Anything can happen in one game. That’s one of the wonders of sports. But some sports lend themselves to even more craziness in one game samples. He top two are probably college basketball, and baseball. That’s the reason that in baseball, nearly everything is a series. One game can look completely different from the next, and nothing like what we expected. The season series between the Valley City State University Vikings and the University of Winnipeg is a perfect example.
Coming into their midweek match up, they had played four spring games. Two had been huge Valley City wins, where they came on early and never looked back. Then there were another two games that were nail-biters throughout, and the University of Winnipeg came out on top both times. That seemed like it was going to play out in the midweek contest as well on the BEK Broadcasting Network. And, well, one part of it did.
Normally, it’s the first game that’s the blowout, the second the razor-thin margin. But our Game 1 from Charlie Brown field was an absolute gem. The Wesmen have had defensive trouble all year, and it has cost them games. That’ll happen with a young team. The Vikings have had a ton of positional shifting for various reasons-including injury- and that was the defensive issue that reared its head early on. A pickoff attempt at 2B sailed into center. Bruenjes had a tough time behind the plate with the pitches sailing everywhere. Combine these problems with some timely hitting by UW, and they took a 3-0 lead in the 3rd.
Then it was the Wesmen’s turn to allow opportunities with defensive miscues. A dropped ball in centerfield put Brady Anderson (who got hit by a pitch) in scoring position with nobody out. Then the ensuing wild pitch put the Vikes in the driver’s seat. A sac fly from Jake Rambow and a big hit from Nate Bagby (who had a huge day) narrowed the gap to 3-2. The inning would come to an end with a runner in shouting distance on a Jayden Miller strikeout. So the VCSU rally came up short in the 4th, and that at-bat may have been on the mind of the freshman later on in the game. But more on that later.
UW was not to be outdone yet. In the 6th, Colton Carlow drove home Drew Birss to double up VCSU at 4-2. Carlow was hyper-aggressive all day, and that was rewarded on a number of his ABs. VCSU hadn’t lost the front-end of a double header to UW all year, and in the 6th their offense came alive (the start of a trend for the day.) Jake Rambow laced one to left, then another defensive miscue sent him into scoring position right away. Then: Nate Bagby made it a one run game for the second time on the day, this time with an RBI double to make it 4-3. Some heads up baserunning put him just 90 feet away from the first tie since 0-0. Then it was Bruenjes’ turn again. Normally, you don’t expect a ton of offense from your catcher. You just want a leader behind the dish. But Bruenjes was masterful with the bat in his hands, and delivered the clutch hit to knot it up in the 6th inning of a scheduled 7.
No more offense would come from the inning, but one critical roster move was made: Jayden Miller was pinch hit for. Now there was nothing doing that at bat, but it was the second time that Miller had the bat taken out of his hands (the first on a caught stealing to end the inning), and you wonder what effect that would have on a freshman. It also meant that if he were to exit again (there’s re-entry in NAIA baseball) he’d be done for the day. A scoreless 7th meant we were headed to some extra frames from Charlie Brown field.
The Wesmen went 1-2-3 in the top half, so the Vikings had some momentum coming in to the home half looking for the win. And they took advantage. Austin Smith came on to pitch for UW, and he ran into a buzzsaw. But for the first two batters, the buzzsaw wasn’t turned on. Then: with two down and the 9th inning looming, Bruenjes got his third hit of the day. Enter the courtesy runner Tyler Ukestad. He was caught stealing on his first attempt, but now in the most pitvotal moment in the game he slid into scoring position for his second swipe on the game. So two down, runner on second. The hitter? The freshman from Steele, ND: Jayden Miller. He works the count full. Fights off good pitches. Then: flares one into right field. The speedy Ukestad turns the corner. Scores. Ballgame. Walkoff.
So for the first time, the narrow victory in this series goes the Vikings of VCSU. Then: the pattern continued. One close game, one not. With Winnipeg in just their second year of NAIA competiton, their pitching depth is often challenged. And VCSU was there to answer that challenge to the tune of 4 runs in the 1st, 6 in the 2nd, and 5 in the 3rd. The offense that found its rhythm late in Game 1 carried over to the back end of the doubleheader in a big way. That gave some of the young players for VCSU some time, and we got to see Austin Berg pitch. The young man from Valley City, who has had to overcome some serious health challenges to take the field, closed out the 5th inning. It was pretty cool. And we got to see a lot of players from the Class B athletics towns we cover here on the BEK Broadcasting Network. So it was a fun game, though the final outcome was decided early on.
Now we’ll collect our breath, and then in a couple weeks head back out to the City of Bridges for some softball action between two top 5 team in the North Star Athletic Association. The Vikings play host to the Jimmies of Jamestown on Tuesday, April 26th!