In the twinkling of an eye, the regular season came to a close on Sunday, July 26, and the playoffs are set to begin. On the strength of a 7-5 record in the River Valley League – 8-5 overall – Belle Plaine has earned the league’s No. 3 seed and will host the Wells Wildcats (No. 6 seed, 13-60 League) on Sunday, Aug. 2, at 2 p.m.
The Tigers’ following game will take place on Saturday, Aug. 8, with all other information yet to be determined. The finalized, filled-in Region 6C bracket is expected to be available sometime on July 29.
There was big news this week when it was announced that New Ulm, the primary host site for the 2020 State Tournament, will no longer host any games due to a vote by its city council. Springfield remains as a state tournament host site, but the Minnesota Baseball Association state board will soon decide how and who will fill the gap for New Ulm.
Over this past week, Team Tigertown played two one-run games – a win over Gaylord and a loss to Jordan – while also beating Henderson twice: once by a dozen runs and another time by forfeit. It’s the first forfeit this ball writer can recall involving our hometown team since becoming associated with it in 1991.
BP 2 @ Gaylord 1
Tuesday, July 21
Belle Plaine traveled to Gaylord on a beautiful night for baseball to kick off the first of four games in six days. El Tigre struck in the first when a two-out walk to Aiden Ladd was followed by a stolen base and then an RBI single by Dylan Kahle. A Jake Mercado solo home run in the fourth was BP’s final tally but proved to be enough for starting pitcher Brody Curtiss.
Curtiss faced the minimum number of batters through three innings before yielding his only run in the fourth. The Islanders’ minor-league stalwart, Brody Rodning, came on for the fifth frame, so the locals knew Curtiss would need to be near-perfect the rest of the way.
In the sixth inning, things looked hairy, as Gaylord got the first two batters on base to bring up their feared No. 3-hitter. You may recall their last game versus the Islanders when they bunted in the same situation but it didn’t work out. Much to the delight of those without access to the internet and a bunting probability chart, Gaylord’s 3-hole hitter squared around to bunt once again.
Curtiss pounced on the ball and was able to get the lead runner out at third base, showing the crowd that a bunt is not guaranteed to work, and you should never do it. Two consecutive strikeouts later and the inning was over.
In the eighth, Curtiss faced runners at first and third with one out but struck out the Nos. 4- and 5-hitters to escape the jam. Curtiss finished the game with a dozen strikeouts while scattering seven hits. Tigertown mustered a meager four knocks, with Derek Dalhke and Jonny Vinkemeier also contributing.
Henderson 1 @ BP 13
Wed., July 22 – 7 innings
The Tigers and the City of Belle Plaine were honored to host the final leg of FOX 9’s “Town Ball Tour” for the 2020 campaign, meaning that TV personalities and camera crews were at Tiger Park – and about Tigertown – from 6:15 a.m. to about 11 p.m. All in all, the promotion was a rousing success, both for highlighting our beloved borough and for putting an all-important win on the left side of the ledger.
In hopes that it appears in the “Thirty Years Ago This Week” column in 2050, we’ll take an extra paragraph to note that Dave “Greek” Wagner began the interviews from Tiger Park at 6:45 a.m. Mayor Chris Meyer was next on location from the aquatic center while his father, former mayor and MBA Hall of Famer Gerry “Mize” Meyer, shared a sliver of his wisdom from the downtown plaza. Microphone magnet Pat Schultz wrapped up the morning segments with a pair of interviews back at the ballpark.
The Gray Tigers, which manager Zip Zellmann really should be writing about on a weekly basis, started off the field festivities at 5 p.m. against the Jordan MillersWhile a late Tiger error submarined a surefire victory and resulted in a 3-3 tie due to time constraints, “Greek” greased the skids for his own plaque unveiling later that night by bringing the house down with a clean pinch-hit single in the sixth inning.
As for the town team, they jumped on Henderson early and never looked back, scoring 13 runs in their first four at-bats – including seven tallies in the third inning. Curtiss and Aiden Ladd both ripped three hits, while Tyler O’Brien had two. Derek Dahlke fanned three men in four innings to pick up the win.
A wonderful crowd that featured many new faces – including Belle Plaine’s newly-crowned Royal Court from the Bar-B-Q Days That Wasn’t – displayed great zeal for the game and an enjoyment for the great game of baseball. Tiger Alumni proved difficult to corral but also graced the crowd of local celebrities.
Jordan 5 @ BP 4
Sunday, July 26
Facing the defending Class C state champions, the Tigers entered with a jarring mark of futility against their Hwy. 169 neighbors: 17 straight losses and setbacks in 26 of 27 and 31 of 33. But as Ellen Griswold once said, “With each day there’s fresh hope.”
Things looked immediately ominous as Joe Lucas opened the game with a leadoff circuit clout. Jordan added another tally before Belle Plaine first came to bat, but the Tigers scored on Jake Mercado’s first inning single although back-to-back strikeouts left runners stranded at second and third.
In the fifth inning, it was Mercado again, belting a no-doubt homer – his second of the week and team-leading second of the season – cutting Jordan’s lead to 3-2. In the seventh inning, it was Guess Who? – Mercado – driving in the tying run in the form of Tyler O’Brien with a ground ball to second base.
Tied 3-3, Lucas started the ninth inning with a double and one-batter later, scored the go-ahead run on Devin Ulibarri’s single. With two outs, Scott Hollingsworth clubbed an insurance-run long ball – a run that soon proved to be decisive.
Chase Emmers reached by error to open the home half of the ninth and scored on Tyler O’Brien’s sacrifice fly. After a two-out walk to Curtiss, the Tigers had their man, Mercado, representing the winning run at the plate. A ground ball to second base, however, ended the game.
Starter Jared Miller (5 IP, 3 R) and Colton Kerkow (4 IP, 2 R) split the mound duties for Belle Plaine.