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Beavers’ rally falls inches short

Season ends with 7-6 loss to Crookston

Ryan Ladika/MDN Nolan Monthei hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning to pull the Beavers to within two runs in their eventual 7-6 defeat to Minnesota Crookston Friday afternoon.

Narrow games had been the Beavers’ bread and butter throughout the 2021 campaign. In a cruel twist of fate the game of baseball has a knack for producing, it was a one-run contest that ended Minot State’s season Friday afternoon.

After a late-inning defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Crookston Golden Eagles to open the NSIC Tournament Thursday, the Beavers desperately needed a win Friday afternoon to extend their season and force a decisive game three in the tournament’s opening series.

That victory never came, as a late rally fell just short and the Beavers’ season concluded with their second consecutive tournament defeat, and third straight loss overall, to Crookston by a 7-6 score at Corbett Field.

Looking to shake off a heartbreaking 10-6 defeat Thursday, the Beavers faced a familiar foe in Crookston starter Conner Richardson, meeting the right-hander for the second time in a week after scratching across four runs in five innings against the Golden Eagles May 7 in an eventual 4-1 victory.

The right-hander needed 98 pitches to labor through his five frames a week ago, but had everything working Friday afternoon to keep the Beavers hitters guessing for most of the afternoon.

Kaiden Cardoso and Nolan Monthei both went down on strikes in a scoreless first. A trio of flyouts gave the righty a clean second. Matt Malone earned the first Beaver hit in the third, but Drew Behling’s fly ball died in the glove of Golden Eagles left fielder Landyn Swenson to end the inning.

The Crookston hurler provided his offense the quick innings they needed to keep the pressure on Beavers starter Blake Gallagher, who struggled to find his command from his first delivery.

Two hit-batsmen, an errant pickoff attempt and a walk opened the door for two Golden Eagle runs in the first inning, and the visitors struck for five more through the following four frames against Gallagher and reliever Noah Myhre.

The Beavers were able to plate three runs of their own in the fourth and fifth innings via a Jake Collins RBI groundout, a Tyler Wiltshire triple and a passed ball, but their at-bats looked quite uncomfortable throughout the afternoon against Crookston’s starter.

Perhaps the sole factor that forced Richardson from the game was his lofty pitch count that reached 104 after his perfect seventh inning. The Beavers’ dugout likely let out a collective sigh of relief at the sight of the Crookston bullpen giving way for Brody Sorenson in the bottom of the eighth to protect a 7-3 advantage.

Their at-bats the final two frames put on display the new life Minot State’s hitters felt with a new arm on the bump.

After 3.1 crucial scoreless frames tossed by Jordan Chappell to keep the home nine in the game, Minot State was finally able to break the dam. Behling led off the bottom of the eighth with a leadoff single, followed immediately by a two-run blast off Monthei’s bat to close the gap to two runs.

Chappell came through again with a spotless ninth, giving him his longest outing of the year in the process, and the momentum had swung to the home team’s dugout. This was where Minot State had excelled time and time again in 2021; of the 21 games decided by three or fewer runs the program played entering the tournament, the Beavers had earned the win 15 times.

Jordan Williams doubled off Sorenson to kick off the final inning. Ryley Humrighouse reached on an untimely miscue by Golden Eagles’ second baseman Mason Ruhlman that also allowed Williams to advance another 90 feet, and pinch-hitter Declan Buckle plated Minot State’s sixth run on a groundout to shortstop.

Minnesota Crookston made the call to the ‘pen once more, bringing in Tyler Hegg for the final two outs. Malone greeted him with a walk to put runners on first and third, and Monthei did the same after a Behling punchout.

The Beavers’ season hung on the hulking shoulders of Kaiden Cardoso in the situation in every kid’s dreams in their neighborhood sandlot: bottom of the ninth, bases loaded and two outs with his team trailing by one.

Cardoso, having earned five hits and driven in five runs in his last three games, worked the count to two balls and two strikes before taking the next pitch inside. The home plate umpire’s strike three call rang throughout Corbett Field moments later, and Cardoso tossed his bat in frustration as the Golden Eagles poured onto the field in jubilation.

The defeat marked the end of Minot State’s 2021 season, punctuating a 24-17 campaign that featured wins in 22 of 34 conference games but ended on a sour note with losses in three straight to the Golden Eagles.

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