After dominating the majority of innings Saturday, Trinity Lutheran’s baseball team found itself on the wrong side of a heartbreaking 7-4 loss.
The Cougars led Barr-Reeve 4-1 through much of Saturday’s Class A regional semifinal game, but in the bottom of the final inning, things unraveled quickly.
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The Vikings recorded three singles off of starter Lawson Woods, who dominated the game up to that point. Woods then issued a walk to bring the game to 4-2.
Tyler Goecker relieved Woods but hit Nathan Hunt with a pitch to make the score 4-3.
Gage Wilson then walked to the plate and ran a full count before socking a pitch that sailed over the left field wall for a walk-off grand slam, stunning the Cougars.
Trinity was unable to record an out in the final inning.
The Cougars played well enough to win, coach Ben Kleber said, but baseball can sometimes be brutal and unforgiving.
“In my eyes, they were the better team today,” he said of his club. “(Barr-Reeve) just happened to put together some hits in the seventh, and that’s baseball. I just don’t want these guys to hang their heads on this because that’s just how it works.”
The Cougars got their offense going quickly when Noah Voelker singled to left in the first inning to score Trent Shoemaker, who had reached base after being hit by a pitch. He advanced to second on a single by Woods and reached third on a steal.
Woods was thrown out trying to score on Voelker’s hit to end the inning.
The Vikings answered in the bottom of the second inning to tie the game. Logan Knepp singled on a soft hit to third but ran it out to knock in Austin Ainscough, who had reached after he was hit by a pitch earlier in the inning.
Goecker answered right back for the Cougars by blasting a solo shot over the wall to give Trinity a 2-1 advantage.
Through the next three innings, Woods dominated the Vikings’ batters. He got Barr-Reeve’s offense to fly out 12 times, and he retired the side on flyouts in the first and fifth innings.
In six innings, Woods gave up five earned runs, four hits and two walks and had a strikeout.
“Lawson pitched an incredible game,” Kleber said.
The Cougars were able to pile on two more runs in the fifth inning when Shoemaker tripled with two outs to score Goecker, who reached when he was hit by a pitch.
Woods then helped his cause by singling in Shoemaker to give the Cougars a 4-1 lead.
When the game reached the bottom of the seventh, Kleber said the Vikings were finally able to begin timing Woods’ pitches, as Ainscough, Jacob Wagler and Knepp recorded three consecutive singles.
Woods then walked Caden Graber to bring the score to 4-2.
That’s when Kleber decided to pull Woods and place Goecker on the mound.
“At that point, they had Lawson on the ropes,” he said. “I hated to ask Goecker to come in in that spot because it’s tough, but I knew he could handle it because he is a competitor.”
Goecker hit the first batter he faced, Nathan Hunt, who pinch hit for Keshon Wittmer.
That’s when the leadoff hitter, Wilson, entered the batter’s box and ran a full count before hitting the walkoff grand slam.
After the game, Kleber separated the four seniors from the underclassmen to address them separately before giving each a hug in right field.
The seniors then walked along a line in the outfield where the underclassmen were standing. The underclassmen then embraced each senior in an emotional scene to show their appreciation for their dedication.
“I was just wanting them to thank them for their time and the way they represent the program,” Kleber said.
Kleber also became emotional when addressing the team as a whole immediately after the game.
“I had to walk away three or four times just to keep my emotions in check,” he said. “I’m so proud of these guys.”
Kleber said he was proud of his players and how they competed. He said many people wouldn’t have selected the Cougars as sectional champions at the beginning of the year, especially after a 2-5 start.
The team also was averaging multiple errors per game, but the team then committed to improving.
In the end, games only mean so much because what the Sectional 61 champions left behind was not a devastating loss. The team’s legacy will serve as an example of how the program will move forward, Kleber said.
Players showed a level of commitment that improved the program, he said. One example was how many would routinely show up to practice early to begin stretches and drills.
“They’re doing practice before it starts,” he said. “The way they handle themselves and the way they represent this program, I just can’t say enough about how proud I am of each of them.”