A 41-run outburst of offense by one team. Four straight shutouts by the other.
Both on to state.
The St. Francis baseball team rode its red-hot offense, while Andover was carried by lights-out pitching as the pair advanced on to state play, to be held June 14-17.
A late-season surge gave them momentum going into the playoffs.
Then, some timely, dominant pitching outings – and a whole lot of offense – carried them through the Section 5AAA playoffs and on to state.
Scoring 41 runs in four games, the St. Francis baseball team took down the rest of the 5AAA field May 31-June 7.
The Saints opened the tournament with a dominant 10-0 shutout over Zimmerman, then slugged past top-seeded Princeton 17-7. St. Francis upended Monticello 8-7 in the winners’ bracket final, giving themselves two chances to advance in the section finals.
They would only need one, winning a rematch over Zimmerman 6-3 to clinch the trip to state.
“The bats really came alive late in the season,” St. Francis head coach Luke Scardigli said. “We scored 41 runs in the four section games and it’s because we got contributions from all spots in the order 1 through 9. We became a difficult team to defend because we had the ability to score anywhere from our lineup. Our pitching has been great all year. We were able to ride our top two arms (Hunter Engen and Aaron Smith) throughout the section and allow our No. 3 (Braden Fiene) to focus on closing games out.”
For the Saints, the playoff run piggybacked off a strong finish to the regular season.
“We’ve actually been playing pretty well now for the past four weeks, starting with a win over Delano in mid-May,” Scardigli said. “We’re 9-3 overall since then. Everything just came together during section play. A big part of our success was getting early leads and consistently playing from out front, where we could be more aggressive offensively and play with more confidence defensively.”
The Class AAA quarterfinals and semifinals are held in Chaska, and consolation games are in Jordan. The championship game is at Target Field in Minneapolis.
It will be the Saints’ first trip to state in 16 years.
“Just a lot of happiness for the players and my coaching staff,” Scardigli said. “They put a lot of hard work in and kept believing in themselves. We knew if our defense and hitting improved later in the season, we would be a tough out in playoffs and we were lucky to see it all come together at the right time. It’s all pretty gratifying.”
It was a slow start. It’s been a sizzling finish.
Andover’s season will conclude at the state tournament for the second year in a row after sweeping its way through the Section 7AAAA bracket without a single run allowed June 1-7.
The Huskies shut out Cambridge-Isanti 9-0 in the first round, then topped Forest Lake 6-0. Andover blanked Centennial 8-0 in the winners’ bracket final, then held off Blaine – which had won four elimination bracket games in a row – 2-0 to clinch the section title.
In the section opener, Mason Eckes threw four shutout innings, with two by Kyle Sanders and one by Michael O’Neill. In game two, it was five innings by Josh Novak and one each by Luke Dehnicke and Colin Anderson. Anderson proceeded to throw 5 2/3 scoreless against Centennial, with the final four outs covered by Dehnicke. In the championship, Novak threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, with Eli Nyhammer securing the final two outs.
“Our pitching throughout the tournament was fantastic,” Andover head coach Pete Andersen said. “Our pitching coach Jon Heath really did a phenomenal job with our entire pitching staff to work and develop throughout the regular season so that come June, they as a group were pitching at their best. Zero runs in 28 innings is incredible.”
The Huskies, coming off of a third-place state finish last year, dropped four of their first six games of the spring.
Since then, they have rattled off 18 wins in a row.
“It really felt like a punch in the gut,” Andersen said. “We talked in the preseason quite a bit about having targets on our back and the pressures of expectations. But in hindsight, that start and that let-down really shaped our team and our play for the last month or so. We became less concerned with rankings and individual stats and just focused on team success. As those wins piled up, the confidence and swagger we as coaches expected to start the season started showing up. That’s when we knew we were rolling.”
Last year’s section title and trip to state was unchartered territory, the first in school history for the Huskies. This year, the group is more experienced.
“I remember being exhausted after the section tournament last year,” Andersen said. “This year, I think I can speak for the team and the coaching staff and say there’s more of a sense of urgency and unfinished business going into next week. I think having the experience of the atmosphere and environment will be huge for our team. We’ve shown during our last month of play, there’s not a moment too big for our team.”
The Class AAAA quarterfinals and semifinals are at CHS Field in St. Paul, with consolation games at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis. The championship game is at Target Field.