In the three seasons since the Park Center baseball team last bested Champlin Park, the two teams have been treading in opposite directions.
While Champlin Park has become one of the top programs in the state, Park Center has been working on developing its program with a solid core of young players.
In the latest bout between the two Brooklyn Park-based teams, Champlin Park rode a nine-run first inning en route to an 11-1 victory.
“The kids certainly get up for it,” Park Center head baseball coach Nathan Johnson said. “As for the rivalry, we haven’t beaten them in three or four years, so it has probably gone down a little bit.
“We have to try to make it a game. Last year it was a 1-0 game with an unearned run and the score this year, I can’t say it is indicative of how close maybe our teams might be, we were one play away from getting out of that first inning and it unraveled from there. The kids grow up playing against one another from a young age, so there is plenty of familiarity, and I didn’t have them ready tonight.”
While the outcome was promising for Champlin Park, Champlin Park head baseball coach Cory Davis felt he was more pleased with the atmosphere surrounding the game.
“This is kind of an old-fashioned neighborhood baseball game,” Davis said. “To be out here underneath the lights and to see the friendships, I was here for the JV game and I saw the kids talk to each other from halfway across the field, in good nature is really fun.
“They grew up playing with these guys and it just adds to the atmosphere.”
Cole Albers started the game for the Rebels and allowed just one run in his five innings on the mound. Albers picked up nine strikeouts in the contest.
“The first inning I felt good, then after that long break I felt I kind of lost it again,” Albers said. “The command was a little better, but it wasn’t where it should be.
“I didn’t throw too much off-speed tonight, I mainly stuck with the fastball and commanded it about as well as I could.”
Albers also helped get the Rebel offense kick-started, as he hit a lead-off home run in the bottom of the first inning.
“It was just a fastball, I was up 2-0 and I was sitting dead-red,” Albers said. “I have been seeing the ball well lately, so I tried to put a good swing on it and I knew I had him beat, but I didn’t know it was going to go out of here.”
Trey Carlson (RBI hit-by-pitch), Luke Brynjulfson (two-run single), Zach Loven (two-run double), and Quinn Viktora (two-run single) drove in runs in the first inning for Champlin Park.
Champlin Park took a 10-0 lead after a run scored on an error, but Park Center forced across its first run of the game on an RBI infield single by Riley Pederson in the fifth inning.
Brynjulfson then struck again with an RBI bloop single to seal the Rebels’ 11-1 victory.
For Champlin Park, the win was the third of what turned out to be a perfect 4-0 week for the Rebels. Champlin Park bested Edina 4-3, Blaine 3-1 and Armstrong 7-0 in the week’s other contests.
“This is a huge week for our team in terms of we’re in the thick of things in the season,” Davis said. “We’re starting to figure out guys’ roles and guys are stepping up and making plays, so for our guys to step up and have this kind of a week at this point of the season is really good for our confidence.
“We’re [10-4] right now and we’re feeling pretty good about where things are heading. Our pitching has been consistent, the defense is good, guys are starting to understand their roles and the bats are coming alive, which is the biggest thing for us.”
Davis knows that if his team wants to extend its success into the playoffs, it must play a certain brand of baseball.
“We have to get strong pitching,” Davis said. “I feel really good that we have three quality starters right now.
“Cole Albers, Max Loven and Michael Ulland have done a nice job on the mound for us and that needs to continue. We need to continue to eliminate errors and play solid defense, and we have found a way to scratch runs across so far this season. The hits will come, but the pitching and defense can’t slump.”
While his team can work to control as much as possible, Davis also noted his team can control the way it treats each other as it looks to make another push toward state.
“These guys having fun and sticking together can push you further than you would expect,” Davis said. “That’s what the team last year had, they were clicking at the end of the season, they were pushing each other and having fun in practice and that can lead to success on the field.”
For Park Center, the loss might have kick-started the Pirates on a positive run, as, after the first inning in the Champlin Park loss, the Pirates played to a 2-1 deficit to end its game against the Rebels and also fell 2-1 to Anoka May 12, before besting Duluth East 10-4 May 13 in the second game of a doubleheader.
Champlin Park will play next against Irondale at will play its next 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 18, at Irondale High School, while Park Center will play its next game of the season against Blaine at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 18, at Park Center High School.
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.