Max Mercy for NSO
Photos By: Connie Carter
DULUTH — The Proctor Rails baseball program captured its fourth Section 7AA title as the Rails defeated Aitkin, 12-2, at Wade Stadium on Thursday. The game was called after five innings due to the 10-run rule. Proctor pounded out 14 hits off of four Aitkin pitchers, led by Matt Morris‘s 4-for-4, three-RBI performance.
Winning pitcher John Aase (7-1 W-L, 1.99 ERA) tossed a three-hitter and did not allow an earned run in five innings. He had five strikeouts, two walks, and two hit batsmen in his fourth complete game of the season.
Proctor, the visiting team for the first time in the playoffs, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first as Matt Tracey drew a one-out walk, advanced two bases on a single by Jake Malec, and scored on an RBI single by Morris.
Aitkin went ahead 2-1 in the second. Dylan Quade singled with one out and Locan Cluff was hit by a pitch. The runners moved up a base on Wyatt Kokesh’s groundout before they both scored on an error off the bat of Jack Kuppich.
The lead did not last long as Proctor put the game away with an eight-run third inning.
Tracey led off with a walk and was followed by singles by Malec and Morris that loaded the bases and chased Aitkin starter Jeb Sanford. With Kokesh on in relief, Aase drew a walk sending in Tracey for the tying run. Malec then scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. Bryce Huffman then laced a single to right field, scoring both Morris and Aase. The ball was misplayed in the outfield and, due to Wade Stadium’s artificial surface, it rolled to the corner allowing Huffman to reach third base. Matt Sievert then walked to put runners on the corners, still with no outs.
Huffman made the first out of the inning on a catcher-to-pitcher put-out as he attempted to score on a wild pitch that sent Sievert to second. Luke Nordquist, battling back from an 0-2 count, got the rally going again as he drew a walk, and Nathan Carlson loaded the bases yet again with an infield single. Aitkin made another pitching change, with Kuppich replacing Kokesh.
Derek Dahlgren reached base safely on an error, and was credited with an RBI as Sievert scored on the play. Tracey walked, plating Nordquist. Malec was hit by a pitch, sending in Carlson, and Dahlgren scored on Morris’s single for the eighth run of the frame.
The Rails scored three runs in the fourth to get to the 10-run lead. Nordquist, Carlson, and Dahlgren hit consecutive singles with one out to load the bases. Tracey bounced into a fielder’s choice, plating Nordquist and forcing Dahlgren out at second. The throw to first on the attempt on Tracey was errant, allowing Carlson to also score on the play. Malec drew a walk before Morris’s single scored Tracey for Proctor’s 12th run.
With the 10-run lead in hand, all Proctor had to do was keep Aitkin from scoring for two innings. The Gobblers went down in order in the fourth, but the fifth was a different story. Aase got a strikeout to start the fifth, but then walked Wyatt Sanford before recording another strikeout. Drew Nordean singled and Sam Peterson walked to load the bases.
Finally, Aase induced a ground ball off the bat of Jeb Sanford that went to the left of third baseman Blake Koski, who entered the game as a pinch hitter for Huffman in the top of the inning. Koski corralled it and threw to Sievert at first base just in time to beat the batter-runner and seal the victory.
Besides Morris’s perfect day at the plate, every Rails starter entered the hits column. Malec was 2-for-2 with a run and an RBI; Carlson was 2-for-3 with two runs. Dahlgren was 1-for-4 with a run and an RBI; Tracey was 1-for-2 with three runs and three RBI; Aase was 1-for-3 with a run and an RBI; Huffman was 1-for-3 with two RBI; Sievert was 1-for-2 with a double and a run; and Nordquist was 1-for-2 with two runs.
Aitkin starter Jeb Sanford was the losing pitcher. He allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in two innings. He faced three batters in the third without recording an out. Kokesh went one-third of an inning and allowed four runs on two hits and three walks. Kuppich allowed four runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk with a strikeout in one and two-thirds innings. Nordean pitched a scoreless top of the fifth despite allowing a walk and a hit batsman.
Proctor went undefeated in its playoffs run with victories over Eveleth-Gilbert, Virginia, Mora, Esko, and Aitkin. The Rails now await the Minnesota Class AA State Tournament pairings, to be announced on Saturday. The first two rounds of the Class AA tournament will be at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud, June 16-17, with the state championship to be played at Target Field in Minneapolis on June 20.
Proctor’s last trip to state was in 2012, with previous trips in 2011 and 1976.