Two months ago, Eden Prairie was scuffling, losing four of its first five games. Simply winning would have been enough. Playing for a state championship was nothing more than a fuzzy dream.
But after a 14-0, five-inning drubbing of Lakeville North on Friday in the Class 4A semifinals at CHS Field, the Eagles’ dream has become a crystal clear reality.
“It’s hard to sit there at 1-4 and say you know you’re going to be here, but we always believed it could happen,” Eden Prairie coach John Buteyn said. “We knew we had the level of talent and if we stuck with it, we had the opportunity.”
The Eagles (17-9) set the tone from the outset, scoring twice in the top of the first. The Panthers got a leadoff double in the bottom of the inning, but it was the only base hit they could muster off Eden Prairie lefthander Torben Urdahl.
In the meantime, Eden Prairie was piling up hits and runs in bunches. The Eagles scored four runs in the top of the third, two on Connor Kehl’s two-run home run into the left field bullpen. Kehl added two more RBI with a double in a six-run fourth and finished with four RBI, as did right fielder Connor Young.
Shortstop Zac Elliott went 3-for-4 and scored three runs and left fielder Bailey DeMets went 2-for -3 with three RBI as Eden Prairie recorded a season high in runs.
“We’re really hot right now,” Kehl said. “It’s an amazing experience, especially when everyone is hot and doing their job.”
For Lakeville North, the lopsided loss came a day after it knocked the state’s best pitcher, Burnsville’s Sam Carlson, out of the game in the second inning.
“They’re kids, 15, 16, 17 years old, playing a grown man’s game mentally,” Lakeville North coach Tony Market said. “You have to overcome some adversity, and it’s tough to battle through some of that.”
Forest Lake 9, Woodbury 1: Forest Lake was doing everything right: pitching well, getting base hits, putting runners on base. Yet the game against Woodbury was already five innings old and the Rangers had nothing to show for it.
“You wonder if it’s going to be your day,” Forest Lake coach Tal Gravelle said. “But we talked to the kids about playing seven innings and they stuck with it.”
Forest Lake finally burst through in the sixth, scoring six runs en route to victory and its first berth in the state championship game since 1993.
“We’d been getting good at-bats and putting runners on all day,” Gravelle said. “And we finally broke through with some really big hits.”
The Rangers got runners into scoring position in four of the first five innings. But Woodbury’s forte is defense, and the Royals escaped trouble by turning three double plays.
“We were falling behind and finding ways to get out of big jams,” Woodbury coach Kevin McDermott said. “In the end, we got ourselves into too many of them and they capitalized.”
The sixth inning began with Woodbury leading 1-0 on Brodie Paulson’s home run. When it was over, the Rangers led 6-1, taking advantage of five hits, a walk and a hit batter. The inning was capped by Zack Raabe’s three-run double into the gap in left center.
“Of course you get a little frustrated, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to keep swinging and hope some things fall through,” Raabe said. “And then when you get runs, you start getting the confidence back.”
While the offense was getting revved up, the Rangers leaned on pitcher Luke Wallner to keep the game close. Wallner made just one mistake all game — Paulson’s homer — and wound up working 6⅔ innings and giving up five hits.