After Tuesday night’s 10-0, five-inning win over Royalton in a Section 5A elimination game, the St. John’s Prep baseball team is back in a section final for the first time since 2002.
Two more wins and junior Zack Dehler and his Johnnies teammates can do something no team in any sport has done at the school since 1984 — advance to the state tournament.
“It’s awesome,” said Dehler, who went all five innings, scattered three hits, struck out five and did not issue a walk to pick up the win against the Royals on a sunny early evening at Joe Faber Field.
“We’ve been working toward this for five years. We’ve all been playing together for so long. It’s nice that it’s all coming together like this now.”
Of course, if Dehler and company are to become the first St. John’s Prep team to reach the state tournament since the Johnnies basketball team did it back in 1984, they must still accomplish a tall task.
St. John’s Prep will have to beat Prairie Conference rival Browerville twice in the section title round Thursday night. The first game is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. at Joe Faber Field, with a second game to follow immediately afterward if needed.
The Tigers beat the Johnnies in all three regular-season and playoff meetings between the two teams this season.
“What’s the old saying? The fourth and fifth times are the charm,” said a smiling Dehler, whose team is 16-7 overall.
“It’s going to be intense, but Thursday will be a lot of fun. We’ve been playing those guys for four years now. We’re all friends. It’s going to be really exciting.”
St. John’s Prep is in this position because of a clutch pitching performance from Dehler, who retired the first 11 batters he faced in order Tuesday, and because of some timely and patient hitting.
After scoring one run each in both the top of the first and second innings, the Johnnies drew three-straight walks to load the bases to start the top of the fourth. Junior Luke Teigen then delivered a two-run single to start what became an eight-run inning. St. John’s Prep sent 13 batters to the plate in all.
Senior Brian Walz also had a two-run single and senior Evan Jenkins and junior Alex Kendall had RBI singles as well.
“We lost a number of one-run games earlier in the season because we just weren’t able to push runners across the plate when we had the chance,” St. John’s Prep coach Tom Grandy said.
“We haven’t hit any home runs this year. So we’re a team that has to string a lot of singles together and mix in a double here and there. But the biggest key is our guys staying patient and drawing walks like they did today. We did a great job of not chasing any pitches.”
Royalton — which finished 11-14 overall — hurt its own cause with four costly errors and some wild pitches. The Royals went into the East Sub-Section 5A playoffs as the No. 6 seed, but won three games to capture the sub-section title before falling 2-1 to West Sub-Section champion Browerville in the Section 5A winner’s bracket Monday night.
“We got on a roll and played pretty well,” Royalton coach Rusty Gwost said. “We had some tough games and we stayed mentally sharp. We showed a lot of heart. But I think losing that game 2-1 last night was just too much for our guys to overcome. We really had nothing left in the tank. Physically and emotionally, we were just tired.”