If you’re a St. Cloud Apollo baseball team member, especially a senior, Tuesday was a day to remember.
First, Apollo tossed two shutouts to stay alive in the Section 8-3A playoffs. Then Apollo’s seniors went through graduation ceremonies Tuesday night.
“I was way more excited for these games than I was about graduation,” Apollo senior Reese Gregory said.
That’s fair. The games were memorable, too.
Apollo beat Rocori 2-0 in an elimination game, with Gregory getting the complete-game shutout. Then, the Eagles knocked off Bemidji 4-0 with T.J. Frericks and Tyler Mueller combining for the shutout.
It forces a winner-take-all game at 7 tonight at Dick Putz Field. At stake is a berth in next week’s state Class 3A tournament at Midway Stadium in St. Paul.
“It’s going to be a long night,” Mueller said about graduation.
Like Gregory, he was way more pumped up about Tuesday’s games than graduation ceremonies. But Apollo hasn’t been this far into the playoffs since 2000, when it lost to eventual state champion Brainerd. And the Eagles last qualified for state in 1985, when it won the thing.
It’s time to get excited.
“It’s fun baseball for those kids, win or lose,” Apollo head coach Nik Peterson said. “They get to graduate tonight and experie that and play some good games. That’s part of the fun over the two-day period.”
In game one, second-seeded Apollo (22-2) ended third-seeded Rocori’s season with another dominating performance from Gregory. The senior right-hander, who is headed to St. Cloud State to play baseball, tossed a five-hitter. He struck out eight and pitched to only two batters over the minimum.
And that was because of the Eagles’ defense. Apollo turned two double plays and catcher Eric Jarosch gunned out one would-be base-stealer and picked off another at first base.
Offensively, Apollo hit just enough to win. Gregory had an RBI double in the first and Brandon Bloch had an RBI double in the fifth.
Rocori (16-8), which had beaten Apollo 4-1 Saturday, simply couldn’t get anything going.
“We were just playing our game,” Gregory said.
“The jitters were all gone,” Mueller said.
In game two, Apollo used junior left-hander T.J. Frericks to get to the fourth inning, then had Mueller finish up.
“T.J. did an outstanding job,” Peterson said.
Mueller pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth, getting a double-play ball hit to Bloch at second. He tagged out the runner coming from first then tossed it over to Dylan Jaeger at first.
“With T.J. pitching, we have the most solid defense of any team around,” Mueller said.
Ethan Carlson had two web gems in left field and Bryan Benson ran down a couple of balls in center.
Offensively, the Eagles took advantage of Bemidji’s lone error to score two runs in the fourth, getting an RBI single from Frericks.
They added two more runs in the fifth on a two-run double from Bloch.
Top-seeded Bemidji (22-2) left 11 runners on base and was shut out for the first time this season.
“We started to swing way better toward the end of the game,” Bemidji head coach Mike Fogelson said. “But the damage was done by then …
“That’s three straight games we’ve seen a lefty and they’ve all given us fits. They (the Eagles) did a nice job on the mound. They had a couple of timely hits. We had a costly error.”
Center fielder Body Rutledge was 2-for-4 with a double and stolen base for the Lumberjacks, who bat better than .330 and average nine runs per game.
Bemidji is trying for its second straight state appearance and will have left-hander Ryan Hirt and right-hander Cody Jenkins, who threw Saturday, available.
And Apollo? Peterson wasn’t ready to say.
“I told them that everybody has to be ready to go,” he said.