--by Brett Kruschke PHOTO CREDITS: KRIS FASNACHT
The Minnetonka Millers are a machine.
After losing their tourney opener to Kelley Fuels Diesel by a surprising 7-1 margin on August 14, the Millers needed to win six straight games to claim their second consecutive Class A state title, and 13th in 20 years – and that’s exactly what they did.
Entering the tournament with a record of 46-4, the road back through the losers’ bracket wasn’t easy: a 4-2 win over the Minneapolis Angels followed by a one-run victory, 8-7, against last year’s runner-up and the 2014 champs, the St. Paul Capitals; a 7-3 rematch triumph over Kelley Fuels Diesel and then a 5-3 nip job against the Continental Diamond Cutters.
Wednesday’s two games against the Tri-City Shark – postponed one day due to heavy rain on Tuesday night, that left the outfield still sopping wet last evening – turned out to be the Millers’ two finest performances of the tournament. For 17 innings Wednesday at Bloomington’s Red Haddox Field, the Millers never trailed – pulling away mid-game in Game 1 to win 9-3, then using a steady assault in Game 2 to clinch the crown by an 11-0 count in eight innings.
Long-time legend Joe Shallenberger, age 36 and looking like Joey Gallo’s big brother, was named Most Valuable Player of the Class A tournament for a fourth time (2004, 2009, 2012, 2016). He belted four home runs in seven tourney games, hitting 18-for-31 (.581) with three doubles, six runs scored and 14 RBI. He also drove in four runs on title night. Minnetonka's Blaine Rutledge blasted a homer in each game Wednesday to garner consideration.
On the mound in Game 1, Ryan Helgeson (6 IP, 2 R) turned it over to 2015 Class A MVP Donny Erdall, who finished it out. In Game 2, Casey Jacobsen became unhittable as the night wore on and left two outs short of a complete-game shutout to give a fellow Millers pitcher Adam Kramer the chance to take the hill.
For the Tri-City Shark, a valiant run ends with a bitter taste. Before going through the Minnetonka meat grinder, the Shark started out with a 9-3, single-elimination game win over the St. Paul Shamrocks. They then went on to beat the Minneapolis Angels 5-3, smoke Kelley Fuels Diesel 11-4 in a suspended game played over two days, and a 5-3 dismissal of the Diamond Cutters.
Minnetonka’s season-ending numbers are truly video-game-like: a 52-5 record – including a 35-0 mark at home – and a run differential of plus-344 (479 to 135, an average margin of victory of six runs per game – 8.4 runs per game to 2.4 rpg).
The Millers’ 13 championship seasons in the last 20 years: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015 and now – freshly-minted – 2016.
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To review last night’s games, scroll the Class A Twitter feed