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Opportunistic Platte tops Canova 4-3

After trailing 3-0 through two innings, the Platte Killer Tomatoes stormed back to take the lead on a two-run single in the eighth inning by 53-year-old Frank Cutler and held on to defeat Canova 4-3 in first-round action at the South Dakota Class B state amateur baseball tournament Sunday at Cadwell Park in Mitchell.

Cutler, in his 34th season of amatuer baseball, was inducted into the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame this year and entered the game as a pinch hitter with two outs as the Killer Tomatoes had runners on second and third base.

"I may not be able to run or throw the ball like I used to, but sometimes I can still swing okay," Cutler said.

Canova Gang manager Dave Gassman said after the game that he considered intentionally walking Cutler to not allow him the opportunity to drive in the game tying and winning runs, but he didn't want to put the pressure on his pitcher that a walk would tie the game.

"I knew (Cutler) was going to hit the ball," Gassman said. "He's a good hitter but you just hope he hits it at somebody."

While the veteran of the team hit the game-winning RBI, it was a state tournament rookie that came up big on the mound for Platte.

Richard Sternberg, a Platte Legion player, was added to the amateur team's roster for postseason play and picked up the win on the mound.

Sternberg started the game at third base and moved to the mound with one out in the third inning and his team trailing 3-0. He said he felt like there was no pressure when he entered the game.

"I just wanted to throw strikes," he said. "As the game went on I got a little nervous."

The Killer Tomatoes recorded their first run in the fourth inning to cut the Canova lead to 3-1. Platte narrowed the gap to one run in the seventh inning after an RBI single by John Hoeksma before scoring the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth.

The pitching change and first run of the contest for the Platte offense is what Cutler thought turned the game around.

"Early in the game it was looking like one of those Canova blowouts," he said. "(Sternberg) just pitched great."

Sternberg relieved left-handed starter Audi Kuipers after Kuipers allowed three runs on six hits and two walks through 2 ⅓ innings.

"(Kuipers) just didn't really have it," Platte manager Todd Strand said.

The right-handed Sternberg didn't allow a run in his 6 ⅔ innings of work. He gave up three hits and one walk, while striking out seven.

"It was phenomenal the way (Sternberg) came in under pressure like that, especially against a team like Canova with the tradition they have," Strand added.

After entering the game, Sternberg was able to get his team out of the third inning by facing just one batter as he got Canova's Jimmy Bauer to ground into a double play. Sternberg then retired all three batters in the fourth inning before getting himself into trouble in the fifth.

The Gang loaded the bases in the fifth inning with no outs, but Sternberg retired the next three batters in order.

"We just didn't get it done at the plate," Gassman said. "We needed the big hit with runners on base and we couldn't get it done."

Canova left 10 runners on base and grounded into two double plays in the contest. Three errors by the Gang also cost the team as all four of Platte's runs were unearned.

"Sometimes you do something special to win the game and other times you lose the game," Gassman said. "We lost the game. Give them credit, they took advantage of our mistakes but you can't give up four unearned runs and expect to win."

Lincoln Gassman was the losing pitcher for the Gang. He pitched eight innings, allowing four runs, all unearned, on five hits and two walks. He struck out five Platte batters.

The win improves Platte's record to 8-10 on the season and the team moves on to face Flandreau at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Mitchell. Canova's season ends with a 17-11 record.

NOTES: Canova's Gavin Gassman went 3-for-5 in the game with an RBI and a run scored. Lincoln Gassman was the only other hitter with multiple hits as he finished 2-for-3 at the plate. Although no Platte batter finished with multiple hits, Audi Kuipers scored two runs and recorded an RBI while finishing the game 1-for-3.