Winning baseball games, according to Minnehaha Academy baseball coach Scott Glenn, takes a combination of “timely hitting, pitching and a little luck.”
Minnehaha was in a scoreless tie with rival St. Anthony in the bottom of the third inning of last Thursday’s Class 2A, Section 4 championship game at Midway Stadium when senior catcher Eamonn Manion came to the plate for the Redhawks. With two outs and a man on second in scoring position for the first time all game, Manion hit a line drive to left field on the first pitch he saw. Ford Schroeder scored, and Minnehaha took a 1-0 lead.
All season, that’s how the Redhawks have played, Manion said. And it’s a reason they came into the section tournament as the No. 1 seed and the favorite to advance to state for the first time in school history.
For seven consecutive years, Minnehaha finished no worse than third in Section 4, and for seven years in a row its been sent home one game too early. This year, though, just felt different.
“We have guys that’ll get it done,” Manion said. “I’ve never had a doubt.
Ideally, it would’ve been a rotation dominated by two arms. At least, that’s what the idea was heading into the season, Glenn said.
Senior John Pryor has been an anchor on the staff for Minnehaha since he was a freshman. Now, he’s one of the state’s best pitchers, a Division I recruit and an MLB draft prospect.
Along with senior Nicholas Grachek, whose family moved to the Twin Cities from North Carolina last fall, Pryor was supposed to log plenty of innings this spring.
Then the weather changed everything.
“We had a stretch where we played six games in five days, and two straight weeks where we had a game every day,” Glenn said.
Eight pitchers in all made starts for the Redhawks this season, including freshman Jesse Retzlaff and a handful of kids pulled up from the JV team.
“We’ve had a lot of kids really step up for us,” Pryor said. “We’re a lot deeper than people might think.”
It doesn’t hurt when you have a staff ace like Pryor, who, including the postseason, has gone 7-0 in his seven starts, giving up a total of two earned runs and striking out 94 batters along the way.
“We’ve had some great players, but to have a kid with that kind of potential — well, you don’t get many of those,” Glenn said. “He can hide a lot of the things that aren’t perfect. You strike out 18 kids in a game, like he did [April 30 against Providence Academy] and that’s going to make you better.”
A little luck
The leadoff hitter for St. Anthony had gotten all the way to third base with one out in the top of the sixth inning when Grachek got a Husky batter to fly out deep to right field.
Manion caught the throw from the outfield just as the runner crossed the plate, apparently tying the score at 1-1. Then, confusion ensued. The Redhawk bench started yelling, third baseman Peter Webster was pointing at his bag, and Grachek kept pointing his mitt to third.
The runner never tagged up. Manion tossed the ball to Webster. Inning over.
The Redhawks tacked on a run in the bottom of the inning. Grachek set down the Huskies in order in the seventh for the 2-0 victory and a section title.
“That was definitely a weird play,” Grachek said. “A little lucky, but that’s what you need sometimes.”
The No. 3-seeded Redhawks open the state tournament at 3 p.m. Thursday against Watertown-Mayer at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.
“It’s what we’ve thought about all year,” Pryor said of a state title. “We’re an experienced team, really sound fundamentally. We do the little things well, and all you need to win is that one big play.”