By Adam J.S. Holt
BLOOMINGTON — The Class A state tournament ended the way it began for the Millers — with a crazy comeback.
The first one got Minnetonka into the double-elimination round. The last one got the Millers a third consecutive championship.
The Minnetonka Millers allowed eight runs to the St. Louis Park Pirates in the first inning of the Class A championship, but used big fifth and eighth innings to rally and win 11-9 over their Riverview League rivals Tuesday at Red Haddox Field. Mike Davis hit a bases-clearing double in the bottom of the eighth for the go-ahead runs as the Millers collected their 14th Class A title.
The game was initially scheduled for Monday, but was pushed back due to weather.
The tournament started for Minnetonka with a six-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to top the BARC Bullfrogs 14-13 back on Aug. 11. It finished 11 days later with the Millers facing an early 8-0 hole and another improbable comeback.
“It’s crazy how that works,” Davis said. “It just goes to show how resilient we are as a team. Pitching, hitting, defense, that’s the name of the game. We play all nine innings, anything can happen. As you can see from the first game until the last, we’re never out of it. That’s always fun.”
Minnetonka chipped away to pull within one, trailing 9-8 in the bottom of the eighth. Ryan Poppitz doubled to lead off the inning, Blaine Rutledge — who was named MVP — hit a bloop single and Eric Fasnacht walked to load the bases for Joe Shallenberger, who already had a home run, RBI single and sacrifice fly in the game. Mike Lueck came on to pitch for St. Louis Park and face Shallenberger, who struck out. Up next was Davis, who got ahold of a curveball and sent it to the left-field corner to empty the bases and put Tonka up 11-9.
That’s all the Millers got, and it was all they needed. Casey Jacobson pitched the eighth and ninth innings to get the win, and worked around a one-out single in the final frame, fielding a chopper and throwing to first for the final out of the game.
“I was pretty jazzed up,” Davis said. “That’s the situation you want to be in, as a hitter, as a baseball player. As a kid, that’s what you dream about, you want to be up with the hit to be the game winner. Turns out, I got a pitch to hit. It’s a great feeling, man. I could feel my heart beating through my chest when I’m standing on second. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Davis also hit a solo home run as part of a five-run fifth, managing to smack one over the center field wall on a pitch that was up above the letters.
Fasnacht had an RBI triple in the fifth, and it was followed by a Shallenberger sac fly and Davis’ homer. Later, with two on, Steve Schmitz — a left-hander who normally pulls the ball — sliced a pop-up to left field that glanced off the glove of Mike Arlt and scored two more to make it a 9-7 game.
“When we got that inning, we knew that we had a chance,” Davis said. “You give us a chance, and we’re a pretty deadly team when you do.”
Shallenberger added an RBI single in the sixth to make it 9-8.
SLP, which exploded for 27 runs in the loser’s bracket final Sunday, mashed out eight runs in the top of the first Tuesday, including a three-run homer from Lueck. The Pirates won a 4-3 game in the first championship matchup Sunday afternoon to force a final deciding game in the double-elimination part of the tournament. SLP entered Tuesday with three wins in four games against Tonka this summer.
“You walk in after an inning like that, heads are going to be down,” Davis said. “We have veterans like me, Shall, Blaine, a few other guys, and we just keep the morale up. We’ve just got to battle. What we learned from the first game of the tournament is, we’re never out of it. We scrap together two more in that next inning, then it’s a game; you just keep adding on, adding on. Eventually someone’s going to get that big hit.”
Shallenberger hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first to get the Millers within 8-2 after one. Lueck hit a bloop single in the third for the Pirates to extend the lead to 9-2.
SLP lost its state tournament opener to the Rosetown A’s 9-7 before responding with a 5-2 win over the St. Paul Mudhens in the loser’s bracket. From there, they won 3-1 games over Stockmen’s Irish and the St. Paul Shamrocks on Saturday before getting revenge on Rosetown in a 27-2 game and beating Minnetonka 4-3 in the first championship game. The Pirates finished atop the Riverview League standings and went 46-13, notching their sixth overall Class A runner-up finish.
Meanwhile, Minnetonka opened state with the dramatic 14-13 comeback over the BARC Bullfrogs, then continued with a 4-1 win over the Minneapolis Angels, an 8-2 win over Stockmen’s Irish and a 5-3 winner’s bracket final victory over Rosetown before the 4-3 setback to SLP Sunday to force a second championship.
The title win added to the Miller’s other championships — in 1997, ’98, ’99, 2001, ’03, 04, ’06, ’07, ’09, ’10, ’12, ’15 and ’16 — and marked the second time they’ve won three straight.
“Streaks, those come and go,” Davis said. “It’s a great feeling, it’s the first time I’ve been a part of something like this. Now we’ve just got to go for four next year. That’s how we think.”
Photos by Adam J.S. Holt