Crookston's season comes to an end with 12-9 loss at Thief River Falls
THIEF RIVER FALLS — When it was over, Mitch Bakken pulled out his phone and turned it on to see a message from his wife which included a photo of his young son.
A few weeks earlier, Bakken had submitted his resignation as the coach of the Crookston baseball team, effective at season's end. He'd been coaching the Pirates since 2014 and had coached the Minnesota Crookston softball team for eight seasons before that. But priorities change, and at this point, he knew he wanted to spend more time with his family.
On Tuesday, Bakken coached the Pirates in their season-ending, 12-9 loss to Thief River Falls in the Section 8AA Tournament. For two-plus hours, he had been trying to focus on baseball and baseball only. But that need dissolved once he saw his son's photo. Now he just wanted to get home.
"I was kind of worried," he said. "Not that I would take my mind out of it, but just to make sure my emotions were in check, I tried not to think about it until the last out."
Then, Bakken addressed his team one last time, telling them how proud he was of them.
"It was a way closer game than the score," he said. "... I hope our guys have their heads up. They played outstanding."
Offense was the story on Tuesday. The Prowlers had 16 hits and the Pirates had eight, and just four half-innings passed without any runs being scored. The two teams alternated leads through the first four innings and went back-and-forth all game with solid contact.
"I've never seen us hit so many line drives and hard-hit balls," Bakken said. "... Anybody can have a bad at-bat here and there, but they all barreled up. I don't know if we even had a pop fly on the infield."
When it first became apparent that the Pirates were headed to Thief River Falls for their first playoff game, Bakken thought the difference would be in the field. If his team could limit its mistakes, something they'd struggled with down the stretch, they'd be in pretty good shape.
While Crookston committed four errors, it stranded 10 Prowlers on base and minimized potential threats with clutch defensive plays. Gunnar Gunderson uncorked a powerful throw from centerfield to cut down a run at the plate in the second inning, and with TRF threatening to break the game open in the fourth, catcher Ashton Larson gunned down a runner trying to steal second base.
After a scoreless fifth inning, the Pirates seemed to seize the momentum in the sixth. A wild pitch brought one run across, and consecutive RBI singles from Jacob Miller and Ethan Boll put Crookston in front at 7-6.
But Thief River Falls had just a little bit more than the Pirates on Tuesday. Nine Prowlers in a 10-batter span reached base during the bottom of the sixth, a stretch which included five singles and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. The resulting six-run inning pushed the Pirates' backs right up against the wall.
"They strung some hits together and had timely hits," Bakken said. "That was the difference. Tip your hat to them. ... They zoned up, they made adjustments. When their baseballs found holes, ours went at people."
Bakken also was proud that Crookston went down fighting in the seventh inning. It put two runs on the board before Gunderson lined out to center for the final out, bringing an end to a rollercoaster season.
The Pirates, fueled by a small but effective senior class of Miller (2-for-4 Tuesday), Cade Coauette and Carter Bruggeman and underclassmen like Gunderson, Larson and Boll (2-for-4), started out 5-2 before a blown 8-0 lead at Sacred Heart kicked off a seven-game losing streak. But they rallied behind more energetic play over the regular season's last week, winning four straight to enter the playoffs on a roll.
"They'll be a good team next year," Bakken said.
Bakken still hopes to help out in whatever capacity he can next season. He doesn't know what his schedule will look like at this point, but he's happy to volunteer with hitting or pitching practice "a couple nights a week" if he's able.
However Bakken stays involved, he doesn't want it to come between him and his young family. But no longer being the Pirates' coach may actually allow him to do the opposite. When Crookston's at home, he hopes to attend as many games as he can, bringing his wife and son, who loves simply being out at the park, out to Jim Karn Field.
After so many years in the dugout, he's looking forward to sitting back and watching for a change.
THIEF RIVER FALLS 12, CROOKSTON 9
Thief River Falls 2-1-1-2-0-6—12-16-2
- WP: Zach Westlund (5.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K)
- LP: Jacob Miller (4.2 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K)
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