O-town woes continue for Tigers

Published 1:33 pm Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fuller Park in Owatonna frustrated the Albert Lea baseball team last season and it did again Friday in a doubleheader with Owatonna.

The Big Nine Conference title was on the line when the Tigers and the Huskies met for the first time since Owatonna swept Albert Lea out of the section playoffs last season and the Huskies once again swept the Tigers in a pair of significant games.

Owatonna led Albert Lea by a half game in the standings and needed just one victory to secure the title while the Tigers needed a sweep for a chance to claim it outright or a split to clinch a share.

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Albert Lea got neither as the Huskies wrapped up the conference for the first time since 1988 with a 5-4 victory and a 3-0 victory to end the Tigers’ bid for their first conference championship since 1978.

It was the matchup Albert Lea looked forward to all season long after a heated section playoff series, but it turned into one the Tigers wanted to forget after Owatonna (14-6, 14-4 Big Nine) beat them for the seventh consecutive time.

“It’s a tough place to play,” said Albert Lea senior Luke Grossman. “They definitely have our number.”

The Tigers (13-6, 11-6 Big Nine) haven’t won in Owatonna since 2002 and struggled in Fuller Park to find their hitting.

Albert Lea had five hits in the first game and Huskies sophomore Dalton Homeier retired 20 consecutive batters in the second game until junior Connor Kortan broke up his perfect game bid with a two-out single in the seventh inning.

“We’re a better hitting team than the scoreboard’s going to show,” said Tigers head coach Joe Sczublewski. “We’re taking some good pitches.”

Albert Lea trailed the entire time in both games, but had an early opportunity in the first game. In the second inning the Tigers loaded the bases with one out, but failed to produce a hit.

The Huskies struck for three runs in the fourth after Paul Satterlund’s infield hit kept the inning alive. The next batter Matt Simon connected for a two-run double and Tyler Smith followed with an RBI single.

The Tigers responded in the fifth inning after Kortan, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the doubleheader, hit an RBI double and junior Aaron Klatt followed with an RBI single. Kortan tried to score on Klatt’s shallow single, but was cut down at the plate to end the inning and left Albert Lea trailing 3-2.

Owatonna added to its lead in the sixth after another Satterlund infield single kept the inning alive. With runners on second and third Simon grounded to short and junior Carter Kortan threw home, but his throw was high and forced Connor Kortan to leap to make the catch while Quinn Christenson slid safely underneath the tag. Smith added a RBI sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 5-2.

Albert Lea rallied in the seventh when Carter Kortan and senior Jordan Mondeel started the inning with back-to-back walks. Grossman scored Carter Kortan with a single and Connor Kortan knocked in Mondeel with a sacrifice fly. The Tigers had the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on first with one out, but the Huskies retired the next two hitters to win the game and the conference.

In the second game Albert Lea couldn’t solve Homeier. Homeier didn’t overpower the Tigers, but used pinpoint location and a strong breaking ball to keep them off balance. Homeier induced 11 fly ball outs and struck out three on called third strikes.

“I don’t think he’s the fastest pitcher we’ve played,” said Connor Kortan. “He just hit his spots good and spotted his curveball good.”

Owatonna scored all three of its runs in the third inning. Derek Schwab and Brad Zimmerman started the inning with back-to-back singles and Sheridan Skala reached on a catcher’s interference call to load the bases with one out.

Albert Lea starter Cole Sorenson hit Sam Zappa with a pitch to force in a run and walked Christenson to force in another to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead. Satterlund followed with a base hit to make it 3-0.

The inning could have gotten worse, but Simon hit a fly ball to right field and senior Jordan Cooper threw a strike home to cut down Zappa, who tagged up, at the plate to end the inning.

“We weren’t outclassed by any stretch of the imagination,” Sczublewski said. “They just had some plays that they made that we didn’t make and we had two good pitching performances, they had two good pitching performances.”

Klatt allowed just five hits in the first game, walked one and struck out seven while Sorenson allowed seven hits, walked one and struck out two.

“We would have liked to have split — at least get a chance for a share — but that’s the way it goes,” Sczublewski said. “You can’t dwell on it, you just gotta come back.”

Owatonna 5, Albert Lea 4, Game 1

Albert Lea 000 020 2 — 4 5 1

Owatonna 000 302 x — 5 5 1

WP—Mike Sebring 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 8 K

LP—Aaron Klatt 7 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 7 K

Owatonna 3, Albert Lea 0, Game 2

Albert Lea 000 000 0 — 0 1 1

Owatonna 003 000 x — 3 7 0

WP—Dalton Homeier 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K

LP—Cole Sorenson 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K