Tip your caps to the Isanti Redbirds.
The Redbirds saw their season end with a 3-1 loss to Cold Spring in a Sweet 16 contest at the 2020 Class C Baseball State Tournament played at Milroy on Friday, Sept. 4. But that narrow defeat showed Isanti was capable of playing with the state’s top teams, just adding fuel to the fire of their frustration following the loss.
“When you look at the final eight teams in that tournament, we’re in that category,” Redbirds manager Steve Allen said. “Maybe in this game we weren’t as sharp as we have been the rest of this season. Unfortunately, we weren’t going to beat Cold Spring with anything less than our best effort.”
The difference between Isanti and the Rockies was razor-thin, with Cold Spring starter Ryan Hennen pitching just an eyelash better than the Redbirds’ trio of James Green, T.J. Wink and Zach Walz.
“Hennen threw 150-some pitches, and he had 13 strikeouts, so tip your cap to him,” Allen said. “And they made some fine defensive plays. Their first run scored on a squeeze, and they made the all the plays defensively. All you can do is tip your cap when they do that.”
Cold Spring took the lead in the fourth inning as Austin Dufner drew a leadoff walk from Green, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a squeeze play.
Green did not allow another run to the Rockies, finishing with just three hits allowed and nine strikeouts in his six innings of work. Wink wiggled out of a jam in the seventh when, with a runner on third base, he made a fine diving catch on a suicide squeeze bunt, then doubled the runner off third base.
The Redbirds then tied the game in the top of the eighth as Jeff Bowman drew a one-out walk and Joe Tuholsky was hit by a pitch. Wyatt Soderquist then doubled to score Bowman with the tying run, but Allen chose to hold Tuholsky at third base.
That decision backfired when Hennen, after an intentional walk loaded the bases, struck out the next two hitters.
“Jeff scored easily on Wyatt’s hit, and Joe was steaming for home when I stopped him,” Allen explained. “It would have been a close play at the plate. But we had the middle of the lineup coming up, so I held him. … After the walk, Blaze [Hogie] got a really good swing at a fastball and fouled it straight back. He just missed it.
“It’s tough when you second-guess, and it’s easy to say it was the wrong choice in hindsight. But we were so close. So close.”
In the bottom of the eighth Cold Spring rallied for the game-winning runs. One scored on a single and the other came home on a third strike that was not caught and was ruled a passed ball.
In the ninth Isanti could not score the runs it needed to tie the game, and the Redbirds were left to stew about the disappointing end to a fine season.
“Except for one team, everyone’s season will end with a loss,” Allen said. “I hope that our guys can see beyond this one final game. There were some pretty emotional comments in the dugout after the game, and I just hope our guys realize all the great things they did.”
The Redbirds finished this season with a 20-2 record, and those two losses were by a total of three runs. Isanti dominated play in the Eastern Minny League, posting a 6-0 record to win the Central Division before claiming four wins by a combined 36-4 margin to claim the Region 1 championship tournament and its state tournament bid.
“After the dust settles from that final game, I think our guys will see they had a terrific run,” Allen said.