Tigers win subsection title

Published 7:08 pm Thursday, May 28, 2015

Albert Lea's Ben Witham slides past Waseca catcher Jacob Walter to score a run in the bottom of the fourth inning Thursday in the Subsection 2AA South finals. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Albert Lea’s Ben Witham slides past Waseca catcher Jacob Walter to score a run in the bottom of the fourth inning Thursday in the Subsection 2AA South finals. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Sparked by a defensive stand in the second inning, the Albert Lea baseball team won the Subsection 2AA South crown.

Kole Smith rifled the ball from left field to Parker Boyum at home plate to negate Waseca’s first scoring opportunity and produce momentum Thursday in a 12-2 five-inning win during the subsection finals at Hayek Field.

“If there was such a thing as a turning point, that gave us a lift,” said Albert Lea coach Joe Sczublewski. “Parker made a nice tag and blocked the plate like he’s supposed to. He’s a tough kid. Kole is a tough kid too. These guys are playing their hearts out.”

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After holding the No. 3-seed Bluejays (12-9, 6-6 Big South) scoreless in the top of the second, No. 1-seed Albert Lea (13-10, 4-7 Big Nine) caught fire at the plate and produced six runs.

Mason Hammer hit a lead-off double, and scored on a double by Boyum.

“We’ve been working on making a short swing and getting to the ball instead of it being so long,” Boyum said. “I was just doing my job.”

Hammer and Boyum produced six of the Tigers’ 15 hits.

Albert Lea scored runs in double figures twice during the regular season, but Sczublewski said Thursday was the team’s most impressive performance.

“Today was our best game of the year at the plate,” Sczublewski said. “Hitting is so contagious, and the guys picked it up well.”

The Tigers batted through the order in the second, and Hammer capped the six-run inning with an RBI single to score Alex Bledsoe.

In the top of the third, Waseca loaded the bases with one out, but Albert Lea starting pitcher Chris Enderson held the Bluejays to one run.

“Chris battled and had another outstanding game,” Sczublewski said. “He started strong on the mound with some strikeouts, and our defense played well.”

Enderson pitched five innings. He posted five strikeouts and allowed six hits, one earned run and three walks.

In the bottom of the fourth, the Tigers scored five runs with two outs. Courtesy runner Ben Witham scored Albert Lea’s 10th run on a hit by Tanner Bellrichard that turned into a double on an error.

“I saw the ball go through the gap, and Joe waved me around,” said Witham.

When Witham neared home plate, he collided with Waseca catcher Jacob Walter but was safe.

Witham, a sophomore, played on the JV team until the playoffs started, he said.

“(The playoffs are) fun and exciting,” he said. “It’s a different experience.”

Albert Lea led by 10 runs, 11-1, in the bottom of the fourth, but Waseca prolonged the game by scoring one run with two outs in the top of the fifth.

The Tigers loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth, and Smith scored the winning run on a hit by Jake Thompson.

During the regular season, Albert Lea edged Waseca 5-4 at Hayek Field.

Next, Albert Lea will play Glencoe-Silver Lake, the No. 1 seed in Subsection 2AA North, in the Section 2AA finals at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Peter.

The winner of that game will play the winner of the consolation bracket, and the winner of the consolation bracket will need to beat the winner of the championship bracket twice to advance.

Glencoe-Silver Lake (18-4, 10-3 Wright County) beat Belle Plaine 8-0 Thursday in the subsection finals.

Last year, Glencoe-Silver Lake edged Albert Lea 5-4, but the Tigers worked their way through the consolation bracket to reach the finals where the Panthers edged Albert Lea again, 4-2.

“I think if we can play as well as we played in the subsection tournament, we are capable of defeating them on Saturday and going to the winner’s bracket finals where we play whoever is coming out of the heap at the bottom,” Sczublewski said. “We’re hoping to turn the tables on them this year.”