Mounds View's Nate Douvier (23), Keith Kubitschek (40) and Sam Hentges (34) celebrate after the Mustangs extended their lead to 8-0 in Monday's Class 3A state championship game against Rocori at Target Field. Photo: richard firstname.lastname@example.org
Mounds View pitcher Max Knuton threw a complete-game victory against Rocori in the Class 3A state championship game Monday at Target Field. Photo: richard email@example.com
Mounds View pitcher Max Knutson reached for the ball on the finely cut grass of Target Field in the seventh inning of the Class 3A state championship game against Rocori and paused for a moment to compose himself. Catcher Lars Anderson battled the same emotions behind his mask.
The Mustangs were three outs away from the program’s first baseball state championship.
A quick double-play took care of the emotions and the first two outs. Then the lefthanded Knutson responded with what he does best. He struck out his ninth Rocori batter of the game to secure an 8-0 victory Monday. Smiles exploded into cheers and a raucous celebratory pile of players.
“No other way. That’s the only way I’d want it to be,” Knutson said about ending the game with a strikeout. “Three outs left, 8-nothing, you’re going to smile a little bit. Get the emotions going. It feels great.”
The offense led the way for Mounds View (20-6) and its ace pitcher by compiling 14 hits and a run total that was among the Mustangs’ season bests. Five Mounds View players — Anderson, Sam Hentges, Justin Ortt, Charlie Callahan, Austin Smestad — had multi-hit games.
No one contributed more than Hentges, a junior first baseman who was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle. He drove in the game’s first run with a double that two-hopped the wall in right field. In the third inning, his RBI triple four-hopped the wall in left-center field. His single was a line drive.
In his final at-bat, Hentges was encouraged to swing for the home run by his coach, Jon Nuss.
Hengtes said he finally found his swing after struggling throughout the playoffs. He credited the rest of the Mustangs lineup for helping him keep a hot stroke throughout the finale.
“It always feels good when everyone is hitting in the lineup, one through nine,” said Hentges, who fouled off several offspeed pitches before he was caught looking on a called third strike in his last bid for a home run. “I don’t remember the last time we put up 14 hits in a game.”
Anderson also doesn’t remember the last time he had three hits in a game, but said he remembers how consistent the bottom half of the Mustangs lineup has been throughout the year. The Nos. 6 through 9 hitters had seven hits and five RBI on Monday.
The group was just as good in the field. The Mustangs defense was error-free, while Rocori committed two errors. Mounds View was at its best offensively, defensively and on the mound in its biggest game of the year.
“We’re good at all spots in the lineup,” Anderson said. “We picked the best day to play our best game.”
Rocori coach Jeff Illies knew his team had caught some breaks, and even luck, to make it to the championship. There was none of that in the finale.
Knutson struck out five of the first seven batters he faced and the Spartans (18-9) could never get anything going.
Rocori outfielder Mac Mueller said his team is successful when it makes the defense work for outs, but was unable to do so by striking out nine times and coming up with only four hits. Jeron Terres had two of those hits.
Monday’s game was the opposite for Rocori starting pitcher Reed Pfannenstein. The righthander gave up four runs on seven hits and four walks in three innings of work.
“They hit everything,” Pfannenstein said. “If I put a pitch even a little bit on the plate, they’d jump all over it.”