Baseball: BBE knocks Ashby out of the Section 6A playoffs; Coach Larson reflects on the senior class' impact
Ashby finishes the 2022 season at 19-4
GLENWOOD- After ending a 3-0 shutout win over the Upsala-Swanville Area Trojans (20-3) with a 4-6-3 double play earlier in the day, the Ashby baseball team had a lot of momentum ahead of its Tuesday evening Section 6A playoff elimination game against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.
Five runs in the first inning by the Jaguars (14-11) crushed the Arrows' momentum and eventually, the Jaguars won 8-3.
“We were really flat in the first inning,” Ashby head coach Jared Larson said. “That's what happens when you don't come out firing on all cylinders in the playoffs.”
In the first inning, the Jaguars scored off of RBI hits from Ashton Dingmann, Gavin Kampsen, Luke Dingmann and Tanner Shelton. Luke Dingmann hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning.
The Arrows were the No. 2 seed in the 6A north subsection, while Upsala-Swanville was the No. 2 seed in the 6A south subsection and BBE was the No. 3 seed in the south.
With the loss on Tuesday, Ashby finished the season with a 19-4 record and BBE advances to face New York Mills (19-3) on Thursday in another elimination game.
“This group of seniors worked really hard, along with the other 13 guys,” Larson said. “They turned this program around. We had two great seasons in a row. It's just a tough one to swallow, this last one. But that's baseball.”
The Ashby baseball program has three straight winning seasons going back to 2019, after having a 7-44 record combined in the three seasons before.
Since 2019, the Arrows are 52-17 and had a 43-9 record in the last two seasons after missing 2020 when the spring season was canceled due to the pandemic.
“We’ve been here forever,” senior Carson Spangler said. “A lot of these guys have been playing since 8th-grade and spent a lot of time playing on varsity. Now it's time for the younger kids to step up.”
Part of the program turnaround included a trip to the 2021 Section 6A championship game where they had the chance to make the program's first-ever state tournament but fell to New York Mills.
“They just put the work in during the offseason,” Larson said. “Coach [Dwight] Waltvatne has been with them since they were 13 and that kind of laid the foundation of our work ethic and how we do things around here. It was really good to see those seniors stick with it and just battle through.”
With the graduation of seniors Carter Spangler, Carson Spangler, Torin Olson, Evan Paulson, Zach Fagre, Matson Hoff, Thomas Gronwold, Hunter Norby, Jackson Finkelson, Sam Sorenson and Sam Heeter, next season could be a transition season. But even with that possibility, Larson’s long term goal for the program isn’t going to change.
“I really want to get these boys down to a state tournament,” Larson said. “I got to experience that when I was in high school (2006, Roseau) and there's nothing better than it. I really want it for these boys. They deserve it. They work hard.”
In Ashby’s win over Upsala-Swanville, Carter Spangler led the way. He threw a complete-game shutout on the mound, allowing just three hits, hitting one batter and striking out six.
“Carter was lights out,” Larson said. “He was mixing his off-speed pitches and locating his fastball. He was unreal. It was probably the best game I've seen him pitch.”
He also had an RBI on a sacrifice fly in the third inning. Olson broke the scoreless tie with an RBI double in the bottom of the third inning, and Norby added an insurance run with an RBI single in the sixth.
But before the seniors knocked in those runs, it was a freshman, Easton Nelson, who got the first hit of the day for the Arrows. Nelson got a hit in the third inning and crossed home plate on the double by Olson.
“He just started playing at the end of the year here in the outfield,” Larson said. “He's been playing JV most of the year, but he's hit the ball, he’s played defense and he did a great job. He's going to be a big, big asset coming back next year.”
Nelson, who played in right field Tuesday, also had a hit in the loss to BBE.
“He's done really good,” Carson Spangler said. “He's been really good in the outfield catching the ball. He's been hitting the ball well and I think he'll step up next season.”
In the win over Upsala-Swanville, Ashby had five total hits, all by different players. Paulson and junior Brodie Ecker led the Arrows with two of the team's eight hits in the loss to BBE. Paulson was also the starter on the mound in the BBE loss.
Olson pitched 5.1 innings against BBE and struck out four batters while allowing two hits and two runs. Norby pitched the final two outs in the sixth inning and allowed two runs but had two strikeouts.
BBE had eight hits, led by Luke Dingmann with two. Ashton Dingmann pitched a complete game for BBE and had two strikeouts.
After being down 6-0 to the Jaguars, the Arrows’ bats came alive in the bottom of the second, with Paulson getting a hit and Ecker launching a two-run home run.
Ecker, who plays second base, also accounted for the Arrows’ third run of the game with an RBI double in the sixth. Ecker is one of the few juniors on the team, along with Bradee Christenson, Levi Bogenrief, and Robert Nelson, and is expected to be one of the team's leaders next year.
“He’s been starting for us since his sophomore year and maybe even his freshman year,” Larson said. “He’s definitely going to be one of our top guys and we’re going to have to look to him for a lot of things.”
Sophomore Kellen Dahlen, who had a hit against Upsala-Swanville, has also seen significant playing time and made some starts at third or first base as the season has gone on.
“We just got to keep playing as much baseball as possible,” Larson said. “In the offseason, we need to make sure we're lifting weights, doing our throwing programs and that kind of stuff. Then they'll reach their goals if they see their mind to it.”