The Rocori Spartans were startled by their seventh seed in the Section 8-3A playoffs, blaming a couple of key losses to moving down the QRF ratings their section uses.
But as co-Central Lakes Conference champion with Alexandria, Rocori knew it was a good team capable of a long playoff run.
Monday afternoon at Dick Putz Field, the Spartans put themselves one victory from the state Class 3A tournament.
Rocori beat Brainerd 4-3 in the winners’ bracket of the double-elimination 8-3A tournament.
“We talked about our seed in the section and how we weren’t very high,” Rocori’s Reed Pfannenstein said. “But we knew we were a good ballclub.”
Rocori (15-8) plays at 6:30 tonight at Alexandria’s Knute Nelson Field. The Spartans meet the winner of fourth-seeded Brainerd (15-7) and Alexandria (17-7), who play at 4 tonight.
If Rocori loses, it plays Wednesday at either Brainerd or Alexandria, depending who won the 4 p.m. game. This season, coaches decided to have the top seed be the host throughout the tournament, except for Monday, when there were four games.
Also on Monday at the Municipal Athletic Complex, Alexandria eliminated Big Lake 9-5 in the losers’ bracket. St. Michael-Albertville eliminated Moorhead 5-0. Alexandria then knocked off St. Michael-Albertville 8-0.
Rocori is sitting pretty because Pfannenstein threw well and the Spartans had a big fourth inning that plated four runs.
“It’s just been a matter of us putting the pieces together when we’ve had to,” Rocori senior left fielder Adam Dingmann said.
Dingmann’s two-run single was one of the key blows. It followed an RBI double by Austin Athmann. Dingmann stole second and went to third on Jake Hennen’s sacrifice bunt. He then scored on a wild pitch.
“It’s part of our motto: ‘Put pressure on and sooner or later, a team’s going to break,'” Dingmann said.
Brainerd took a 3-0 lead in the second, getting an RBI single from first baseman Logan McElfresh and a two-run infield hit by Tory Miller. Miller’s ball nearly got through the right side of the infield, but first baseman Jake Hennen dove for it. It hit off the end of his glove and by the time someone caught up with it, two runs were in.
“I felt roughed up,” Pfannenstein said. “But I figured our batters could come back.
“It’s three runs, we’re capable of doing that.”
Pfannenstein struck out nine, walked three and scattered six hits to improve his record to 4-2. The senior right-hander is headed to North Dakota State on a baseball scholarship.
Brainerd had a runner on third in the fifth, but the Spartans got out of it when the Warriors failed to get down the bunt on a failed suicide squeeze. Pfannenstein said he saw the runner break , was aiming for an outside pitch anyway and let it go a little further outside, out of the batter’s reach.
It was the play of the game.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Rocori head coach Jeff Illies said. “If it is Alex or Brainerd, those are two competitive teams. We’re not going to take anything for granted, that’s for sure.”
ROCORI – Mac Mueller 2-3 R, Austin Athmannn 1-3 2B R SB, Adam Dingmann 1-3 R RBI-2 SB; WP-Reed Pfannenstein IP-7 H-6 R-3 ER-3 BB-3 SO-9.
BRAINERD – Drew Sannes 1-3, Nate DuChaine 2-3 R, Conor Gessell 1-3 R, Logan McElfresh 1-2 R RBI BB, Tory Miller 1-3 RBI-2; LP-Sannes IP-7 H-4 R-4 ER-4 BB-2 SO-6.