The Fergus Falls 14U Vipers entered the MSF State Qualifier Tournament in Morris knowing that it would be a tough road through 28 innings of baseball over the two day tournament. When the weekend was over they were celebrating a Walk-Off Championship!
Saturday morning’s match-up against the 2017 MSF State Runner-up, Morris Tigers, set the stage for a great weekend of baseball. Morris scored first in the bottom of the first inning and led 1-0 until the top of the 4th inning when the Viper’s squeaked in a run following a lead-off single by Carter Thielke, who stole second and advanced on a fielder’s choice by Adam King. With 2 outs and two strikes on the batter, Thielke faked a steal of home, inducing a balk, allowing him to score before the next pitch ended the inning. Each team only managed 2 more runs through the next 3 innings only to see the two teams locked up at 3 runs a piece, forcing an extra frame. The Vipers took advantage of the top half of the 8th, plating 4 runs, sparked by a 1 out double by Andrew Johnson, who scored the first of 4 runs in the inning, after singles by Adam King, Hunter Norby, Carter Spangler, Owen Babolian, and Bailey Culbertson, followed by a Cole Zierden double, giving the Vipers a comfortable 7-3 lead in the 8th. Morris didn’t offer a threat in the bottom of the 8th and the Vipers held on for the victory. Justis Sagerhorn and Taeren Holdeman added hits in the game where the Vipers had 14 hits, with 10 different Vipers recording at least one hit and three players had multiple hits led by Thielke 3-4, Zierden 2-5, and Norby 2-2. The pitching combination of Thielke, Spangler, and Norby held Morris in check, allowing only 3 runs on 5 hits in 8 innings of play.
During the second game of pool play the Vipers struggled to get anything going offensively against a sneaky Minnewaska team in the afternoon heat. Mistakes in the field and the inability to get the ball past the solid Minnewaska defense, left the Vipers with a frustrating 7-1 loss and their work cut out for them on Sunday. Carson Spangler did his job on the mound, keeping the game close, but miscues by the Vipers defense and a small ball game plan from the Lakers left the Vipers on the losing end.
The Sunday tilt had the Vipers sitting in a position where they controlled their own destiny, win 2 games and they would likely seal an opportunity to earn a bid to the state tournament. On Sunday morning the Vipers faced an Alexandria team that they had not faced in past contests. Kaden Conklin took the hill and gave the Vipers a solid effort, not giving Alexandria any room to break through, scattering 9 hits and 2 runs over 6 innings of work. The Vipers however, had five players notch multiple hits as Zierden, King, Sully Krueger, Babolian, and Conklin each had two hits in the game. With the 12-2 route, the Vipers had a chance to punch their ticket to the MSF State Tournament with a win.
The matchup for the fourth and final game of the weekend, it was RTR (Russell-Tyler-Ruthton) who stood in the way of Fergus Falls and their hopes of earning the state bid. It was RTR who knocked the Vipers out of contention on a late inning comeback in the state tournament last July in Marshall. This time around the Vipers would have late inning heroics of their own as RTR took a 2-0 lead into the middle innings. In the third inning, Zierden singled and stole second (a common pattern) a sac bunt by Thielke moved him over to third, where Zierden later would score on a wild pitch, closing the gap to 1 run. The Vipers evened the score at 2 in the 5th inning on singles by Zierden and Thielke, and a sacrifice fly by King. RTR regained the lead in the top of the 6th, but the Vipers immediately answered with a key lead-off single by Sully Krueger, who eventually came around to score on a Norby single and tied the game at 3. RTR had two runners reach base in the 7th, but the Vipers held them in check and took a 3-3 tie into the bottom of the 7th.
The home half of the 7th inning didn’t take long as the top of the order came to the plate and leadoff batter, Cole Zierden, hit the second pitch of the inning deep to the left field fence for a double and huge momentum boost for his dugout. Zierden advanced to third base on a wild pitch, setting the stage for a walk off victory and a bid to the MSF State Tournament. On a 2-0 count, Thielke hit the next pitch right back up the box, knocking a single to center field, allowing Zierden to score the game winning run and the Vipers walked-off the RTR Knights in dramatic fashion. The Vipers managed 7 hits in the game, backed up by strong defense, including the starting outfield of Kruger, Bailey Culbertson, and Owen Hanson, keeping the strong RTR hitters in check all afternoon. Thielke and Carter Spangler split the first 6 innings on the mound, each yielding only 3 hits. Norby closed out the game, allowing 2 hits and 0 runs in his one inning of work.
The three wins in the tournament, combined with allowing only 15 runs through 28 innings of play, secured the first place finish and the opportunity to participate in the MSF State Tournament in Austin MN, in late July.
Dave Sagerhorn was quoted, “This was a great team weekend. Every single player contributed. It was fun to see the kids come together and earn this one.”
The Vipers are coached by Shane Thielke and Dave Sagerhorn.