Mount Vernon’s state tournament was filled with comebacks, just like its season.
Its three-run rally in the ninth inning was matched with Milbank catcher Brady Krause’s walk-off single in a 6-5 defeat on Monday at Cadwell Park.
But the comeback -- along with a 4-3 ninth-inning comeback win over Larchwood (Iowa) in the first round -- emphasized the turnaround that made the Mustangs one of the top teams in the Sunshine League a year after finishing 6-15. Mount Vernon flipped its record, going 17-6 and finishing as the District 5B runner-up.
“We added a bunch of new guys -- Jay (Thaler) behind the plate -- just guys who really love to compete,” Mount Vernon player-manager Deric Denning said. “We were competitive. Our level of competitiveness was off the charts all year. They showed up and fought every time.”
The Mustangs showed that during the state tournament, with different players stepping up in the waning moments. Chase Hetland drove in three ninth-inning runs, while Cameron Deinert drove in the game-winning run against Larchwood and Eric Giblin had the game-tying hit with two outs against Milbank.
However, for a team which scored 7.2 runs per contest, it struggled to plate runs before the final frame. Mount Vernon was held to nine runs and 16 hits, while striking out 35 times in its final three games.
“A lot of it is pitching,” Denning said. “We faced (Alexandria’s) Trever Vermeulen, who is probably the best pitcher this decade. The GPAC pitcher of the year in (Dom) Boerger and (Trent) Roose is really, really good. We scored just enough runs all year. We haven’t really been an offensive juggernaut.”
Mount Vernon’s backbone came on the mound and in the field. Denning weathered control issues -- he issued eight walks in 8.1 innings -- and Luke Tiesler battled through 11 Milbank hits in his 5.2-inning start. But neither let the games slip away.
Rather, a game after Mount Vernon’s sound defense helped Denning get out of jams, its four errors cost Tiesler five unearned runs and a 3-0 first-inning deficit. The Firechiefs didn’t plate an earned run until Krause’s walk-off single.
“Luke’s pitched well all year for us,” Denning said. “He kept us in the game. He did what he’s done all year.”
Even with cold bats to end the season and Monday’s fielding woes, Mount Vernon’s 11-win improvement has the team optimistic about next season. It’ll take a couple of days for the sting of its season-ending loss to wear off, Denning said, but the Mustangs will look back on this season with pride.
“I think the future is bright,” Giblin said. “We got good pitching, we got good hitting. Our defense has been playing well all season -- didn’t show up (Monday). We got the tools in place, and I like where we’re heading.”