STMA Orono fielding.JPG

Boston Merila throws out an opposing runner. The STMA senior class teamed with seniors from Orono to make a deep run in the Senior Class Salute tournament held at CHS Field in St. Paul July 20-Aug. 2.

Teamed with Orono for class of 2020 event at CHS Field

A baseball alliance of graduated seniors from St. Michael-Albertville and Orono high schools finished in the runner-up spot at the Senior Class Salute Tournament in St. Paul, which came to its conclusion over the weekend.

The one-off event was organized by the St. Paul Saints to give members of the class of 2020, who missed their final high school season due to COVID-19, a last chance to don their school jerseys and take the field with their classmates.

Varsity coaches from around the state gathered their senior players; STMA head coach Paul Schumm and his staff led the STMA group. Since only one class was involved, most teams in the tournament were alliances of two or three schools, or even “all-star teams” from entire conferences. STMA joined up with Orono for its silver-medal run.

“[The STMA and the Orono players] got along pretty quick,” said STMA’s Boston Merila, who is headig for Division I ball at the University of Minnesota in the fall. “They’re a perfect fit for our team and they’ve risen to the occasion.”

There was also a Division I recruit among the Orono guests in Nolan Tichy, who is bound for the University of Massachusetts. Tichy and Merila batted in the vital 2-3 slots in the co-op lineup throughout the tournament.

A total of 24 teams entered and were divided into six preliminary pools. STMA/Orono emerged as champion of Pool 5, beginning their runs with victories over Hopkins (8-7 on July 20) and “The Rappers” (East Ridge RAPtors and Minnetonka SkipPERS), 5-1 on July 25. An alliance of seniors from Blaine and Centennial high schools also defeated those two teams, setting up a battle for pool supremacy between STMA/Orono and Blaine/Centennial on 29.

Although there was no MSHSL state tournament in 2020, Wednesday’s game could have mirrored a matchup in it, had it been played. STMA’s varsity squad was ranked No. 2 in the Class AAAA state preseason poll, while Blaine slotted in at No. 7. Both were considered the favorites in their respective sections, so they might well have met at CHS Field, which annually hosts most of theClass AAAA state games. (Championship games in all classes are played at the Twins’ Target Field).

“We knew Blaine is a really good team and so we were excited to face them,” Merila said. “There’s no better place for a game like that than at CHS Field.”

Merila knocked in four runs with two triples and a double, and scored two runs himself in an 8-1 victory that advanced STMA/Orono to the championship round.

“I got some good pitches to hit and I put them in play,” Merila said.

The six pool winners plus two wild card teams made up the quarterfinal round. STMA/Orono’s first knockout game came against “Team Minnesota,” a group of seniors from northern schools which offered little resistance, quickly falling 10-0 on Aug. 1.

STMA/Orono was back in action later that same day for a semifinal tilt against Osseo/Totino-Grace, and got off to a flying start with a three-run first inning. Evan Zamec of Orono and Jordan Krupke of STMA batted in runs in that first frame, and the alliance eventually prevailed 4-2 over Osseo to advance to the championship game.

The title game opponents were from New Prague, one of only a few teams in the competition that could fill out its roster with seniors from just one school. New Prague tends to fly under the radar in Class AAAA baseball, being one of the smaller schools that qualifies for Minnesota’s big school class. The Torjans were state runners-up in 2019, however, and entered the ill-fated 2020 season rated at No. 6. The Trojan seniors had dropped a pool game but got into the championship bracket as a wild card.

The Trojans showed their strength in their first at-bat, putting two runners on base before catcher Will Busch launched a ball over the “Home Run Porch” beyond right field for a 3-0 lead.

STMA/Orono loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first, and Josh Gerads nearly hit what could have been a game-tying hit when he launched a fly ball to the deepest part of right field, only to see it fall just on the wrong side of the foul line. Subsequently, he was struck by a pitch to bring home one run, but New Prague fought out of the jam with no further damage.

STMA pitcher Kolby Gartner struck out eight and only allowed one further Trojan run in the game, but STMA/Orono only got one more themselves, winding up as the second place side with a 4-2 defeat.

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