For a fifth straight year, the Alexandria Angels are headed to the Class B state amateur baseball championship game.
And it took a pitching gem from ace Trever Vermeulen and scratching out a run in the middle of the night to send the state’s powerhouse back to the final.
Cole Wenande hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Pierce Smith from third base in the eighth inning and that was enough, as the Angels toppled Harrisburg 1-0 early Sunday morning at Cadwell Park in the Class B semifinals.
The defending champion Angels (26-1) seeks its third state title in five years against Larchwood (20-7), which claimed a 3-2 semifinal victory Saturday afternoon over Garretson. That game will take place at about 2 p.m. Sunday at Cadwell Park.
Both team’s starting pitchers lived up to the hype in the contest, with Vermeulen and Harrisburg starter Aaron LaBrie both posting scoreless innings for each of the first seven frames. That was what many at Cadwell Park expected heading into the semifinals and the starters delivered.
“You just saw two of the best pitchers in the state out there,” Alexandria manager/catcher Chris Marek said. “The difference was that we made some really big plays that got us over the hump.”
In the eighth, Smith reached base on an error at third base, followed by a bunt single from Jerrod Zens that was thrown away, allowing both runners to move up to second and third. After an intentional walk, Wenande’s fly to center field allowed Smith to score the decisive run.
In the ninth, Harrisburg mounted its best scoring threat of the night. With runners at first and second and two outs, Brody Kunzmann singled up the middle and Angels shortstop Jordan Gau knocked down the ball behind second base, leaving the bases loaded.
“That play saved a run, saved the game,” Marek said. “We didn’t get an out but they didn’t get a run.”
Vermeulen then fanned Brian Stoebner to end the Woodies’ season. He had 11 strikeouts, running his state-record streak of consecutive pitching victories to 38.
“It’s a fun way to play a ball game,” Vermeulen said. “We faced a great team in Harrisburg and they can hit, they have a guy on the mound who can really pitch. So putting up zeros and letting my defense work behind me, we knew we would get that run.”
The two teams were not without chances early. Both Pierce Smith and Jerrod Zens reached to lead-off the third inning for the Angels but Smith was picked off second base by Woodies catcher Ryan Wenssen to damage the scoring chance.
Harrisburg picked up a lead-off double from Wenssen in the fourth inning but he moved up to third on a sacrifice fly but was left there by the next two batters. In the bottom of the inning, Tyson Gau had a lead-off triple to the gap in left-center but was left there after a punchout and two groundouts.
Both teams finished with four hits, with a pair of bunt singles from Zens. Wenssen had two hits for the Woodies, including a double. LaBrie’s lone run was unearned and he struck out nine, for Harrisburg, which was seeking its first state final appearance since 1982.
The game was delayed by three hours due to a rain storm that swept through Mitchell prior to the Class A semifinal game between Renner and the Vermillion Red Sox. That game didn't begin until after 8 p.m., and was a 17-13 slugfest in favor of the Monarchs, pushing the start time for Alexandria-Harrisburg to 11:36 p.m. Saturday night.
While the Angels relished the hard-fought victory just before 2 a.m. Sunday at Cadwell Park, Marek said he wasn’t worried about the Alexandria club heading to the championship game.
“I think we’ll come out and be ready to play,” Marek said. “We don’t really even have much time to think about it. I think we can build on what we did tonight and take that confidence into later today.”