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Resorters East playoffs: Carlos punches first ticket to 14C tourney

Carlos Cougars' second baseman Matt Hoelscher turns and throws to first in an attempted double play during the fifth inning on Sunday as Long Prairie's Austin Host slides into second after getting forced out on the play. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

The Carlos Cougars became the first team from the Resorters East Division to punch a ticket to the Region 14C tournament on Sunday and did so with a couple come-from-behind rallies this weekend.

Carlos trailed Sauk Centre 3-0 early on Saturday before winning 12-7. That set up a matchup against Long Prairie on Sunday after the Predators beat Alexandria in a 6-3 game. Long Prairie jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against Carlos but couldn’t hold it in a game that ended 12-9 and secured the Cougars’ spot in regions and in the East tournament title game.

“We never give up on this team and with our bats and the way we’re capable of hitting we always feel we’re in a game still,” player/coach Aaron Noetzelman said. “We scored 12 runs on a good couple pitchers here for Long Prairie and even our outs were hit pretty hard today. We hit four home runs this weekend, so that’s big for us. If we score 12 runs a game, we’re not going to lose many games.”

The Predators built that first-inning lead thanks to a two-RBI double from Taylor Kaiser and some help from the Cougars. Carlos had two errors in the inning and Ben Bruggeman struggled with his control on the mound. He walked two and two wild pitches with guys on third led to a couple runs.

Bruggeman settled down after that. He went five-plus innings and was credited with the win after allowing five runs on four hits and four walks. He struck out six and retired nine straight at one point, which allowed the Cougars to get back in the game after the bats got going. Jay Schueler threw 2 2/3 innings before Neil Jenzen got the save by getting the final four outs.

“It felt like we got a lot of the errors and mishaps and bad pitches out of the way [in the first inning],” Bruggeman said. “I felt a little more comfortable going back out there and getting back in the game. The defense played good. Being down 4-0, we knew we needed to keep them there.”

The Predators held that lead until the third when Matt Hoelscher came to the plate with Gideon Burnham on first after getting hit by a pitch. Hoelscher turned on a pitch from Long Prairie’s Austin Host and sent it over the left field wall to cut the deficit in half.

“We talk about it all the time that in baseball it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Hoelscher said. “So you just got to chip away inning by inning. Being down 4-0 right away, good teams stay positive and find a way to claw back in it. Plus, a lot of us are veterans so we’ve been there before. I think the home run really helped the confidence that we could come back a lot sooner.”

Schueler also scored in that third inning to make it a one-run game before the floodgates opened offensively. Carlos scored in the next four frames behind a balanced lineup that had 12 hits, was hit by pitches in four at-bats and drew four walks.

Hoelscher reached base in all four of his at-bats with a couple more singles and a walk to finish with three runs scored and three RBIs. Brad Nyberg hit a solo home run in the fifth inning that made it a 7-5 game after the Predators had cut it to one in the top of the frame.

Noetzelman had a double and a two-RBI single. Schueler reached base three times on a hit-by-pitch, a walk and a double to go along with two RBIs, while AJ Anderson had two hits, a walk and scored three times.

“Again, a lot of these guys have played high school ball, some played college ball,” Hoelscher said. “We just feel like one through nine we’re solid. Not to mention guys off the bench who can come in and get clutch hits. We’re just really seeing the ball well these last couple weeks.”

The Cougars can rest a little easier now knowing they have a spot at the Region 14C tournament reserved with this win. Long Prairie will try to fight its way back through the loser’s bracket and get a rematch with Carlos in the East title game. The Predators will play the winner of Alexandria and Sauk Centre to determine who will get the final region spot and play the Cougars for the tournament title next weekend.

This Carlos team has been a perennial power over much of the last decade and is eager to see what it can do in another region tournament as the Cougars try to get back to the state tournament for the first time since 2010.

“It feels good,” Noetzelman said. “It’s step two of our goals for the season. Step one is to win the league and then to get to regions. Just have to keep chipping away. We have to keep swinging the bats and pitchers need to keep throwing strikes. Our defense is always right there, so we feel we’ll have a good shot.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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