Cottonwood cashes in against Minneota

COTTONWOOD – A walk-off hit by pitch is an anticlimactic way to end a close baseball game, but it seemed like a fitting finish for Saturday’s Legion game between Minneota and Cottonwood.

Hits were a rarity in the ballgame, though base runners were plentiful. After Minneota scored three runs in the top of the seventh to tie the game and force extra innings, Cottonwood needed just one hit to load the bases in the bottom of the eighth and earned a 7-6 victory when Cody St. Aubin was plunked by Minneota pitcher Alex Guttormsson to score the winning run.

Cottonwood scored three runs without getting any hits in the second inning to take an early lead. Minneota starter Isaac Josephson hit three batters, walked a batter and struck out three batters in the inning. Three more runs from Cottonwood were added in the sixth on three walks, a hit batter and shallow pop fly that was misplayed by the defense.

Collecting just four hits in the game, the runs were gifts Cottonwood was more than happy to accept.

“A lot of walks and a lot of hit batters,” Cottonwood coach Mike Rausch said. “That’s what I said after the second inning when we scored three was that, really, we didn’t deserve any of them because they just kept hitting us. But we’ll take runs any way we can get them.”

Cottonwood was active on the base paths once it got runners on. The team’s first run came via a double steal in the second, as St. Aubin swiped second base following a bunt base hit and Randy Louwagie scored from third on the throw from the catcher to try to get St. Aubin.

“The thing that we took away from the game, what I told the guys afterwards, was the fundaments,” Rausch said. “We did a good job of bunting guys over, getting them to second, getting them to third. We just didn’t have a clutch hit to be able to score somebody out of it.”

Minneota’s erratic pitching meant Cottonwood didn’t need to come up with many hits to put runs on the board. Josephson and Guttormsson both struggled to find the strike zone in the game and it proved to be the difference.

“During the summer it’s tough when you don’t throw, whether it’s playing catch or whether it’s pitching,” Minneota coach Keven Larson said. “Accuracy isn’t as sharp as it is during the spring, normally, so it’s tough.”

Minneota didn’t get many hits either, collecting five for the game. Seth Boerboom started on the mound for Cottonwood and held Minneota to one run on two hits over the first four innings. Minneota added a pair of runs in the fifth, benefitting from a pair of Cottonwood errors while also getting hits from Josh Bot and Brock Buysse.

With a three-run lead in the top of the seventh, Boerboom struggled to throw strikes, walking the first batter and hitting the second. He was relieved by Wyatt Schuster. Two batters later, two runs scored on a fielding and throwing error by the third baseman. The tying run came in on a sacrifice fly by Austin Buysse.

“We came back when we needed to, scored a few runs when we needed to, which was nice to see,” Larson said. “We didn’t get down on ourselves when we got down early. It’s kind of been the story of our year where we’ve gotten off to slow starts. That’s the way it’s been all summer.”

Cottonwood went scoreless in the bottom of the inning before Schuster retired the side in order in the top of the eighth. Schuster then led off the bottom of the eighth with a double down the left field line and later scored the winning run after St. Aubin was hit by a pitch.

The victory during its town’s 125th anniversary celebration weekend gave Cottonwood a 7-7 record. It’s a .500 mark, but Rausch said that means a lot to a program that has had its struggles over the years.

“I think one of the things that we’ve tried to change is just the mentality of Legion ball,” Rausch said. “I don’t think they’d won a game for four years coming into this year. But they’re getting excited. … We went from nine kids last year to 15 this year, so 7-7 coming off of not winning a game in four years, we’re definitely going in the right direction. The culture is changing and the kids are competing better and it’s good to see.”

Both Cottonwood and Minneota are right back on the field today. Cottonwood plays a game in Montevideo, while Minneota will try to pick up its second win of the season when it plays in Prinsburg.