Aitkin’s Jr. American Legion team captured its first state tournament title, winning all three of its contests Aug. 9-11 at St. Charles.
Aitkin pounded Esko 11-3 in the championship game. The score was deadlocked at zero until the fourth inning when Hunter Hills led off with a stand-up double. Hunter Nissen reached on a dropped third strike and Hills advanced to third. Carter Olson recorded the first of his three free passes, and Nissen scored on a passed ball.
Aitkin’s bats came alive in the fifth inning, scoring six runs on base hits by Caiden Kjelstrom, Jon Blanchette, Tate Kuppich, Anton Kalk, and Nissen.
Post 86 put the game out of reach, adding three more runs in the sixth inning when Joey Simonson led off with a pinch hit single. Blanchette recorded his second hit of the game and Hills was safe on an Esko error. Kuppich’s base hit plated two more runs and Aitkin led 11-0. Esko attempted a comeback, scoring three times in the sixth, but the threat ended and Aitkin won the state title.
Logan Olson pitched six complete innings, allowing three runs on four hits while striking out eight Esko batters. Blanchette pitched the final inning.
POST 86 AVENGES LAST YEAR’S TITLE GAME LOSS
Aitkin finished second last year to champion Holy Family, but this year Post 86 defeated Holy Family 3-2 in the tournament opener. Tate Kuppich was brilliant on the mound for 5.2 innings, allowing two runs and six hits while fanning four batters. Jake Ince relieved Kuppich in the sixth inning with the bases loaded, getting the only batter he faced to pop out.
Post 86 took a 1-0 lead in the second when Hunter Nissen singled and later scored on a passed ball. Holy Family answered with a pair of runs in the third.
From that point, it became a pitching battle until the sixth inning when Jon Blanchette led off with a single. Carter Olson walked, putting runners on first and third with nobody out. Nissen laid down a bunt to the left side of the infield. Holy Family’s third baseman threw the ball into right field, allowing Blanchette and Olson to score and giving Aitkin a 3-2 lead. Olson came on in relief, shutting down Holy Family and recording the victory.
Aitkin’s four hits came off the bats of Caiden Kjelstrom, Anton Kalk, Blanchette and Nissen.
Coach Tom Kuppich said, “The boys were really fired up for that game. They felt they had some unfinished business after last year’s loss. We played solid defense and pitched well.”
AITKIN SLIPS PAST SACRED HEART
Aitkin won its second one-run game defeating Sacred Heart of Macray 5-4 on Saturday.
Caiden Kjelstrom was the winning pitcher, allowing three runs and three hits, striking out five batters in his five innings of action.
Jake Ince came on in relief for Aitkin striking out the side in the sixth inning. Ince allowed one run and one hit while earning the victory.
Aitkin scored twice in the opening frame after Ince and Kjelstrom walked and scored on passed balls. Aitkin took a 3-0 lead in the second inning on singles by Owen Miller, Anton Kalk and Ince.
However, Sacred Heart knotted the score in the third inning on a three-run homer. Post 86 regained the lead in the bottom of the third on doubles by Nissen and Miller. Aitkin tacked on an insurance run in the sixth after Miller doubled; and after a 12-pitch at bat, Kalk singled what proved to be the game winner.
Sacred heart threatened in the seventh, scoring one run, but left the bases loaded, sending Aitkin to the championship game.
“It was a great tournament; the kids had fun and played well as a team; a lot of guys contributed with pinch running and pinch hitting. Our defense was consistent, and we robbed our opponents of several base hits,” concluded Kuppich.
Jr. Legion head coach Sam Peterson said:
“The State Tournament was exciting in all facets from playing in tight games to learning about the character of the boys. It was one of the best weekends of my baseball career! All the kids were very respectful all season, they did what I asked of them whether it was helping out at practice to playing different positions. What a fantastic summer for Aitkin baseball and making memories.”