Black Sox finish second in elite Midwest Classic tournament
By Jacob Heid
NEW ULM — Fireworks were shot off all over the country over Independence Day weekend, but sparks flew for other reasons for Plover, on the baseball diamond. The Sox played six games over the holiday weekend, finishing in second place after a seventh-inning, two-run home run sent Plover home with silver. The team has played in the event for the last 17 years, with this year being the first championship appearance.
Plover started the tournament off with a bang. The Black Sox played their first game versus Sleepy Eye, MN. The game was knotted at 0-0 after 2.5 innings. Plover scored the first two runs in the bottom of the third inning. Later, the Black Sox rallied in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game 3-3. The big bang came in the bottom of the seventh when Plover drove home a run to walk-off Sleepy Eye, a final score of 4-3. Head coach Wayne Sankey later talked about the tournament environment.
“The Midwest Classic is one of the best tournaments in the Midwest,” he said.
The second game happened to be one of the two games the Sox lost on the weekend. The team played Wilmar, MN, and struggled to find a rhythm and churn in runs. Plover registered only three hits in an 8-1 loss.
Plover erased the game out of its memory and continued its winning ways in game three. SPASH’s Carl Biechler led the offense with two hits and three RBIs on the afternoon. The rest of the team smacked 14 hits, and the Sox drove in seven runs in the fourth in fifth innings to guide them to a 9-3 win over Omaha Gross.
“I thought we played very well and stayed focused,” Sankey said.
Games four and five were much of the same for both Plover’s offense and defense. In the quarterfinals, SPASH’s Jon Nafe threw a four-hit shutout in an 11-0 victory to advance to the semifinals. Plover scored five runs in the first inning and six in the fifth. The semifinal game came, and the Black Sox continued to ignite the flame offensively. Momentum shifted in the fourth inning, when Plover scored three runs, leading 5-1 halfway through the game.
Numerous Plover pitchers helped keep Forest Lake, MN from creeping back into the game. Each pitcher did their job, and the Sox claimed a spot in the championship, winning 7-2. Low-scoring described the majority of the championship game between Plover and Mankato. Being in this spot was new for not only the players but management too.
“In 17 years going to New ULM, this was our first championship game,” Sankey said.
A game like this always brings excitement near the end, and it did exactly that. Plover led 4-2, going into the bottom of the seventh. The Sox gave up one run before Mankato American launched one over the wall for a walk-off, two-run home run to claim the championship. SPASH’s Matt Eiden led the team with three of the six hits, and Thomas Hunt had two RBIs in the loss.
“I am very proud of the grit and heart the team showed,” Sankey said about the experience of the weekend with his team. Plover is back in Wisconsin and faced Stevens Point on July 7 and will face Marshfield on July 11.
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