CHASKA, Minn.-At the State Baseball Tournament for the first time in school history, the Randolph Rockets experienced an extreme of highs and lows on the scoreboard.
After falling to Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg on Thursday in the quarterfinals, the Rockets downed Sebeka 11-1, then lost in the consolation championship 16-5 to Hayfield.
A trophy is given to the consolation champion, the loser of the game gets nothing except a long bus ride home. The Rockets may not have something physical to show for their state appearance, but it does have a season worth remembering.
"We knew going 14-0 into sections (in 2018) and 17-0 going into the section final, losing to eventual Class A state champ Heritage, we were that close. We knew the final goal was to get to the state tournament," said Randolph head coach Chris Stanton. "On the boys' side there has only been one other team to get to that point. (This team) showed that they can do it. Credit to our softball team, when they broke through last year it helped the boys have that mentality of we can do this too. They all shared a common goal. It's going to be one I'll never forget."
Nearly every parent, coach and player had misty eyes as the Rockets walked off the Chaska Athletic Field on Friday. While Stanton says the seniors may not realize it, the season was special.
"In Randolph, you'll be remembered forever," Stanton said he told his players after the loss to Hayfield. "We talk about the 1979 football team forever. They are going to talk about the 2019 (baseball) team for a long time."
After two more runs came across to score in the top of the sixth, pushing Hayfield's lead to 11 runs, Stanton one-by-one removed each of the remaining seniors from the field. Something seen in MLB when a player is retiring, the Rocket coach gave each a chance to leave the field to be applauded separately. Stanton then showed recognition for each of the seniors after the game by letting them leave the final team meeting of the year together to join their parents.
Stanton added he thought the team represented itself well despite the final scores.
The trip to state means a lot to the program and for seniors Joey Erickson and Andrew Wenstrom, it gave them a couple more weeks to hang out with the team. For state, the team stayed in the Cities at a hotel. Erickson said the second of the two was where the team really bonded.
"We had the pool (near us) and one long hallway of boys," Erickson said.
Wenstrom added, "All the rooms connected, too. The NBA Finals were on. So everybody was hanging out with everyone."
"Even guys that don't watch basketball were watching the Finals," Erickson said.
Six to seven rooms, all with connecting doors inside each room, made it easier for the entire team to gather in one or two of the rooms.
On the field, Wenstrom and Erickson said they felt accomplished as high school ball players having "broke through."
"It was nice to break the curse," Wenstrom said. "To be part of the team who led it, it was a lot of fun. I think it will open up a door for the younger kids to know it's not impossible (to make it to state). They were just as big a part of this team and they can do it."
For Stanton, this season should erase all doubts about what Randolph is capable of.
"You always have people that doubt you," Stanton said. "Just to put a stamp of, 'we can do this and our program is good.' To finally breakthrough is huge for the program."
Besides the first trip to state, senior Joey Erickson said he'd like people to know one thing.
"We always get that, 'Where's Randolph?' thing," Erickson said. "You want people to stop saying that and we tried to do that (by playing in the tournament)."
One bad inning
JORDAN-Fighting his control, and maybe some nerves as well, Randolph's Andrew Wenstrom couldn't make it out of the third inning. The Rocket pitcher began the inning with a strikeout, but the inning turned disastrous as Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg scored eight runs on six hits and two errors.
It was enough to knock Wenstrom out of the game, and the fifth-seeded Saints added two more in the fourth en route to a 10-0 win over the fourth-seeded Rockets on Thursday at the Mini Met in Jordan.
"We haven't played like that at all (this year)," said Randolph head coach Chris Stanton. "One bad inning."
In that third inning, Saints leadoff man Weston Gjerde singled, Dylan Rudningen singled and Regan Carlson followed with a walk to load the bases. Then Isaac Call drove in a run on a single and Christian Diederich drove in two on a single to left. With runners on the corners, Saints pitcher Alex Call bunted in a run on a safety squeeze. Cade Melin then reached on an error and Levi Sweere singled in a run.
With eight consecutive batters reaching safely, Stanton pulled Wenstrom.
Noah Thorson came to bat with the bases loaded against the new Randolph pitcher, Joel Gehrke. Thorson, the 10th batter of the inning, singled in a run. Another run came across to score on a wild pitch with the bases loaded. Gjerde drove in the eighth and final run of the third on a sacrifice fly to center field.
"Sometimes you just don't have it," Stanton said about Wenstrom. "That's alright, we're here. We'll see what we can do tomorrow."
The Rockets got its first hit and baserunner in the third inning. Isaac Stoesz led off with a single, but was picked off first and tagged out in a rundown between first and second base. Two batters later, Brandon Gerster walked and was picked off first for the final out of the inning.
Stanton said such mental mistakes like getting picked off while trailing big was frustrating. The Rockets don't make mistakes like that, he said.
"They were all anxious," Stanton said. "They were all nervous, being here for the first time with the big crowds, which is weird because usually when we play in Cannon Falls it's kind of the same feeling."
The Saints had starter Alex Call pitch two innings and reliever Regan Carlson, another lefty, pitch the final three innings. Between the two Saints pitchers, the Rockets managed just three hits and a walk.
"The guys said (Call) had a nice tail on his fastball," Stanton said when asked how difficult it was to hit Call and his pitch mix. "We don't see a lot of lefties that throw hard.We'll learn from it."
Stanton said the nervousness should wear off by tomorrow when the Rockets play Sebeka at 10 a.m. at Chaska Athletic Park. A win would put the Rockets into the consolation championship game later Friday at 3 p.m.
"We still have to get our first win here and we still have something to fight for," Stanton said. "You have to win two tomorrow to get the consolation championship. That's what we're shooting for now."