Unseeded Eden Prairie baseball team takes state
Much like the overall season for Eden Prairie (18-9) which started slow with a 1-4 record, picked up the pace as the calendar turned to May and culminated in June with the third state title in program history on Monday night at Target Field.
Eden Prairie won its four state baseball title in a 5-1 win over Forest Lake for its seventh consecutive win going back to the start of section play.
“Surreal,” is how Eden Prairie senior third baseman Will Pahl described the feeling standing on the field at Target Field as state champs.
Early on, Forest Lake starting pitcher Cam Kline frustrated the Eagles batters before erupting for four runs in the fourth inning.
Eagles senior starter Jack Zigan did his best to stay composed in what he said was the biggest start of his life.
Zigan, who was on the same fall league team as Kline, struck out 11 batters as the two pitchers combined to sit down 23 batters.
Zigan held the Rangers to one unearned run on three hits and two walks for the complete game win. Two of the hits came off the bat of Forest Lake pitcher.
“I knew it would be a tough night coming in,” Zigan said about Kline. “He’s been pretty unhittable this season and we were both on three days rest so it might get interesting at the end of the game but I’m proud of the way my team responded to how filthy he was.”
“That was the best game of my life,” he added. “First of all, the biggest game, playing on Target Field, win or lose I was soaking it in, it was so much fun it was unbelievable.”
The Eagles run saw them eliminate top-seeded Wayzata in the quarterfinals, fourth-seed Lakeville North in the semifinals and second seeded Forest Lake on Monday.
“What a tremendous group,” Eagles coach John Buteyn said. “To go from the 1-4 start to a 3-5 record in the Lake Conference and then 7-0 through sections and state, I’m just so proud of what this group has done.”
After each game, Buteyn and the coaching staff talks with the team on the field for a few thoughts. After Monday’s win, he simply said, “Thank you for taking we along on this amazing ride.”
Buteyn was a player on the 2004 state championship team.
Kline struck out 12 Eagles in the game including one stretch of six straight batters in the second and third innings.
“He was locating well and mixing all three pitches at the start,” Pahl, the No. 3 hitter in the lineup. “Towards the middle innings we jumped on the fastballs and had really good at bats.”
The message from Buteyn to his hitters after struggling early was the same as it’s been all season to trust the process and stay with the plan.
Kline ended up scattering five runs, two earned on seven hits over six innings before being pulled after Eden Prairie designated hitter Logan McCarthy led off the seventh inning with a line-drive single to the deep part of right-center field.
Early jitters in the field led to three Eden Prairie errors in the first two innings and Forest Lake lead 1-0 after a two-out double by Kline, scoring on a throwing error that would’ve gotten the Eagles out of the inning.
“Throughout this tournament I just tried to not make the game that big of a deal, it’s just another game and just do my best to go one-pitch at a time and not worrying if this guy gets on,” Zigan said of the approach to keep the nerves at bay.
“The first couple innings we were kinda lost in the lights but settled in eventually and started playing well,” Pahl said.
That fourth-inning Eden Prairie rally started with one of 11 seniors, center fielder Mike Espe.
Espe hit a ground ball past the Rangers third baseman. Walks to Will Pahl and Connor Young loaded the bases for Ryan Wrobleski to come through with the biggest hit of the evening.
He smashed a ground-rule double over the fence near the 377-feet marker to score Espe and Pahl in what would be the game-winning run.
Following a Bailey DeMets strike out, senior Matt Dolan bounced a two-run single through the left side of the infield to give Eden Prairie a 4-1 lead.
That edge was more than enough support for Zigan who was working on three days rest after going five innings for a complete game win over Lakeville North in the semifinal on Friday at CHS Field in St. Paul.
Eden Prairie made it 5-1 in the sixth inning thanks to a one-out triple by Bailey DeMets to score Young to singled to left field. Wrobleski was right on the heels of Young but was tagged out as he tried to step around the Rangers catcher to avoid the tag.
Four Eden Prairie players were named to the All-Tournament team including Zigan, Elliott, Kehl and DeMets.
Before they made the way onto the field, Buteyn told the team to make sure they take 15 seconds at some point to soak in the atmosphere that comes along with playing for a state title at a major league ballpark.
“It’s weird to think its the same mound all the big-leaguers are pitching on night in, night out and it felt amazing in this setting with all the EP fans screaming. It was fun,” Zigan said.
The closest his classmates came to a state title was a runner-up finish at state as 12-year-olds. “This beats that by a long shot,” Zigan said. “None of us are going to forget this.”
Road to Target Field
Torben Urdahl gave up one hit, a lead-off double to start the game, in a 14-0 five-inning complete game win over Lakeville North on Friday to set up the state final.
Eden Prairie took an early lead when Elliott’s single was followed by an RBI double by Espe to make it 1-0 after three pitches.
The Eagles added four runs in the third inning and six more times in the fourth inning. Kehl hit a two-run home run to left field in the third inning followed by a two RBI double later in the same inning.
In the fourth, Kehl drove in two runs with a double and Young added two more runs on a triple.
Follow Jason Olson on Twitter at @SunSportsJason