Standing in left field with little to do for much of the game, Stillwater senior Mason Schwerzler found himself working hard to maintain his focus.
With good reason. Ponies ace Drew Gilbert was masterful, shutting down Minnetonka on three hits while striking out 15, leading Stillwater to a 4-0 victory Monday in the rain-delayed Class 4A baseball championship game at Target Field.
Gilbert was so good, his teammates had little to do.
"I was getting a little bored," said Schwerzler, who perked up in time to spear a sinking line drive in the sixth inning, keeping Minnetonka off the scoreboard.
"It was nice to be able to help out our pitcher because he's been carrying us."
That Gilbert started Monday was a stroke of luck for Stillwater. The hard-throwing junior lefthander came within one out of a complete game in Thursday's quarterfinals and would not have been available had the championship game taken place Saturday, when it was originally scheduled. The postponement worked in Stillwater's favor.
"As long as his arm was healthy, Drew was going to pitch," Ponies coach Mike Parker said. "He took two days off and did a lot of arm care. He said his arm felt healthy."
Gilbert proved more than just healthy — he was dominant. He struck out the first six batters he faced and was rarely in trouble. Only one Minnetonka baserunner made it as far as third base.
"The first couple of batters, I could tell he was dealing," Stillwater catcher Cody Venske said. "You just say to the other team, 'Good luck hitting it.' "
Hearing the game was postponed Saturday, Gilbert knew immediately that he would be called on to pitch Monday.
"I stayed true to my routine with my arm care and making sure my body was ready to go," Gilbert said. "This is the state championship game. Three days' rest didn't matter to me. I was going to do it for everyone on this team."
Instead of bringing back Minnetonka's No. 1 starter, Aaron Wukmir, Skippers coach Paul Twenge elected to go with senior Mason Nadolney, who had pitched sparingly during the regular season. Nadolney matched Gilbert early on, holding Stillwater hitless through three innings.
The Ponies scored twice in the fourth after loading the bases with one out. Gilbert, who had led off the inning with a single, scored the first run on a fielder's choice. The second run scored on an error on a pickoff play.
Those runs were all Gilbert needed. The only drama was whether he would be able to complete the game before hitting his 115-pitch limit.
He ended up with 118 pitches — players can go over 115 to finish a batter — and ended the game the way he started, striking out the final two batters. The Ponies finished the season on a 20-game winning streak to claim their second state championship, with their first coming in 1991.
"Selfishly, I wanted to close this one out," Gilbert said. "To do this with this great group of guys, it's unreal. I can't describe it."