Velva-Drake-Anamoose went into the final day of last season's region tournament in need of three wins to clinch a state tournament berth. Today, the Aggies will only need one.
With a 7-3 victory over Bishop Ryan on Monday at Corbett Field, the Aggies advanced to the Region 6 championship game.
Ryan, which edged V-D-A for the region title in 2013, takes on Surrey-Our Redeemer's Christian School at 4 p.m. today for a chance at a rematch against the region's top seed.
Velva-Drake-Anamoose senior Robert Finneseth (7) and junior Isaac Effertz celebrate in front of teammates during a Region 6 tournament game against Bishop Ryan on Monday at Corbett Field.
"It's nice that we only have to win one game and not three, but at the same time, we need to show up ready to play tomorrow," V-D-A coach Matt Weidler said. "We're gonna find ourselves in a battle, whoever we play. Surrey and Ryan are both good teams, and our guys gotta be focused."
V-D-A senior Drew Effertz tossed seven innings of one-hit baseball against the Lions, striking out 10.
Two of the three runs allowed by Effertz were unearned, and all three were plated in the third.
Down 1-0, Ryan senior catcher Jake Magnuson bunted a pair of baserunners into scoring position, including junior Jared Will, who reached on a fielding error to lead off the inning.
Senior shortstop Austin Eggl fought off a high fastball with an inside-out swing, blooping a single into short right field to give the Lions a 2-1 lead.
Shortly after, with Eggl in scoring position resulting from the Aggies' second error of the inning, V-D-A junior catcher Marcus Mack overthrew first baseman Nick Effertz in a pick-off attempt, allowing Eggl to score from second.
"You've just gotta wipe it out right away," Effertz said. "Defense is always gonna make errors, but they've been clutch all year. I knew they were gonna have my back."
From the fourth inning on, the Aggies went 6-for-6 in executing their defensive opportunities. Effertz also went on to retire the next 11 batters he faced.
Weidler applauded his ace for his ability to rebound from a tough inning.
"He missing here and there, but he was able to get his mindset right and battle back," Weidler said. "We gave up one hit all day. I'm pretty pleased by that."
Between Effertz and senior Bradley Dean - who started a quarterfinal game against Surrey-ORCS earlier in the day - the Aggies surrendered one hit over 12 innings pitched. Dean tossed a no-hitter against the Mustangs in a 21-1 thrashing.
"We've gotta keep throwing strikes and put the ball in play," Effertz said. "When we put the ball in play, runs will happen."
Despite capturing an early lead, Ryan couldn't find an answer to Effertz in the semifinal, and the team's own defensive frailties may have been the cause, Lions coach Brent Nelson said.
"We've got a lot of kids that have played a lot of baseball and we're booting the ball around and giving them second chances," Nelson said. "When you boot the ball around and they score runs, it's tough to get up there and hit."
The Lions committed six errors, just six days removed from a regional contest against Surrey-ORCS in which they committed seven.
Of the seven runs conceded by Ryan senior starter Tyler Allers, four were unearned.
"I thought Tyler pitched well, gave us a chance to win the game," Nelson said.
V-D-A scored in all but one inning, pulling ahead for good in the fourth.
Kickstarted by a leadoff single from senior Nick Monk, who stole second under the throw of Magnuson, sophomore Shad Vedaa laced a single up the middle to tie the game at 3. Later in the inning, Eggl overthrew first baseman Mason Kramer on a play that would have ended the inning, instead bringing Vedaa around for the go-ahead run.
Ryan has lost all three region games against Velva this year. The Lions need to get past Surrey-ORCS to get a fourth crack at the Aggies.
"We've gotta take it one game at a time now," Nelson said. "We know Surrey is gonna be ready. We just want to come out, have some fun and play the game. It's a fun game, and we make it look kind of difficult sometimes.
"I don't want our seniors to go out this way. They've worked way too hard."
The winner of today's championship play-in will square off against V-D-A 30 minutes later. Should the Aggies lose their next game, the winner-take-all final will be played 5 p.m. Thursday.
Joe Mellenbruch covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.