Minster coaches told the players all day to hit to the opposite field because Russia had shifted its outfield.
“If you try to pull it, you’re not going to get good wood,” coach Mike Wiss told them. “Just trust it.”
The strategy paid off in the fourth inning when Adam Knapke drove in Minster’s first run with a single to right, and it paid off again in the bottom of the seventh when Jon Niemeyer dropped a single down the line in left. Jared Huelsman raced home from second with the game-winning run in a 2-1 victory over Russia in the Division IV state championship game Saturday at Huntington Park.
Minster celebrated its third state championship in the last seven years with a dogpile in the infield.
“It was crazy,” said Niemeyer, a senior whose brother Adam played for Minster’s state championship teams in 2011 and 2012. “I was underneath that pile. I was just taking it all in.”
Minster (25-7) not only avenged a 17-6 loss to Russia in the second game of the season, it also soothed some of the pain from losing 24-6 to Warren John F. Kennedy in the Division VII state football championship in November. Seventeen of the 21 players on the baseball team also played football.
“We knew coming in here we were not losing again,” Niemeyer said. “All of us seniors made sure that didn’t happen.”
Sophomore Jack Heitbrink starred on the mound for Minster, pitching five straight scoreless innings after allowing a run in the second. He gave up five hits in seven innings, walked one and struck out five.
Russia finished the season 24-7. It was seeking its second state title and first since 1971. This was its first final four appearance since 1975.
“It hurts,” Russia coach Kevin Phlipot said. “It’s going to sting for a long time. But the farther you get away from it, the more you’re going to appreciate it. It was a huge accomplishment.”