Drew Talberg’s introduction to the Minnesota Baseball Association’s Class C Region 1 tournament began with an emergency call to the bullpen. It ended with him enjoying a “Gatorade bath.”

Talberg’s work out of the bullpen helped the Isanti Redbirds earn a 5-3 victory over the Hibbing Miners on Sunday, Aug. 4, one of the two wins the Redbirds posted in the first weekend of the tournament played at Brennan Field.

That win, which came one day after a 7-3 victory over the Hinckley Knights, lifted Isanti into a position where a win in the Redbirds’ next game will result in a berth in the Class C State Tournament later this month.

Talberg rides to the rescue

Isanti experienced a roller-coaster of emotions in Sunday’s win, starting with the bad news that starter T.J. Wink left the game before the third inning because of a shoulder injury.

“When T.J. stepped on the mound, he said he felt pain in his shoulder,” Redbirds manager Steve Allen said. “So we didn’t take any chances. But what Drew gave us in relief was phenomenal.”

Talberg pitched 5.2 innings and gave up only three runs despite not finding out he might pitch until just before the game started.

“T.J. told me before the game, ‘Make sure your arm is ready,’ which is odd, because T.J. usually is the guy that you can’t pry the ball out of his hand,” Talberg said. “So when I got the call, I just tried to keep it simple. I just wanted to limit them, because I knew the offense would support me – it was just a matter of time.”

The Redbirds scored three runs in the fourth, thanks in large part to a two-run single by Dan Hamann, but Hibbing collected five hits off Talberg and tied the game with three runs in the top of the fifth.

But Isanti used a clutch two-out RBI single by James Green in the fifth to regain the lead, then added a bit of a cushion by scoring a run on a balk in the sixth.

“We know how to manufacture runs, and we’re good at counter-punching,” Allen said. “It’s the ability to not pout when things don’t go well, to get up off the deck and make something happen.”

The Redbirds faced one more crisis when Hibbing loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but Joe Tuholsky relieved Talberg and got a come-backer to the mound to end that threat, then pitched a scoreless ninth to record the save.

After that contest Talberg was ambushed by several teammates. They dumped a water cooler on the left-hander, who was dripping wet but still smiling after a post-game interview.

Isanti, the top seed from the South Division of the Eastern Minny League, used an eighth-inning rally to knock off Hinckley in its first tournament game Saturday. In that contest the Redbirds scored twice in the third inning, only to see the Knights score one run in the sixth, then two in the eighth to lead 3-2.

“Give Hinckley credit: They stood toe-to-toe with us and played us really tough,” Allen said. “They had us on our heels with those runs in the eighth. We were in trouble.”

But in the bottom of the eighth, Isanti sent nine batters to the plate and scored five times thanks to gifts from the Knights: Hinckley hit a batter, walked two others and also made an error that opened the door for two of the five runs. Tuholsky lined a two-run single for the key hit by the Redbirds in that rally.

“Lady Luck smiled on us a little bit: After our first batter got on base, we sent him on steal – and the batter popped the ball up. I thought [the runner] was going to get doubled up,” Allen said. “But it dropped behind second base. And we manufactured five runs. We only had two chances to score those runs, and the bottom of the order got us started.”

Nighthawks split close games, still alive on final weekend

The North Branch Nighthawks also remain alive for a state tournament berth, but their road will be a little tougher than the one faced by the Redbirds, as the Nighhawks claimed a 2-1 win over the Ramsey Renegades in a 10-inning thriller Saturday before suffering a 2-1 loss to the Mora Blue Devils on Sunday.

North Branch, the No. 3 seed from the South Division, opened tournament play with a 2-1 win in 10 innings over Ramsey on Saturday. The victory kept the Nighthawks in the winner’s bracket in the eight-team tournament and was revenge over a Renegades team that beat North Branch in the second round of the South Division playoffs.

But that was not what pleased Nighthawks co-manager Jim Skroch the most.

“The best thing about Saturday’s game was that we had four or five of our top hitters missing – and it was a next-man-up mentality,” he said. “We had a lot of guys who stepped up and played well. I think that might have been my favorite win this year, because it was a ‘team’ win.”

North Branch scored in the third inning, taking advantage of two errors to scratch home a run.

Ramsey tied the game in the bottom of the eighth off starter Jimmy Skroch, who struck out 10 and allowed just four hits and three walks in 10 innings. Skroch may have done some of his best work in the ninth when he was called on to keep the score tied: The first two Ramsey batters reached base, but the right-hander coaxed a double play and a strikeout to force extra innings.

The Nighthawks scored the winning run in the 10th when Clint Mattson was hit by a pitch with one out, stole second, then scored on a double by Noah Wolfe.

“Noah has been very consistent in getting on base for us,” Jim Skroch said. “He really connected with that one, and that made it fun to get that win.”

On Sunday North Branch struggled with Mora starting pitcher Derek Graves. The right-hander surrendered just six hits and two walks while fanning 11 to earn the complete-game victory.

“We knew that when Mora saved Derek for this game, we were in for a tough one,” Jim Skroch said. “We knew he would be difficult to beat, and we just never got the clutch hit we needed.”

Nighthawks starter Matt Robinson and reliever Dylan Ramberg kept their team in the game. Robinson allowed just five hits and a walk while striking out three, allowing single runs in the second and sixth innings. Ramberg surrendered just one hit and one hit batsman while covering the final 2.2 innings.

“Matt did a fantastic job for us, and Dylan has been an amazing add-on [to our roster] this year,” Skroch said. “Dylan closing out the game for us was huge. If we hold the other team to two runs, we feel we should win.”

But two runs was too many for North Branch to overcome thanks to Graves, who did not allow a runner to advance past second base until the ninth. In that frame the Nighthawks needed to pull off a double steal to score their run, but the potential game-tying run was stranded on second base.

The final weekend

Isanti could punch its ticket for the state tournament as soon as Friday, Aug. 9. That night, the Redbirds face Mora at Brennan Field at 7:30 p.m., with the winner securing one of Region 1’s two qualifying berths for the Class C state tournament.

North Branch faces a more uphill path that begins the following day in an elimination contest against Princeton at Brennan Field that is set to start at 4 p.m. If the Nighthawks win that contest, they will stay on the field to face the winner of the Hibbing-East Bethel elimination game.

Should North Branch win twice on Saturday, its next game would be played on Sunday, Aug. 11, starting at 11 a.m., and a win in that contest would mean the Nighthawks would advance to the state tournament. A loss in any of those games would end their season.

“The good thing is that we have tons of arms on our pitching staff,” Jim Skroch said. “Some of them don’t get used as much as I’d like to, but I look forward to next week. I’d rather go the short way [and win Friday], but this way we’re getting our money’s worth.”

Win or lose on Friday, Isanti will not return to the field until Sunday. If the Redbirds were to lose Friday’s game, they would play at 11 a.m. with a chance to earn a state berth. If they win Friday, they would advance directly to the Region 1 championship game scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m.

“I’m as nervous now as I was when we started the tournament,” Allen said. “There’s no easy games in this tournament. Even when you get through one team, there’s another tough team waiting for you.”

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