Glenwood-Lowry cruises to sub-district title behind strong pitching and timely offense; Gruber throws no-hitter to beat LPGE
Glenwood-Lowry went 3-0 on the weekend to advance to the West Central District tournament July 23-25.
Glenwood-Lowry Legion baseball coach Joe Alexander knew his team didn't need to put up more than a handful of runs in each game of the West-Central East sub-district tournament to come away with a championship.
Pitching has been the crutch the Minnewaska high school and Glenwood-Lowry baseball teams have leaned on since the spring. After allowing just three combined runs in the sub-district tournament, Glenwood-Lowry is one step closer to coming out on top of a loaded West-Central District.
Glenwood-Lowry went into Sunday afternoon with two chances to clinch a spot in the district tournament with a win over Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa. But Alexander didn't want to waste any time.
"It was imperative to win the first game and not let (BBE) get a chance in the second," Alexander said. "We wanted to break the game down into one-run intervals. We got a run in and played some small ball. We did some things we don't normally do because we were so focused on beating a really good BBE team. They gave us all they had. It was huge for us to get them out of the heat and rest up for next weekend."
Darion Alexander threw all seven innings for Glenwood-Lowry and allowed just one run. He struck out seven batters and allowed seven hits. While he was impressive on the mound, the defense behind him was even better.
"Dalton Friedrichs and Riley Johnson made a lot of big plays for us in the outfield," coach Alexander said. "If it weren't for them, we would've been stuck in that heat for another game. Part of having a successful pitching staff is playing good defense behind them, and we pride ourselves on that."
The heart of the Glenwood-Lowry batting order pushed four runs across home plate in the first three innings. Despite offense coming sparingly, Alexander's confidence never waivered in putting up runs.
"We have Mitchell Gruber at the top of our order, and he gets on base more than he doesn't," coach Alexander said. "We have a tremendous No. 2 hitter in Torii Johnson that moves him around for our No. 3 hitter Darion Alexander. Both Darion and Aaron Ver Steeg drove in a lot of runs. There's a high probability of getting on the board early with those guys."
Glenwood-Lowry scored in the first inning of all three games this weekend. In its second-round contest against Sauk Centre, Ver Steeg drove in a pair of runs with a single in the bottom of the first. Jacob Blair drove in a run in the bottom of the fourth inning before Johnson stole home in the bottom of the fifth to make it 4-0.
Ver Steeg was lights out on the mound for six innings, but a comeback effort from Sauk Centre in the top of the seventh ended his day one out short of a complete game. Johnson came in to get the final out of the game to push Glenwood-Lowry to the sub-district championship round.
Glenwood-Lowry recorded only four hits in its win over Sauk Centre, but coach Alexander was happy to see his team make the most of its opportunities.
"We hit some balls hard, but, unfortunately, they were right at them," coach Alexander said. "I thought we did a great job of squaring the ball up all night. Sauk Center is a great team, and if you don't find some outfield grass, they're not going to give you extra bases by making errors. We got hits at the right time to get guys in."
Glenwood-Lowry didn't need much offense to get by Long Prairie-Grey Eagle on Friday night in the first round of the four-team double-elimination tournament.
Gruber was not just fantastic on the pitching rubber; he was near-perfect. One walk was his only blemish in a no-hit victory over LPGE. Gruber struck out seven batters over seven innings and went 1-for-3 at the plate with a run scored.
"He was really excited," coach Alexander said. "Any time you pitch that well, and you're pounding the zone like he was against a quality opponent, it's pretty special. I think his strike-to-ball ratio was 72%. It was a perfect night to pitch with the weather, and he competed at a high level."
Glenwood-Lowry came away with a 3-0 win and recorded only five hits at the plate. Despite it being a close contest, coach Alexander was willing to let Gruber go the distance if he got in a jam.
"He's battle-tested," coach Alexander said. "He's pitched in a lot of big games for me before, so I have a very high level of confidence in him. It would take a lot for me to pull him out, especially when he's throwing that many strikes in a game like that. I've seen him fight through adversity so many times."
With the tournament win, Glenwood-Lowry will play in the West Central District championship tournament against Ashby, Granite Falls and Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg this weekend. The double-elimination tournament will send one team to state and will take place at Minnewaska Secondary July 23-25.
Coach Alexander is looking forward to competing at the hometown field for a chance to keep Glenwood-Lowry's season alive.
"We take a lot of pride in our home ballpark, and so do our kids," he said. "We have not played KMS or Granite Falls this summer, but we've played them several times over the years. We're really familiar with both of them. Adding them with Ashby should make for a fun weekend. All of them are excellent teams that are well-coached. It's going to be pretty high-level baseball with runs at a premium."