Isanti Redbirds win in first round of state tournament behind James Green's seven scoreless innings
The Isanti Redbirds got bad news and good news from a doctor last week.
“James Green hurt his left shoulder,” Redbirds manager Steve Allen said. “I could have had him in the lineup in the outfield, but the doctor said he can’t swing a bat. But the doctor said he could pitch.”
So Green headed to the mound for Isanti’s first game in the Minnesota Baseball Association’s Class C State Tournament on Saturday, Aug. 17. And the right-hander was masterful at Delano Municipal Stadium, shutting out Morristown for the first seven innings of a 5-0 victory.
Green, who surrendered just four hits and no walks, never allowed a runner past second base in his seven innings of work. He said one reason for his success was his ability to throw strikes early in the count.
“When you’re ahead in the count, it makes a huge difference, because you can throw whatever pitch you’d like,” he said. “You also can afford to waste a pitch, too. I also tried to focus on just getting one out at a time.”
Green finished with 12 strikeouts, fanning at least one batter in each of his seven innings.
“They couldn’t lay off the high fastball, so I kept throwing it,” he explained. “But that also set up my curve, and I got a few guys on that.”
Meanwhile Isanti took advantage of mistakes by the Morries, who were playing in their first state tournament game in 30 years, to score all five of the game’s runs in the second inning. The Redbirds collected two walks and three hit batsmen in that frame, scoring twice when batters were hit by pitches with the bases loaded.
Mitch Dunbar’s two-run single was a key hit in the inning. Isanti also turned a Morristown error into a run when the Morries’ shortstop dropped a pop-up on the infield dirt and Jeff Bowman brazenly scampered home from third base.
Joe Tuholsky and Trevor Weidt each had two of the Redbirds’ seven hits in the contest, and Isanti’s offense also benefited from a whopping five hit batsmen – Bowman and Joe Tuholsky each were hit twice – as well as three walks and two Morristown errors.
“I had a good feeling about our offense coming in to this game,” Allen said. “At our practice Wednesday, almost to a man, guys were telling me what they could have done and should have done differently [in the Region Championship loss to Mora]. But they were laughing and having fun. They also asked for extra batting practice, so I had a good feeling coming in.”
Green said he did his best to not let the early lead change his mound mentality.
“You try to not let it change what you’re doing, but when you pitch, it’s human nature to relax when you get a cushion,” he said. “I tried to resist the temptation to do that. I just tried to stay focused on getting one out at a time.”
Lefty T.J. Wink pitched the game’s final two innings, fanning four and giving up just two walks to close out the win – the first for a team from the Eastern Minny League in the state tournament since 2011.
“The president of our league called me before the game to wish me luck,” Allen said. “And he reminded me that it’s been a long time since the Eastern Minny League has won a game in the state tournament. So it was good to win this game.”
That win in 2011 was notched by the Redbirds, who went on to win the state title that year. The success of that team led this year’s squad to shoot for more than just a one-game cup of coffee this year.
“It’s cool to win a game in the state tournament,” Green said. “But the last time we were in the [Class C] Tournament was in 2011 – and that team won the whole thing. I think there’s a little bit of an expectation to do something, so it was good to get that first win.”
Isanti’s next game is also in Delano, on Friday, Aug. 23, when the Redbirds take on Young America, the champions of Region 7C and one of the pre-tournament favorites to compete for the title.
First pitch is set for 7:30 p.m.