ST. PAUL — After falling behind early, pitcher Brayden Hellum provided Stillwater an opportunity to get things going at the plate with stingy performance on the mound in a 5-3 victory over Chanhassen in the semifinals of the Class AAAA state baseball tournament on Thursday, June 16 at CHS Field.

Hellum, who also delivered a clutch RBI double to spark the four-run fifth inning, limited the Storm (18-10) to just four hits in the complete game.

“He just battled throughout,” Stillwater coach Mike Parker said.

The victory advanced the Ponies to the state championship game for the third time in school history.

Little came easy against Chanhassen, which blitzed Andover 14-0 in the state quarterfinals. The Storm scored first in the bottom of the first inning with the help of a Stillwater error.

The Ponies hit into two double plays and couldn’t get much going against Sam Marek until the fifth. Alex Vandell drew a walk and was bunted to second by Jacob Flom, but there were two outs when Hellum helped his own cause with an RBI double to right field. It was the spark the Ponies needed after going scoreless over the last six innings of their quarterfinal victory over Sartell-St. Stephen and the first four innings against Chanhassen.

“Vandell’s sac bunt with Hellum coming up, that was huge,” Parker said. “I thought the huge key was when he got the hit to right field. Once he barreled one up, that gave the team a lot of confidence, too. Everyone knows he’s our best hitter and we needed him on base and driving in runs.”

Alex Matchey followed with a base hit to score Hellum. Mason McCurdy also singled up the middle and Mason Buck drove a hit to center to push two more runs across for a 4-1 lead.

The Storm closed the gap with two runs in the bottom of the sixth, but the Ponies tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh on an RBI double from Mason Buck.

“Their starting pitcher was really good and it took until the third time through, but once we had seen him enough our guys were able to sit on his curveball a little more,” Parker said. “They make great adjustments throughout the game and by the third time through we’re usually ready to go. They kind of knew what they wanted to do with the ball and we hit the ball the other way pretty well.”

Hellum, Matchey, McCurdy and Mason Buck each finished with two hits for the Ponies, whose first four spots in the batting order combined to go 8 for 15 with a walk and five RBIs.

The only downer came in the top of the seventh after Flom was re-inserted into the game to run after Tanner Voight drove a pinch hit single. Flom injured his ankle after sliding back to first and he was not in uniform for the state championship game.

“It was tough losing Flom,” Parker said. “He’s kind of a spark plug for our team and he’s our fastest player. I know it was tough to play the whole season and not get to play in that championship game, but the guys rallied around him pretty well.”

Stillwater received solid play in most phases of the game during their run through the tournament, but not always at the same time. The bats were quiet for stretches and there were also some miscues in the field — but the outfield was rock solid throughout, the coach suggested.

“Our outfield played extremely well,” Parker said. “That was the one big difference. It wasn’t our pitching or hitting, it was outfield defense. I thought our outfield defensive was superior to anybody and it showed up again in that game.”

This game was originally scheduled for Wednesday, June 15, but postponed one day due to storms.

Stillwater 0 0 0 0 4 0 1 — 5 11 2

Chanhassen 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 — 3 4 0

WP: Brayden Hellum 7-ip, 4-h, 3-r, 2-er, 3-bb, 1-so

LP: Sam Marek 4 2/3-ip, 7-h, 4-r, 4-er, 2-bb, 4-so

Leading hitters: St, Brayden Hellum 2x4 (2B, run, RBI), Alex Matchey 2x4 (2 runs, RBI), Mason McCurdy 2x3 (BB), Mason Buck 2x4 (2B, 3 RBI), Austin Buck 1x4, Jacob Flom 1x1 and Tanner Voight 1x1; Ch, Josh Och 1x3 (run), Mason Windschitl 1x3 (run), Maddox Johnston 2x3 (RBI).

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