Mustangs baseball set to defend its championship

No team has won back-to-back big-class state high school baseball championships in 16 years, but there is a possibility of that streak coming to an end this year. Defending Class AAA state champion Mounds View is back in the state tournament and goes after a second consecutive title starting Thursday.

The Mustangs’ quest for another championship begins with a state quarterfinal contest against Section 7AAA champion Elk River on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at Midway Stadium.

Mounds View is the fourth seed, the same as last year.

Thursday’s game won’t be anything new to guys like Sam Hentges, Alec Abercrombie and Charlie Callahan. They were main cogs in last year’s championship machine but that fact doesn’t make this year’s accomplishments any less special.

For players like Kellen Rholl, the graduation of a number of starters last year opened the door for him to be a more important part of the team.

“Last year was good, but it feels better being a senior,” Rholl said. “I’ve had a little bigger role and it’s nice to win this one.”

Mounds View punched its ticket to this year’s state tournament with much less drama than in 2013. A year ago, the Mustangs lost game one of the section final and used a squeeze bunt to push the winning run across the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of game two.

No late-game rallies were needed this year, as Mounds View never trailed Champlin Park in the Section 5AAA final on June 4 at Midway Stadium. The Mustangs scored twice in the third and once in the sixth to claim a 3-0 victory.

Those three runs were more than enough for Rholl, who pitched a complete-game seven-hitter. He struck out two and walked one while throwing only 83 pitches.

Rholl also faced Champlin Park in the third round and Mounds View head coach Mark Downey said he did a good job of preparing to see the Rebels again.

“We knew Kellen had success against them last time and we figured he would again this time,” Downey said. “He did a good job preparing. He watched the video of the last game and took a whole bunch of notes on the hitters and what they did.”

Mounds View gave Rholl more than enough runs when it scored twice in the third inning. After the first two batters were retired, Joe Fredrickson doubled and scored on a base hit by Hentges. Hentges went from first to third on an error on a ball hit by Callahan and later scored on a wild pitch.

In the sixth, Abercrombie singled with one out and scored on Wyatt Meyer’s double.

Mounds View also helped out Rholl with some stellar defensive plays, including throwing out a runner trying to stretch a double into a triple and nailing a runner at the plate.

The win gives Mounds View a 4-0 record in the section tournament and sends the Mustangs into the state tournament on a 12-game winning streak. Since starting the season 2-5, Mounds View has won 16 of its past 17 games. Only Mahtomedi enters the tournament on a longer winning streak. The Zephyrs have lost just once this season and have won 19 in a row.

“We’re cool as can be,” Abercrombie said. “Last year we lost one game in sections, but when we come through here and win four games straight in sections, that’s making a statement that we’re ready to go.”

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com.

 

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