AURORA- No doubt the North Woods Grizzlies would have liked a better showing last week in the Section 7A baseball tournament finale than the frustrating 14-0 loss the South Ridge Panthers dealt to …
AURORA- No doubt the North Woods Grizzlies would have liked a better showing last week in the Section 7A baseball tournament finale than the frustrating 14-0 loss the South Ridge Panthers dealt to them, but behind this cloud there was a silver lining.
Reaching the sectional tournament championship game is the best finish ever for a North Woods baseball team, accomplishing a goal coaches and players were focused on from the start of the season.
“On the first day of practice, when we were in the gym, I told them to look at the banners,” Head Coach Jeff Smerud said. “Under baseball, there’s nothing. I’ve been telling them all year it’s time to put something up there, and they’ve bought into that hook, line and sinker.”
And while the Grizzlies entered the June 10 contest with hopes of bringing home a championship banner, there were smiles all around as they received their second-place medals and posed for pictures with the large consolation plaque.
The Grizzlies entered the tourney as the No. 5 seed, and they got off on the right foot with a dominant 14-4 win over Mt. Iron-Buhl on June 1. A 5-2 loss to No. 4 Nashwauk-Keewatin later that same day sent North Woods to the elimination bracket.
North Woods stayed alive by beating No. 8 Carlton, 4-2, and then the Grizzlies started mowing down the higher seeds. They bounced Nashwauk/Keewatin out of the tourney 15-0 on June 3, and then defeated No. 3 Cherry, 4-1, and No. 2 Silver Bay, 6-3, to reach the championship matchup against top-seeded South Ridge.
The Panthers came into the tourney as the state’s fifth-best team in Class A, according to the quality rating formula used to seed the sectional tournaments, and already had 11-5 and 11-6 wins over the Grizzlies in their 20-3 record.
The Panthers set the tone from the outset when Jaxson Bennett ripped the first pitch thrown by North Woods starter Jake Panichi for a single. Two batters and two more singles later, the Panthers were ahead 1-0. The Grizzlies got out of the inning with Zach Cheney tagging out a Panthers player in a run-down, a nifty catch of a sizzling line drive by third baseman Ben Kruse, and a strikeout by Panichi.
But the walls came tumbling down on the Grizzlies in the second inning, as the Panthers took advantage of four walks, two singles, a double, and a North Woods error to pile up seven runs and an 8-0 lead.
South Ridge hurlers really put the screws down on the Grizzlies, as Cole Thiel and Andrew Zika collected the only two hits North Woods had in the game.
With their tournament run, the Grizzlies finished the season on the positive side of the won-loss ledger with a record of 14-11. North Woods will look to rebuild for next season, as 10 players on the team’s 18-man roster were graduating seniors.