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Morris VFW eliminated after two Friday losses

The Morris VFW State Tournament team.

The Morris VFW Post 5039 ended up with a 1-2 record at the State Tournament in St. Cloud Aug. 6-9, good for a top-six finish. After their exciting win in extra innings in the opening round, the tables were turned on Morris as they lost to Austin, the eventual state champion, 4-3 in eight innings in the second round game, and then dropped a 2-0 decision to St. Anthony to be eliminated.

The Austin VFW Post 1216 baseball team took home a state title after defeating White Bear Lake 5-3 in St. Cloud Sunday.

In the Austin game on Friday, it was another fantastic contest that could very well have decided the state champion. Austin was a strong favorite heading into the tournament, having half of their players from Austin, and the other half from surrounding towns as they fielded a very deep, well balanced team.

Post 5039 showed that they had come to play early, as Tyler Hansen hit a long home run over the left field fence with one out in the top of the first inning to give Morris the 1-0 lead. Alex Erickson was the starting pitcher for Morris and he set Austin down in the first two innings as Post 5039 held onto the one-run lead. 

That lead grew to 2-0 in the top of the third inning as Erickson led off with an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error. Hansen then hit a slow ground ball to third that was mishandled and Morris had runners on the corners. Ryan Beyer hit a sacrifice fly to left field to drive in Erickson.

Austin came back with a run in their half of the inning, but it could have been worse for Morris. After an out was recorded, the number nine hitter Yocom singled and leadoff hitter Alan May doubled down the left field line. A perfect relay from Travis Rinkenberger to Eric Riley to catcher Beyer cut down Yocom at the plate for the second out. Steve Serratore then singled in May to cut the deficit to 2-1.

In the top of the fifth inning Erickson hit a one-out single and Hansen doubled down the left field line to put runners on second and third. Austin then brought in ace pitcher, Logan Spitzack. Beyer hit another sacrifice fly to score Erickson, but Spitzack got out of the inning without further damage.

In the bottom of the inning, a lead-off single and a sacrifice bunt brought up May with a runner on second base. He hit a long fly to left field that dropped behind the left fielder and Austin ended up with runners on second and third. Serratore then responded with a double into the left center field gap to tie the game.

The game remained tied heading into the eighth inning. Beyer led off with a single and Brady Valnes worked out a one-out walk. The runners moved up to second and third on a ground out off of the bat of Cole Riley and then Rinkenberger hit a long drive into the right center field gap that appeared as though it would drop in safely to score both runners. The wind however held up the ball long enough for Yocom to make a nice catch for the final out.

In the bottom of the eighth Erickson hit the lead off hitter with a pitch and he was sacrificed to second. A walk put runners on first and second and then Jay Ettinger singled to right field. Post 5039 right fielder Mitch Kill charged the ball and made a strong throw to the plate, but the runner slid in just ahead of the tag to give Austin the win.  

This was a great ballgame that could have went either way as evidenced by this quote from Austin coach Joe Serratore in the Austin Daily Herald.

"Morris is a much better team than I thought. They were good," Joe Serratore said. "But we played good. You'd have to play 100 games to play another game as good as we did today."

Post 5039 had to come right back and play immediately following that heart-breaking loss against a very good team from St. Anthony. Morris responded by hitting the ball hard all night long, but they could not get anything to fall as they dropped a 2-0 decision.

St. Anthony played errorless defense as they continually made the plays to keep Morris off of the base paths in a game played in a steady drizzle.

Hansen started on the mound and pitched very well, allowing just six hits, with half of them being of the infield variety.

Post 5039 would strand a runner on third in the fourth inning and had their best scoring chance in the sixth inning when Ethan Bruer led off with a bunt single and went to third on Hansen's one-out single to left. After another out, Eric Riley hit a line drive to right center field that the right fielder ran down to end the threat. 

St. Anthony scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to pull out the win. 

Post 5039 ended their season with a record of 18-6 (23-8 including exhibitions).

"It was another strong season for this group of athletes as they now have participated in four state tournaments over the last five years, with two championships, one runner-up finish, and this top-six showing," said coach Gary Hansen. "This year's finish was additionally rewarding as in VFW Baseball there is only one class, there are not 'A' and 'B' divisions so such a strong showing for a smaller community is something that the players can be very proud of."