Class 3A baseball: Mahtomedi 2, Sauk Rapids-Rice 0

Mahtomedi baseball coach Rob Garry will be the first to tell you that he has a slew of capable arms he’s confident will give the Zephyrs a chance to win. You don’t make the state tournament without them.

But when Garry really needs a start, an inning or an out, he turns to senior Luke Loughlin.

That was the case Tuesday against Sauk Rapids-Rice in the Class 3A state quarterfinal, and Loughlin delivered. The University of Minnesota-Duluth commit pitched a complete game shutout and Mahtomedi eked out just enough offense to win 2-0 at the Mini Met in Jordan and advance to tomorrow’s semi final against Sartell.

“Over the last eight weeks, we have come to have that expectation of him and it’s probably not fair to him,” Garry said. “But what a dynamic competitor. He wants to fight and he loves having the baseball on the mound.”

Loughlin pitched in each of Mahtomedi’s four section victories leading up to Tuesday’s game. In those games the team allowed just four earned runs combined. Against Sauk-Rapids Rice, he allowed just four hits and struck out 10. And that was without his best stuff, he said.

“I didn’t have my curveball and changeup today. I just had to grind through a lot of it,” he said. “That’s the most important thing I’ve been trying to work on the last three weeks, just grinding through.”

Loughlin allowed just two base runners to reach second base despite a runner getting on base every inning. But every time he needed it, he was able to force a ground ball or get a strikeout to get out of the inning.

“During playoff time, you can’t afford to have a kid that puts one on here or there and let it get away from them. A base here, a bunt there can lead to a run and the end of a season,” Garry said. “Luke hardly does that.”

Conversely, that’s exactly what the Mahtomedi offense did to get on board.

Leadoff hitter Ethan Loss was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the inning. He then proceeded to steal second and advance to third, beating out a throw from the center fielder after a routine fly ball. With two outs, first baseman Tony Neubeck singled him home to give the team an early 1-0 lead.

Neubeck would later add cushion to the lead with a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth.

Loss’ ability to steal bases has been pivotal all season for Mahtomedi. In the eighth inning of the section championship against Hill-Murray, Loss stole second and third after hitting a bloop single. Then he scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch. It’s part of an aggressive mindset that Garry has pushed all year.

“High school players have to be aggressive. If they’re not aggressive, they think — and when they think, we’re in trouble,” Garry said. “We’re going to play the way we have all year, and we take risks and steal bases and try to steal home.”

Mahtomedi will play Sartell at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday for a chance to return to the state championship. The last time the Zephyrs made the state tournament, they won the whole thing in 2018. But they’ll need to advance to the championship without Loughlin on the mound.

“No more pitches for Luke,” Garry chuckled. “Luke will be playing in the field and swinging the bat for us.”

Read More