to 7-0.

Fietek, who was 2-for-3 with two runs batted in, doubled in a run in the fifth.

Burnsville had 10 baserunners with eight hits and two walks. But North turned double plays in the second and fifth innings to defuse threats. Max Carlson and Tyler Smith had two hits each for the Blaze.

Spitt said he pitched similarly in both of his starts against Burnsville. “The first game I might have gotten ahead of more hitters,” he said. “It’s awesome to pitch when we have runs on the board, but if that’s not the case, I still have to give my team the opportunity to win.”

He did, and then some.