WBE offense overpowers St. James

EYE ON THE BALL — Winnebago/Blue Earth third baseman Luke Mertens watches the ball into a backhanded stop during the sixth inning of a Division II Section 2C playoff game against St. James in Blue Earth on Thursday. (Photo by Kyle McAreavy)

BLUE EARTH — Two big innings powered the Winnebago/Blue Earth offense.

WBE Posts 82 & 89 beat St. James Post 33 during quarterfinal action in the Division II Section 2C Legion baseball tournament Thursday in Blue Earth.

With the win, WBE (8-1) moves on to face Minnesota Lake Post 287 at 7 p.m. today in Blue Earth after Minnesota Lake took a 7-3 comeback victory over Wells Post 210 earlier Thursday.

Truman Post 115 played Wells in the first game of the day, with Wells winning 4-1 and sending Truman to the 11:30 a.m. game today in Blue Earth.

With the game tied at three, WBE put five runs on the scoreboard in the third inning.

Joseph Schavey led the inning off reaching on an error, before moving to second on a passed ball. Karson Legred got Schavey across home plate when he worked a 2-2 count and hit a double over the St. James center fielder that hit the high center field wall on a bounce.

Anders Fering reached base on an error and, with Kean Hicks courtesy running for Legred, WBE starting pitcher Hunter Bleess hit a sacrifice fly no one could predict.

With runners on first and third, Bleess popped the ball up down the first-base line, St. James’ catcher, Charles Schmidt, quickly moved down the line to make the catch, but no player went to cover home plate. Hicks noticed and dashed toward home, just beating the tag from St. James’ starting pitcher, Logan Carlson.

The inning continued when Koby Nagel reached base on an error and Luke Mertens singled to center field for two RBIs. Caelan Sanders earned the final RBI of the inning when he lined a single up the middle that St. James’ second baseman, Lucas Anderson, nearly caught on a dive, but instead knocked into center field. After the third, WBE led 8-3, which was all Bleess would need on the mound.

Bleess gave up a run in the fourth on two hits and a walk, then another in the fifth on a walk, a hit batter and an error, but Bleess would shut down the St. James offense enough to earn the win.

WBE head coach Paul Nienaber said he thought the team showed they came ready to play.

“We played really well,” Nienaber said. “St. James is a team that has really played us tough this year, they’re a good squad. I thought our energy level was a lot better (than Monday’s game against Truman). … It seemed like we were ready to go.”

To show they were ready to play from the first pitch, WBE’s offense opened the game early with a three-run first inning.

Schavey got the inning started with an infield single, beating out the throw from St. James’ Anderson. Schavey moved to second on an errant pickoff throw, then Legred followed with an infield single of his own on a soft grounder toward third base.

Fering took a walk to load the bases and Bleess helped his own pitching cause from the batter’s box with a bases-clearing double that hit the wall in left-center field on a hop.

Nienaber said WBE’s ability to take advantage of mistakes made the difference in the game.

“We ran the bases extremely well,” Nienaber said. “It wasn’t like we out-hit them, in fact they out-hit us, but we did a really good job of stealing bases and taking advantage of any mistake they made. We played alert, we played heads up and there’s no substitute for that.”

Post 33 tied the game in the top of the third, with five consecutive batters reaching base.

Wyatt Westcott led the inning off with a soft line-drive single just over a jumping Nagel at shortstop before Carlson hit a drive to short center field.

Noah Sykes then hit a hard line drive through the left side of the infield. With the bases loaded, Bleess hit Sawyer Carr to bring a run in before Jacob Brey lined a ball through the right side of the infield for two RBIs.

Bleess was pulled in the sixth inning because he hit the 105-pitch limit. He threw 5 2/3 innings and allowed five runs, all earned, on eight hits, four walks and two hit batters, while striking out five.

“Even the best pitchers aren’t always going to have their ‘A’ game,” Nienaber said. “You could tell from about the second inning on, Hunter wasn’t as sharp as he normally is, but I think that’s the mark of a really good player, when you don’t have your ‘A’ game and you can still battle and be successful and that’s what he did.”

Jared Kennedy came in for the final 1 1/3 inning getting out all four batters he faced. He forced two groundouts to third base and struck out two batters.

Sanders had a hit and a walk, while Schavey had a hit, reached on an error and scored two runs. Legred had a single, a double and a walk, while Fering reached base on a walk and an error and scored both times.

Bleess had a three-RBI double and a sacrifice fly, while Mertens had a two-RBI single.

SJ 003 110 0 — 5 8 5

WBE 305 000 x — 8 7 2

Hunter Bleess (WP), Jared Kennedy (6) and Karson Legred. Logan Carlson (LP), Jacob Brey (6) and Charles Schmidt.

LOB–SJ 10, WBE 5. 2B–Karson Legred (WBE), Hunter Bleess (WBE). SF–Hunter Bleess (WBE).