Norman County thrashed the top ranked team in the state from class ‘A’ yesterday afternoon in Thief River Falls at Northland Community and Technical College’s Multi-Events Center in the section semi-finals. The Wildcats used a strong offensive attack combined with an athletic defensive outing to ten-run rule Blackduck 12-2 in five innings to advance onto the section championship.
Norman County jumped out to an early 4-0 lead thanks to an error by shortstop Trey Volk, a walk, a two-run triple by Bill Atwood, an RBI single by Petrik and a Ryan Merkens RBI double to right field. The Wildcat offensive show occurred all without Blackduck pitcher Cody Bergquist recording an out, and he wouldn’t be able to get one as he was taken off the mound in the very first inning. Norman County would add one more run after a wild pitch by the new pitcher Michael Dexter.
“Our 1-5 hitters were very solid all throughout, not with just singles but extra base hits to jump out to an early lead. Forcing out their pitcher early on gave us some confidence out in the field,” said Norman County manager Mike Gullingsrud.
Senior Tanner Grunewald took to the mound for the Wildcats, pitching five outstanding innings, giving up just four hits. Grunewald would owe many thanks to his teammates behind him in the field though, as they made remarkable plays to keep Blackduck – at bay.
From first baseman Bryant Fetting scooping out a low throw from Ian Halle after a tough play at shortstop to Fetting once again making a play on a hot liner that had double written all over it, the Wildcat defense was stellar. But once the Drakes were able to get their first run across in the third inning, they threatened for more with runners on the corners.
Grunewald took his own troubles into his own hands; jamming a Drake batter at the plate making him pop up just in front of the mound, Grunewald dove and came up with the ball. He then set his target on first, set himself and threw out an absent minded base runner for an inning ending double play.
“When you talk about defense, you’re talking about fundamental plays,” stated Gullingsrud. “But when you get to the playoffs, you need star players to make star plays to propel us through the tournament. Confidence breeds more confidence and that’s just what we need going into the section championship.”
Norman County continued their success at the plate, especially senior Bill Atwood. After hitting a two RBI triple to center in the first, he whacked a double that hit high off of the right field fence the next inning. He’d then get yet another extra base hit in the third followed with another hit in the top of the fifth that aided in the two run inning that was key to issuing the ten-run rule. Atwood went 4-4 with 5 RBI and four runs scored for the game.
“Bill has kind of been in a funk, but he definitely busted out of that lull today with his performance at the plate,” commented Gullingsrud.
The fifth inning started with two Blackduck ground outs, just what they didn’t need to keep the ten-run rule from coming into effect. Grunewald looked determined to get the final out of the game, and he did just that; Striking out the last batter, he pumped his fist and walked off the mound victorious.
Norman County will play at Thief River Falls once again tomorrow, Thursday, June 9th at four o’clock against the Red Lake County Rebels. The Wildcats lost to the Rebels earlier this season 10-0, and just last week in the sub-section championship 11-8. The winner of that game will represent section 8 in the state tournament.
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