ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Perham starter Austin Erickson suffered some early bumps on the mound and a bruise at the plate. But he pitched a complete game to send Perham to the Minnesota Class 2A state baseball title game after a 5-3 victory over the Watertown-Mayer Royals on Friday.
Two errors in the second inning led to Perham's first deficit in three games when Joe Reinert scored to put the Royals up 1-0.
"The kids were more jittery today than they were yesterday," Perham head coach Hans Hanson said. "They were a little bit more on edge."
Perham answered in the bottom half with the duo of leadoff hitter Josh Still and No. 9 hitter Luke Sailer, who keyed the Perham offense. Sailer singled to tie the game scoring courtesy runner Tanner Carlson. Still laid down the squeeze bunt to score Joey Lindberg for the 2-1 lead. Perham would not trail the rest of the game.
Carlson was running for Erickson, who started the rally with some valiant heroics. He fouled an 0-2 pitch off the fists, and the ball ricocheted off the bat, striking Erickson in the right cheek just under the cheekbone.
Erickson was down and attended to by medical personnel for eight minutes before remaining in the game. Back at the plate, he fouled off a pitch and then drove the third 0-2 offering up the middle for a base hit.
A Perham team that began with nerves played a more motivated and confident style of ball after Erickson laced that base hit.
"Rough day at the plate," Erickson said. "That's the second shot this year to the face. I was a little dizzy."
Both Still and Sailer had two RBIs in the game and would combine for the game-winner in the fourth.
Lindberg singled to start the inning, followed by a sacrifice bunt attempt by Jaden Meyer that squirted past Royals pitcher Andrew Nichols. A late throw to the first base bag by Royals second baseman PJ Hangartner got away and both runners advanced to second and third base.
Sailer got his second RBI with a hot smash to second base which was nearly a base hit if not for a diving stop by Hangartner, who threw out Sailer scoring Lindberg. Still followed with a deep sacrifice fly to plate courtesy runner Jake Lueders with the game-winning run and a 4-1 lead.
The Royals roared back with a five-hit top of the fifth scoring twice, but Erickson ended the threat from a bases-loaded one-out situation with a strikeout of Nichols and an unassisted putout at first base off the bat of left fielder Mark Sandquist, keeping the one-run lead 4-3.
Erickson had plenty of time to toss the ball to the bag, but chose to run the distance from the mound to first to make the putout himself.
Unseeded Perham will face No. 5 Kasson-Mantorville in the Class 2A final at 1 p.m. Monday at Target Field in Minneapolis. Kasson-Mantorville shut out No. 1 St. Cloud Cathedral 5-0.
"It's very exciting," Erickson said. "I never thought we'd come so far. We're going to see another tough team, but if we keep playing our baseball we're going to be alright."
WM 010 020 0-3 9 4
P 020 201 0-5 9 3
Nichols, Elsenpeter (5) and Johnson. Erickson and Mulcahy. W-Erickson (5-0). L-Nichols (5-2).
Williams is the sports editor of the East Otter Tail Focus