Tri-City Red one win away from going to state

In two regular-season losses to North St. Paul, the Tri-City Red American Legion baseball team scored a combined six runs. The Reds bettered that total in their Fourth District playoff semifinal against the 39ers on Thursday and now sit in the driver's seat in the tournament.

Tri-City pounded out 15 hits en route to a 9-1 victory over North St. Paul in the winner's bracket final at Kuenkel Field. The win vaults Red into Saturday's district final, where it has two chances to sew up the district crown and the state-tournament berth that goes with it.

After seeing its offense struggle at the some inopportune times this summer, Tri-City Red has turned it on at the right time. Tri-City let a chance to wrap up the district regular-season title a week ago slip away when it could manage only one run in a 5-1 loss to Maplewood Green.

Tri-City went to Princeton for a tournament following the Maplewood Green loss and seemed to find its hitting stroke as it scored 26 runs in three games to win the tournament. That outburst has opened up the floodgates.

Whatever got things turned around in Princeton has continued through the first three games of the Fourth District tournament for TCR. Red opened the post-season on Tuesday by scoring 12 runs in an eight-inning win over White Bear Orange and followed that up with a 9-run effort against Tri-City Maroon on Wednesday.

Thursday's game was the serious test, however, for Tri-City. North St. Paul had given up just one run in its first two games of the tournament and might have also held a psychological edge over Tri-City Red after the two regular-season victories.

But none of that mattered as Tri-City thwarted a couple of early North St. Paul threats before taking control in the third inning. Ben Mezzenga got things rolling with a one-out single and a stolen base. Brett Becker followed with an infield single to push Mazzenga to third. After Becker was thrown out trying to steal second, Matt Wilson's base hit plated Mazzenga with the first run of the game.

That wasn't it for Tri-City in the third, however, as Sam Hentges drove a pitch over the right-field fence for a two-run home run.

Aside from maybe Hentges, the person most excited for the home run was probably Tri-City Red starting pitcher Max Knutson, who struggled early finding the strike zone. Knutson walked the bases loaded with one out in the first inning before second baseman Mitch Frederickson turned a line drive into an inning-ending double play.

Knutson walked a couple of more batters in the second inning but got a strikeout and a groundout to again keep the game scoreless.

Now given a three-run cushion, Knutson settled in and faced only two batters over the minimum from the third through seventh innings.

Tri-City added to its lead with a big seventh inning, which featured five runs and five hits. Becker led off by reaching on an error and later scoring on Nik Anderson's single, which came after North St. Paul intentionally walked Wilson. Frederickson delivered a base hit to drive in Wilson and Anderson. Lars Anderson later singled to bring in Frederickson and Mazzenga capped the frame with a single to score Lars Anderson. North St. Paul got its only run in the eighth when it chased Knutson. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases and that was enough for Tri-City Red manager Steve Grasley to lift Knutson in favor of Matt Herringshaw, whose second pitch was in the dirt and allowed the run to score.

Tri-City avoided any further damage as Herringshaw got a strikeout and benefitted from a bizarre caught stealing to end the inning. With runners on second and third and two outs, Lars Anderson's throw back to Herringshaw following a pitch was low and sailed past the mound toward second base. The runner on third broke for home but was out at the plate on a perfect throw from Nik Anderson back to younger brother Lars for the 2-6-2 putout.

Following the game, Lars Anderson admitted that it wasn't planned that way and that Nik bailed him out on the play.

Lars Anderson then led off the ninth with a double and came across on Sam Meyer's base hit to close out the scoring.

Herringshaw nailed down a pair of strikeouts in the ninth and Lars Anderson and Wilson ended the game by picking off a North St. Paul baserunner at first.

With the victory, Tri-City Red advances to Saturday's district final at 12 p.m. at North St. Paul in search of its first district championship since 2007. Three other teams were still alive heading into Friday's loser's-bracket games: North St. Paul, Rosetown and Hamline Purple.

Friday's games, at North St. Paul, feature Rosetown vs. Hamline Purple at 5 p.m. with the winner of that game taking on North St. Paul at 8 p.m. The 8 p.m. winner takes on Tri-City on Saturday and must beat the Reds twice to get to the state tournament.

Of the four teams still alive in the Fourth District, only Rosetown is facing a longer state-tournament drought than Tri-City Red. Rosetown's last trip to the Legion state tournament came in 1995. North St. Paul went to state in 2008 and 2010 and Hamline Purple's most-recent state trip came in 2009. Maplewood Green is the defending district champion.

Fourth District American Legion baseball playoffs Seeds in parentheses First round (Single elimination) Game 1 - Roseville East 10, Hamline Red 9 Game 2 - White Bear Orange 6, Arcade-Phalen 1

Second round (Double elimination), Tuesday Game 3 - Maplewood Green 3, Rosetown 1 Game 4 - Tri-City Maroon 3, Hamline Purple 2 Game 5 - North St. Paul 22, Roseville East 1, 7 innings Game 6 - Tri-City Red 12, White Bear Orange 2, 8 innings

Third round Game 7 - Roseville East 7, Rosetown 0 (Roseville East eliminated) Game 8 - Hamline Purple 14, White Bear Orange 4, 7 innings (White Bear Orange eliminated) Game 9 - North St. Paul 2, Maplewood Green 0 Game 10 - Tri-City Red 9, Tri-City Maroon 2

Fourth round Game 11 - Hamline Purple 7, Maplewood Green 5 (Maplewood Green eliminated) Game 12 - Rosetown 10, Tri-City Maroon 6 (Tri-City Maroon eliminated) Game 13 - Tri-City Red 9, North St. Paul 1

Fifth round, Friday at North St. Paul Game 14 - Hamline Purple vs. Rosetown, 5 p.m. Game 15 - North St. Paul vs. Game 14 winner, 8 p.m.

Championship round, Saturday at North St. Paul Game 16 - Tri-City Red vs. Game 15 winner, 12 p.m. Game 17 - Tri-City Red vs. Game 15 winner, 3 p.m. (if necessary)

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