Jun. 10—MILROY — Brooks Asche's knees were aching after two games Thursday.
In Game 1 of the Section 3A championship against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, he played catcher for the first time since ninth grade. While the Wolverines started hot with a 3-0 first-inning lead, R-T-R clawed its way back to a 7-3 victory, forcing a winner-take-all game with state on the line.
Fighting through two late-inning jams, Asche and his knees didn't buckle. He threw the complete-game victory in a 2-1 win at Yankee Field, sending MACCRAY to state for the second time in school history.
"I can definitely feel it in my knees right now," Asche said. "But I couldn't be happier. Nothing excites me more.
"This is what I've always wanted."
It will be the Wolverines' first state trip since winning the Class A title in 2009. The Class A state tournament begins Tuesday at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud.
"That was an exciting game right there," said MACCRAY head coach Nate Hebrink said. "Our boys stuck with it and we fought hard. We knew it was going to be a battle."
Game 1 saw MACCRAY jump out to a three-run lead, starting with an Asche single down the first-base line. That was followed by a two-run single by Xavier Noble. The Wolverines were held to four hits the rest of the game.
R-T-R took the lead in the top of the fifth with a three-run frame of their own. The Knights took the lead for good with a Logan Lamonte RBI single. Three more runs aided the cause in the top of the seventh.
From the end of Game 1 through the first four innings of Game 2, MACCRAY's offense was in a funk. In the top of the fourth in Game 2, they loaded the bases, only for R-T-R to force a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
"It was baseball," Hebrink said. "Sometimes you get the bounces and sometimes you don't. The ball was bouncing for those guys.
"We just kept on sticking our noses to the grindstone and fought as hard as we could there."
The fifth inning was when the Wolverines finally broke through.
The Knights' Jack Christianson struck out Grayson Ahrenholz, but the ball went to the backstop. Ahrenholz bolted for first and reached safely to avoid the second out. Two batters later, Gavin Husman drew a two-out walk. Then, both players got into scoring position after reliever Aiden Wichmann was called for a balk on his first pitch against Isaac Strommer.
When Strommer did connect on one of Wichmann's pitches, it was a slow roller in the infield.
"In the big time, you gotta put the ball in play," Strommer said. "All I was thinking was to put it in play, the ball will do the rest."
Strommer managed to leg out the single, allowing a run to score. Then amid the calamity of the safe call, the second run came in. MACCRAY now had a 2-0 lead.
"I don't even know, it was crazy," Strommer said on hearing the safe call. "I see the ball out of the corner of my eye and it's low so I thought 'I got this beat. I got it.' I get called safe. Then I turn around and another run is scoring. It was just crazy."
"Boy, he hustled down that first-base line," Hebrink added. "It was unbelievable, man. He's a senior that knows that any time something like that is possible, you gotta work hard. And he's done that all year long. Boy, that was good for him to see."
Now, it was up to Asche and his defense. While the right-handed senior only had three strikeouts, the defense behind him was rock solid, committing no errors after having three in the opener.
"It's one of the best feelings ever knowing I have such a trustworthy 'D' behind me," Asche said. "They're able to make great, great plays for me and always have my back."
R-T-R threatened in the six, with runners on first and third before Wichmann hit a grounder to Asche. He turned and threw to second, starting an inning-ending double play.
Then in the seventh, the Knights loaded the bases with one out. He walked the No. 9 batter, Sam Nibbe, allowing Blake Christianson to score and sending the top of the order up.
"Normally I don't get too nervous, but I had some different emotions going right there," Asche said. "My head was spinning a little bit."
Asche struck out Hayden Gravley for the second out. The next batter, Dylan Anderson, hit a weak popup toward the right side of the infield toward first baseman Joe Heidecker. "I knew I was going to have to lay out for it, no matter what," Heidecker said. "If I didn't, it would have been interesting."
He was able to sprawl out to the dirt and snag the ball for the final out.
In four meetings with R-T-R this season, the Wolverines are 3-1.
"It's unbelievable; I'm so excited for this," Heidecker said. "Our coaches deserve it, our team deserves it. We've done so much preparation and grinding. It's our time now."
MACCRAY 000 020 0-2 5 0
RTR 000 000 1-1 4 1
Hitting — MACCRAY: Isaac Strommer 1-4 rbi-2, Dreyer Homan 1-2 bb, Brooks Asche 2-3 sb, Emery Aker 1-3, Angel Mendoza 0-0 r, Gavin Husman 0-3 r bb ... RTR: Dylan Anderson 1-4, Cody Wichmann 1-2, Jack Christianson 1-3 2b, Logan Lamote 1-3, Blake Christianson 0-2 r bb, Sam Nibbe 0-2 rbi bb
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — MACCRAY: Ashce (W) 7-4-1-1-5-3 ... RTR: J. Christianson (L) 4.2-4-2-0-1-2, Aiden Wichmann 2.1-1-0-0-2-4
RTR 001 030 3-7 10 0
MACCRAY 300 000 0-3 8 3
Hitting — RTR: Hayden Graveley 1-4 r sb, Dylan Anderson 1-3 r-2 bb sb-2, Cody Wichmann 2-3 3b r-2 rbi-2, Aiden Wichmann 2-4 r rbi, Blake Christianson 1-4 r, Jack Christianson 2-4 rbi, Logan Lamote 1-4 rbi ... MACCRAY: Isaac Strommer 2-3 r bb, Dreyer Homan 1-3 r, Brooks Asche 1-3 r rbi, Xavier Noble 2-3 rbi-2, Joe Heidecker 1-3, Ethan Strommer 1-2 sb bb
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — RTR: C. Wichmann (W) 6-8-3-3-1-4, J. Christianson 1-0-0-0-2-0 ... MACCRAY: Homan (L) 7-10-7-4-3-9