Reed Hjelle hit his 10th home run of the season in the 5-3 win.
CROOKSTON - Reed Hjelle (Sr. 1B) went deep for a go-ahead bomb, Dalton Grose (R-So. LHP) walked the tightrope in the final two innings and the Minnesota Crookston Golden Eagles scored five unanswered runs to hand the No. 5 St. Cloud State Huskies their fifth conference loss of the season.
The win over St. Cloud State is Minnesota Crookston's first since March 20, 2009 when the Golden Eagles won 6-5 in 12 innings. The Huskies are also the highest-ranked team Minnesota Crookston has ever beaten.
For the first five innings, the Golden Eagles (21-14, 14-7 NSIC) struggled to get to Cal Giese (Sr. LHP) of the Huskies (29-7, 17-5 NSIC). Minnesota Crookston did not get their first base hit until the fourth inning and only once saw a runner in scoring position.
After helping the Huskies to three runs with fluke plays, the Golden Eagles finally began to square up pitches against Giese in the sixth inning, the third time through the order. Hjelle began the rally with a single to center, and the next batter, Brock Reller (So. RF), drove a ball to right field that sent Mitch Mallek (Sr. RF), who was playing shallow due to a harsh wind, sprinting to the fence with his back to the plate. Hjelle scored all the way from first, Reller pulled into third with a triple and Minnesota Crookston was in business.
Ben Thoma (So. C) followed with a single to bring in Reller, and three batters later, Scott Finberg (Jr. 3B) knocked a single through the left hole for a game-tying hit.
Finberg’s equalizer came just after the Golden Eagles chased Giese from the game. The senior left the contest charged with three runs on five hits and eight strikeouts in 5.1 innings pitched.
“I think guys realize that they need to make some adjustments,” Golden Eagles Head Coach Steve Gust said. “Different guys make have to make different adjustments, but we are making those adjustments. One of the big keys is to stay disciplined at the plate and find your pitch to hit. I thought we did that a lot of times. Sometimes we missed that pitch, but we got into decent counts, or we jumped on a pitch early.”
Opposing Giese, Zach Rustad (Sr. LHP), the winning pitcher who improved to 5-5, recovered from an unprecedented turn of events to deliver a quality outing of seven innings, three runs on five hits and five punch outs.
In the top of the second, Rustad retired the first two batters before allowing a double and a walk. While pitching to Ethan Ibarra (Sr. 3B), Rustad balked the two baserunners up 90 feet, and Ibarra brought them both in on a hit to center for a 2-0 advantage.
The story of the Huskies’ third run came on a double steal attempt in the top half of the third. With runners on first and second, both Huskies took off. Rustad stepped off the mound to get the first base runner, Mathew Meyer (Sr. C), in a pickle, and the lead runner, Najee Gaskins (Jr. CF), scored all the way from second with no throw. Meyer was eventually tagged out between first and second to end the inning, but Gaskins’ run counted.
Rustad cruised through the next four innings allowing only one hit.
“There was no panic at all, and it starts with our man on the mound, Rustad, where he just did his thing,” Gust said. “He didn’t let anything get to him. He just pounded the zone, mixed it up pretty well and just competed out there.”
All tied up 3-3 in the seventh inning, Minnesota Crookston continued to tag St. Cloud State reliever Shannon Ahern (Jr. LHP), who had not allowed a run in 10.2 straight innings.
Leading off the frame, Landyn Swenson (Jr. CF) reached on a single which brought Hjelle to the plate. The Huskies played Hjelle to pull, which he did, but it did not matter where the fielders stood as the ball sailed over the left field fence for a go-ahead two-run homer to award the Golden Eagles their first lead of the game at 5-3.
Hjelle, who went 3-for-3 on the day, increased his season batting average to .364.
“It was just coming down to sitting easy, not trying to do too much,” Hjelle said. “When we try to do too much, we get out of our own zone and start swinging at pitches we shouldn’t. We locked it in and got some good pitches to hit.”
Six outs sat between Minnesota Crookston and a win against the No. 5 team in the nation, and the Golden Eagles went to their closer, Grose, for the six-out save. Grose worked around a lead-off error in the eighth and escaped a situation with runners on first and third with no outs in the ninth to notch his ninth save of the year.
“He just pitches,” Gust said. “He doesn’t let anything get to him, and he’s got nerves of steel. His stuff is good, but it’s nothing that’s eye-popping. He’s a little bit different with his sidearm being left-handed. He competes at his highest level when the pressure is at its most.”
Hjelle admitted to a sense of uneasiness but did not fret when the game came down to the wire.
“It’s nerve-wrecking, but [Grose’s] our guy, and that’s who we trust,” Hjelle said. “I had all the confidence in the world in him.”
When Grose recorded the final out, the Minnesota Crookston players exploded into a roar and sustained it all the way into their clubhouse where the shouts could be heard from outside the door.
“That’s one of the things you play for,” Hjelle said. “We’re a family here playing together. Getting wins like that means the world to all of us.”
With the victory, the Golden Eagles move to four wins away from tying their program record of 25 set in 2016.
Minnesota Crookston and St. Cloud State will be back in action for a doubleheader on Saturday, April 20. First pitches are set for 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.
AB R H RBI BB SO LOB Bryce Jorgenson (LF) 4 0 1 0 1 1 3 Landyn Swenson (CF) 4 1 1 0 0 1 2 Reed Hjelle (1B) 3 2 3 2 1 0 0 Brock Reller (RF) 4 1 1 1 0 2 1 Ben Thoma (C) 3 1 1 1 1 1 0 Jonathan Lund (DH) 4 0 0 0 0 1 0 Mason Ruhlman (2B) 3 0 1 0 0 2 2 Scott Finberg (3B) 3 0 1 1 0 0 0 Griffin Fussy (SS) 4 0 0 0 0 3 0 Pitchers IP H R ER BB K Zach Rustad (W, 5-5) 7.0 5 3 3 2 5 Dalton Grose (S, 9) 2.0 2 0 0 0 2
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