Daring baserunner delivers section title for Zephyrs

Ethan Loss of the Zephyrs and pitcher Luke Black of Hill-Murray tangled at home plate after Loss slid home to score the winning run on a wild pitch.

Ethan Loss has the green light on the base paths for the Mahtomedi baseball team. Indeed, the word “stop” doesn’t appear to be in his vocabulary.

With that mindset, Loss delivered his version of a home run to pull out a 7-6, eight-inning win over Hill-Murray for the Section 4AAA championship Thursday evening at University of Northwestern.

With two outs in the last of the eighth, the Zephyr leadoff man dropped a blooper between three fielders in shallow right field. That’s a single for most batters, but a double for Loss. Then, despite already being in scoring position, he stole third base, diving in just ahead of the tag, with pinch-hitter Sam Ruzynski at the plate.

And when H-M’s Luke Black skipped a wild pitch past the catcher, Loss lit out for home. The backstop is very shallow at the UN ballpark and the catcher retrieved the ball quickly, but Loss barreled across the plate just ahead of the tag by Black, setting off a delirious celebration.

“Loss is the best baserunner I have ever had, or seen,” coach Rob Garry declared. “I gave him a green light signal at second, which means if he thinks he can take the base, it is his option. There are five times more ways to score from third than from second with two outs. It was worth the risk to us.”

Mahtomedi, who had previously beat the Pioneers 2-0, went 4-0 in the section and took a 17-5 record into the state Class AAA tournament, starting Tuesday in Jordan. See presspubs.com for a report. 

Mahtomedi overcame numerous mistakes. They had five base-runners thrown out by the alert Pioneers. Three of the six runs off Zephyr starter Luke Loughlin scored on two-out infield errors.

Other two-out heroics for the Zephyrs were Loughlin’s two-run double lined into the right-field corner in the seventh to knot the game 6-6 (he was out on a close play at third going for a triple) and Wyatt Miller’s two-run double off the center field fence in the fourth for a 2-1 lead.

Loss went 3-for-4 with two doubles and two runs, his other run coming on a perfect squeeze bunt single executed by Jordan Hull. Loughlin pitched six innings and Tony Neubeck won in relief with two scoreless innings.

Matt Fleischhacker was a one-man gang for Hill-Murray (17-7). The senior shortstop went 4-for-5 with a solo homer that tied the score 2-2 and a two-run single that tied it 4-4. 

First-round pairings Tuesday were No. 1 Willmar (22-2) vs. St. Michael-Albertville (17-9), No. 5 Grand Rapids (17-7) vs. No. 4 Marshall (17-8), Albert Lea (12-11) vs. No. 2 Sartell-St. Stephen (21-3) and Sauk Rapids-Rice (10-12) vs. No. 3 Mahtomedi (17-6).

“We are athletic and very strong. We run well and pitch very well,” assessed Garry. “We have high average hitting with some gap power.”

Semifinals will be played Wednesday at noon and 2:30 p.m. with the semifinal losers dueling at 5 p.m. for third place. The championship game is slated for Friday at Target Field at 4 p.m.

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