NORTHROP - The Northrop Area Giants 11U baseball team overcame the odds to earn the title of state champion.
Northrop Area posted pivotal victories over previously-undefeated Sleepy Eye in the opening round of bracket play before toppling rival Blue Earth in the 11A Division state championship game of the Minnesota Baseball Tournaments (MBT) on July 14.
In fact, the Giants successfully navigated the state gamut by generating a 6-1 overall record over a grueling three-day span - July 12-14 - in Chanhassen.
STATE CHAMPS — Members of the Northrop Area Giants winning the Minnesota Baseball Tournaments (MBT) 11A Division state championship on July 14 in Chanhassen include, front row (l-r): Assistant coach Jason Buntjer and assistant coach Matt Wolter. Middle row: Carter Davis, Cayden Fischer, Cale Steuber, Wyatt Geistfeld, Caden Baarts, Owen Wolter and head coach Lee Baarts. Back row: Jacob Roberts, Blake Buntjer, Sedrick Parker, Jordan Wiederhoeft and Paxton Gravlin. (Photo courtesy of the Northrop Area Giants)
Carter Davis, Cayden Fischer, Cale Steuber, Wyatt Geistfeld, Caden Baarts, Owen Wolter, Jacob Roberts, Blake Buntjer, Sedrick Parker, Jordan Wiederhoeft and Paxton Gravlin - under the tutelage of head coach Lee Baarts and assistant coaches Jason Buntjer and Matt Wolter - opened pool play in the 32-team state event by defeating Watertown-Mayer by a 7-3 decision last Friday.
Unfortunately for the close-knit group, Blue Earth downed Northrop Area during Friday's second round of pool play, 7-2.
"Things didn't look too good at that point," Lee Baarts said in reference to the early loss. "We knew if we finished second in our pool that we'd have to face Sleepy Eye in bracket play and they hadn't lost a game all season."
The Giants, however, regrouped after a good night's rest and bounced back to coast to an 11-1, five-inning pool-play triumph over Woodbury White last Saturday to gain the 11A Division's bracket round.
Northrop Area then notched a key 4-2 victory over previously-undefeated Sleepy Eye to qualify for the state quarterfinals on Sunday. The Giants then duplicated their winning margin against Sleepy Eye in downing Northfield during Sunday's opener.
"Our goal was to make it past the Elite 8 and into the hardware round this season," said Lee Baarts. "Ninety percent of our kids have played together since their days in 9U, and as 10U players, they reached the Elite 8 in both state tourneys a year ago.
"You don't get that far without everybody contributing. It was truly a team effort."
Indeed. Northrop Area doubled up Le Sueur-Henderson in the state semifinals, 12-6, last Sunday before squaring off against Blue Earth in the finals.
"We had lost our previous two games to them, so the third time was the charm," said Lee Baarts.
Northrop Area rolled to a 14-1 triumph over Blue Earth to capture the MBT state crown last Sunday.
Now, the Northrop Area Giants (17-6) have their sights set on next week's Minnesota Youth Athletic Services (MYAS) Gopher State Tournament of Champions. The elite 24-team state event will take place July 26-28 in Mendota Heights.
"It was great to win the state championship last weekend, but the MYAS Gopher state tournament is a special one," said Lee Baarts. "The Jostens company makes a personalized ring for each member of the winning team and will present the rings before a Twins game later this season.
"That definitely would be quite an accomplishment to win two state tournaments in the same season."