Joe Shallenberger

Joe Shallenberger, captain of the Minnetonka Millers, goes four-for-four in the opening game of the State Class A Tournament. (Sun Staff Photo by John Sherman)

Whenever the calendar turns to August, look out for Minnetonka Millers town team baseball legend Joe Shallenberger to shine.

Shallenberger, who has earned the nickname “Mr. August,” had one of his typical August games as the Millers opened the State Class A Tournament with a 7-1 victory over the Metro Knights Sunday, Aug. 11, at Bloomington’s Red Haddox Field. The right fielder went four-for-four with two doubles and two singles on the way to game MVP honors. His teammate, second baseman Ryan Poppitz, also had a big game, going three-for-four with a double, a single and a bunt single.

“It’s fun when we get to August and every game is super meaningful,” Shallenberger said after the game. “Early in the game we made their pitcher [Keanu Mendez] work, and he got tired later.”

Shallenberger’s best hit of the day short-hopped the outfield fence in deep right-center. The deepest part of the park is 400 feet, and Shallenberger’s blast landed about 398 feet from home plate.

“It was just one of those situations,” Shallenberger said. “He tried to slip a fastball by me.”

And when that happens, the pitcher usually pays a price.

Shallenberger is having another big year in the RBI department and said, “Blaine Rutledge and Mike Davis do a great job of getting on in front of me.”

“Joe was unreal,” Millers manager Kevin Hoy said. “He’s such a big-game player. We can always rely on him in the State Tournament and hope that everyone else picks it up too. Poppitz had a good day. His bunt single was perfect. The third baseman was the only one who could have made a play on it and he stayed near the bag because we had runners on first and second.”

A fan told Poppitz that he had played like “Mr. August” in Sunday’s game.

“That’s Joe,” Poppitz said, adding that there is only one “Mr. August.”

Poppitz’s role with the Millers is slightly different this season. The Wayzata High graduate is playing more second base than third base, where he had been a fixture in previous years. He has also done a lot less pitching.

“This time of year, we do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s advancing a runner or taking an extra base,” Poppitz said. “Joe always does this in August. It’s a lot of fun to watch the way he amps up this time of year.”

Ben Hughes gave the Millers eight innings on the mound before teammate Alex Twenge came in to pitch the ninth.

“Ben had not thrown in a game in two weeks and might have been a little bit rusty,” Hoy said. “But he answered the call. As the game went on, he got the ball down.”

Poppitz said, “Ben had a little trouble early in the game, but innings 4-8 were vintage Ben.”

Due to rain delays at Red Haddox Field on Saturday, Minnetonka was able to play only one State Tournament game on the weekend. The Millers lost to the Minneapolis Cobras 5-4 Monday night at Dunning Field in St. Paul. This loss makes it an uphill battle for Minnetonka, but still, tradition is on the Millers’ side. There will be more action Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 17-18, back at Red Haddox Field in Bloomington. The first championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Aug. 18. The if-necessary game of the double-elimination tourney would be played at 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 19.

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