With a clear mind and no pressure on them, Avery Stevens and the Indians came out ready to play in their Class A state quarterfinal game against Hinckley-Finlayson Thursday.
CHASKA – The Sleepy Eye Indians baseball team might be the No. 2 seed in the Class A state tournament this year, but don’t tell them that. The Indians have a different number on their their mind that they have attached to themselves.
The number is seven, which was their seed entering the Section 2A tournament. The disappointing seed in the section tournament didn’t stop them from rattling off five-straight victories to reach the state tournament for the first time since 2000.
With a clear mind and no pressure on them, Avery Stevens and the Indians came out ready to play in their Class A state quarterfinal game against Hinckley-Finlayson Thursday afternoon at Chaska Athletic Park.
“The pressure is on everyone else,” Stevens said. “We came in from sections with the No. 7 seed. We’re the low seed. We just want to keep it going.”
Stevens took that mentality with him on the mound, throwing a no-hitter as the Indians advanced to the Class A state semifinals with a 6-0 victory over the Jaguars.
“It feels great,” Stevens said about throwing a no-hitter in the state tournament. “I’m just trying to compete. I want to compete as hard as I can. That’s all you got to do.”
Stevens allowed just one baserunner in seven innings of work, while racking up 15 strikeouts. Only one ball reach the outfield all game against Stevens, as he was in control throughout. The performance by Stevens may have came as surprise to some, but not to his coach. He’s been seeing it all season long.
“It’s what he’s done all year,” Sleepy Eye coach Aaron Nesvold said. “He’s been dominant all year. To get a no hitter, that’s pretty cool. I’m proud of him and how he attacked the zone. He did a nice job.”
Stevens was in control throughout as he struck out eight of the first nine batters he faced in the game. Mixing pitches and speeds was big for Stevens, as the Jaguars had no answer for his curveball.
“It was very important,” Stevens said about keeping batters off balance. “I just had to keep battling. They were fouling some off, and I just had to put it where they couldn’t hit it.”
While Stevens was in control on the mound, the Indians were waiting for the bats to wake up. Through three innings, they had just two baserunners. That was until the fourth inning, where the Indians rallied together for a big inning.
“The first time through, they kind of had our number,” Nesvold said. “I told them to take a better approach and put the ball in play. When you do that, you can make things happen.”
Carter Brinkmann led off the inning by drawing a walk, and that’s all the Indians needed to get something rolling. Landon Strong followed with a base hit of his own, bringing up Stevens to bat with a chance to put the Indians on the board for the first time. Stevens delivered with an RBI single to score Brinkmann, and Strong was also able to come around to score as the ball was bobbled by Hinckel-Finlayson’s left fielder, giving Sleepy Eye a 2-0 lead.
The Indians were just getting started though. Luke Mielke hit a hard groundball at third place that ricocheted off the third baseman allowing Palmer Hittesdorf to score. Zach Haala added an RBI single, and Nathan Walter capped off the scoring with a double to deep center to score two more.
“It’s huge,” Stevens said about his team putting together a big inning. “If my team can come up big and get key hits, I’ll go out there and compete on the mound. We’ll just keep it going.”
The Indians closed things down in dominant fashion, sealing a date in the Class A semifinals. Although Nesvold was just happy his team was here, he now wants them to go and compete even more and see what they can do now that the first win is under their belt.
“I (came in) with the mindset that we’re here, but now that we won one, let’s go see what we can do,” Nesvold said. “Let’s go make some noise.”
While Stevens will be done on the mound for the rest of the tournament due to the Minnesota State High School League pitch count rules, he has no doubt that his teammates can produce just like he did.
“I have faith in all our pitchers,” Stevens said. “We’ll just keep it going. We’re just going to keep it going.”
Sleepy Eye will face the No. 3 seed, South Ridge—from Section 7 in northern Minnesota—in the Class A semifinal, today (Friday) 2:30 p.m. at Chaska Athletic Park.