Edina’s American Legion baseball team found itself in a struggle against one of the storied franchises in the Midwest July 9 at Braemar Park.
It was the last pool game of the Gopher Classic, and Edina was deadlocked 1-1 with the Rapid City (South Dakota) Hardhats in the bottom of the sixth. That is when Edina second baseman Nick Azar sparked a game-winning surge for Edina.
His basehit set the table for a two-run inning that gave Edina a 3-1 victory. Brett Hufendick singled to drive in Azar with the eventual game winner.
Azar said the key to his lead-off hit was “keeping my weight back.”
He had been out in front of the pitch in previous at-bats, but not in the sixth inning. Patience allowed him to see the ball better and drill a liner into left field.
After starting for the Edina High team this spring, Azar sees summer as a time to improve and gain confidence for this senior season.
“I have been hitting the ball pretty well, getting some extra-base hits,” he said. “I’m trying to be strong and aggressive.”
Azar doesn’t have a home run yet, but he has hit the fence on the fly several times.
The infield has been Edina’s strength this summer with Emerson Egly at first base, Azar at second, Ben Vanhove at shortstop and Carter Theis at third base. Egly plays for St. Paul Academy during the high school season and Vanhove is back after his first year of college baseball.
The win over Rapid City gave Edina a 3-2 record in Gopher Classic play and second place among six teams at the Edina site. Minneapolis Southwest was champion of the Edina pool and advanced to the championship round on Monday, July 10.
“We’re a young team, and we don’t have the same lineup out there every day,” said Azar.
With a lot of games in a short season, Edina has had to rely on a deep pitching staff, led by high school team aces Richie Holetz and Will Eckland.
Other pitchers are sharing the load, including lefthander Walter Brandt, who pitched three scoreless relief innings to post the victory against Rapid City.
“The Gopher Classic gives us a chance to see the competition from other states,” said Brandt. “Everyone jelled together tonight.”
What was the key to Brandt’s success?
“My fastball,” he said.
Some of his pitches tailed, and most of them were moving one way or the other.
When he isn’t pitching, Brandt plays right field. That is a spot he would like to have on the varsity next year with the graduation of this year’s starting right fielder, Jason Sarp.
All five of the Lake Conference communities were represented in the 96-team Gopher Classic, but Wayzata was the only one that advanced to the championship round. Wayzata won the Prior Lake pool with a 5-0 record. As this edition went to press on Monday, July 10, Wayzata had beaten Fargo, North Dakota 8-0 in the first round of the 16-team championship bracket.
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