Pirates fall in sub-state opener

Sports Editor

The Park Center American Legion baseball team has spent the 2017 season working to be able to make plays on a consistent basis.

The Park Center American Legion baseball team gathers before a game earlier this summer. The Pirates’ season ended with an 8-6 loss to Fridley in the Sub-State 9 play-in game July 18. (Sun Post staff photo by Chris Chesky)

While the Pirates’ youth reared its head at times during the summer, Park Center was able to piece together one of its best performances of the summer against Fridley in the Sub-State 9 play-in game July 18. Despite dropping the game 8-6, Johnson was proud of how his team was able to come back to take a 6-5 lead after falling behind 5-0 early in the contest.

“This was a fun game,” Park Center head coach Nathan Johnson said. “I would have to go back and look at it, but going down 5-0 and feeling like four were unearned, we left a couple plays out there, we told the guys this wasn’t seven [inning], this is nine, we have plenty of time to work our way back into the game.

“We were able to do that and take the lead and I’m just proud of how these guys really fought and how we stayed into it as a team, this is something we have worked on all year. To see that happen was awesome.”

Derek Dugas took the loss, but Johnson was pleased with how he kept the Pirates in the game through his seven innings.

“Our starting pitcher, Derek Dugas, did exactly what you need,” Johnson said. “He pitched seven and he wanted to finish it, but we got to that pesky pitch count.

“He certainly had that bulldog mentality of this was his game and he wanted to finish it.”

Fridley added an insurance run in the eighth-inning off reliever Matt Sporre.

“Matt Sporre came in during the eighth and they played perfect small ball,” Johnson said. “They got the lead-off guy on, they did the fake bunt and steal, then bunted him over to manufacture a run, which is what you need to be able to do at times.

“You have to tip your hat to Fridley, they came out and got the lead, we came back and got the lead and they did the same thing, they didn’t just go into a hole, they fought and came out on top.”

Park Center had a season filled with ups and downs, but, in the end, Johnson is happy with how his team has played since the start of the high school season in March.

“We are extremely proud of how hard these guys fought tonight,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to look at the season as a whole, looking back all the way to March when the high school season started, of how we have grown not only as individuals, but as a team and a program.

“We’re kind of losing only one player, but it’s one heck of a player in Keller [Tollefson], with the leadership he has shown on and off the field and his demeanor, respect, hard work and is just a consummate great kid. You hope some kids look to him as a role model going forward.”

With a solid core of players set to return to the Pirates next season, Park Center knows it has set itself up for future success by investing in its youth this season.

“We have essentially everybody coming back, which will be nice because we can throw some more stuff at them,” Johnson said. “We can make minor adjustments and we’re trying to show them that they can use their athleticism, react and use the brain God has given them, we have a lot of smart kids, so it’s trying to give them the confidence that if they see a play, they can make it.”

Follow Sun Post sports editor Chris Chesky on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris and on Facebook at SunSportsStaff.