No. 1-seeded Velva earns championship berth, defeats No. 2 Cando 7-4
VELVA — Cando catcher Jeremiah Hill kicked off Tuesday afternoon’s action with a bang, but Velva starting pitcher Luke Zimmer showed his resolve in clutch moments.
Hill’s first-pitch home run caused pandemonium in the third-base dugout. Although the No. 2-seeded Bearcats enjoyed the early momentum, Zimmer led the No. 1-seeded 39ers to a 7-4 victory in the Class B Independent District 3 Tournament contest.
“For him, it’s focus,” Velva head coach Brent Engebretson said about Zimmer. “He’s always supremely confident. He didn’t have his changeup today, which really bugged him early. That’s why his pitch count got up. He didn’t get to finish. He found it later and really found his breaking ball, which helped. He threw a lot of zeroes out there.”
Both teams went down quietly after Hill provided the initial buzz. After enduring some early struggles at the plate, Velva loaded the bases in the bottom of the third inning.
Facing a full count with two outs on the board, 39ers infielder Jersey Selzler worked a walk. Velva did not tally any hits in that inning, but the 39ers capitalized on the momentum in the next frame.
In the bottom of the fourth, Velva catcher Ricky Gonzales hit a line drive that snuck into the right-center gap. Colin Dean came in for Gonzales as a courtesy runner and helped himself to a large lead off second base.
The ball skipped into center field after an errant pickoff attempt. Gunnar Mogen hustled from third base to home plate and gave Velva a 3-1 lead.
Aiming for an expeditious response, Cando’s Ian Knutson unloaded on a pitch in the top of the fifth inning. Knutson’s two-run home run knotted the score at 3-3.
“You have to have everything working,” Zimmer said. “They put a lot of balls in play. I’m just glad I could get out of it pretty unscathed. The first time they played us, they had great contact hitters. I didn’t know the power they had, but they showed it today. We knew coming in that it was going to be a tough game.”
Three runs in the bottom of the fifth helped Velva seal the game. The 39ers loaded the bases once again before Blake Engebretson mashed an infield hit through the right side.
Gage Florence’s blooper dropped and scored another run. After Engebretson showed his agility and scored another insurance run, the margin widened to 6-3.
The art of the sacrifice fly helped both teams tally one run apiece in the sixth inning. Zimmer recorded one out before exhausting his pitch count in the top of the seventh. As Zimmer left the mound, Michael Thomas entered the game as Velva’s closer. Bearcats filled the bases, but Thomas did not surrender a run.
He induced a flyout to right field and rejoiced with his teammates beside first base.
“It felt amazing to be able to close the game out for the team,” Thomas said. “It’s nice to be able to have the coaches rely on you and trust you to come in when they need you in big situations.”
The Bearcats exhibited a potent offensive attack in spurts. However, the 39ers stayed within themselves and took the adversity in stride.
“We had a couple plays out there that defined that game,” Cando head coach Jesse Vote said. “I’ve said that all along. You never know at what point in time you’re going to have to make a play that could be the deciding factor in the game. It just didn’t bounce our way.”
Velva won the day, but Brent Engebretson was effusive in his praise for Cando reliever Dane Hagler.
“He’s 14 years old and he had us off balance,” he said. “I mean, he did a fantastic job. I even told him, ‘Great job’ as he left the field. He deserved better because he threw the ball and threw strikes. His defense let him down on two big plays. Otherwise, this is probably a different result.”
Velva will play Rolla in this afternoon’s championship game at 1 p.m. If Rolla wins and hands Velva its first loss of the tournament, then a rematch championship game will begin shortly after the first contest is completed.
Jimmy Lafakis covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JJLII30.