GRAND RAPIDS — The Hibbing Post No. 1221 Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) baseball team won in dramatic fashion Monday in its opening game of the District 8 VFW Baseball Tournament at Legion Field in Grand Rapids.
Tied with West Duluth at 2-2 entering the bottom of the seventh inning, Post No. 1221 pushed across the winning run in walk off fashion to defeat West Duluth 3-2 and advance to the semifinals of the tournament. Hibbing will take on Grand Rapids today at 1:30 p.m. in Grand Rapids in semifinal action with the winner of that game advancing to the championship game which is slated for 6:30 p.m. this evening.
The early innings of Monday’s contest was controlled by the pitching of Hibbing’s Brody Niskanen and West Duluth’s Corey Miller. Both teams had chances to score early but were stymied by the pitchers. Hibbing loaded the bases in the bottom of the first without the benefit of a hit but Miller was able to pitch out of trouble to keep the game scoreless. Post No. 1221 also left two men on base in the third inning as Miller was able to keep Hibbing off the scoreboard.
West Duluth also had its moments before it finally did break the scoreless tie with a run in the top of the fifth inning. Carter Kilroy led the inning off with a single and Danel Johnson reached on an error. Kilroy would then score the game’s first run on a RBI single by Miller.
Post No. 1221 responded with two runs of its own in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 2-1 lead off relief pitcher Chuck Kleinschmidt, who replaced Miller. Noah Vinopal and Mitchell Ziemba led the inning off with singles and Vinopal ended up scoring on a West Duluth throwing error to tie the game at 1-1. Later in the inning, Danny Rusten lined a single to drive in Ziemba to give Hibbing a 2-1 advantage.
West Duluth tied the game at 2-2 with a run in the top of the sixth inning as Owen Johnson scored on the back end of a successful double steal.
The game remained tied at 2-2 entering the bottom of the seventh inning when Vinopal led the inning off with a single and advanced to second on a passed ball. After Ziemba reached on an error, Rusten was intentionally walked to load the bases with no outs. That set up the walk-off single by Joe Allison that knocked in Vinopal with the winning run.
Niskanen pitched the first 5 2/3 innings and allowed two runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out six. Isaac Colbaugh came on to pitch the final 1 1/3 innings to get credit for the victory. He allowed no runs on no hits, retiring all four hitters he faced. He struck out one.
Miller pitched well for West Duluth, allowing no runs and two hits while walking three, fanning four and hitting one batter in his four innings of work. Kleinschmidt pitched two innings and was charged with two runs on three hits while striking out three. Steven Lane came on to pitch the seventh inning for West Duluth and he was charged with the loss, not registering an out while yielding two hits and walking one.
Vinopal finished with two hits and a walk, two runs scored and a stolen base while Rusten had two hits and an RBI. Allison was 2-for-2 with a double, a walk, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI.
Miller had two hits and an RBI for West Duluth.
“It was a well-pitched game by both starting pitchers,” said Hibbing VFW manager Chris Zubich, who coaches the team along with twin brother Tim. “Brody (Niskanen) pitched a heck of a game to limit their chances, and West Duluth is a good-hitting team. We did get out of a lot of jams in the game and I think six of the seven innings they had the leadoff man on.
“So it is certainly tough to find a way to win but it is the playoffs and we will take it any way we can get it.”
Zubich said his team also played good defense behind the good pitching including a key double play in the first inning.
“Any time you can turn double plays at this age level, it certainly is a good thing,” Zubich said. “In the first inning they had runners on first and second with no outs and we ended up turning a double play. Then, we played well enough defensively to win. It would have been nice to have zero errors but at this level if you do three or under you are doing pretty good.”
In other action Monday, Grand Rapids advanced to the semifinals with an 11-6 win over Cloquet. In other games Monday in which no scores were available, Duluth East B faced Proctor while Hermantown took on Duluth East A.
Semifinal games are set for 1:30 and 4 p.m. today at Legion Field with the championship game set for 6:30 p.m.
“We are looking forward to a good game against Grand Rapids on Tuesday and we are hoping the best team wins,” Zubich explained. “We need to pitch, play defense and hit on Tuesday and I think we will be right there in the end.”
W. Duluth 000 011 0—2 8 3
Hibbing 000 020 1—3 7 3
West Duluth: Corey Miller, Chuck Kleinschmidt (5th), Steven Lane (7th) (L) and Carter Kilroy; Hibbing: Brody Niskanen, Isaac Colbaugh (6th) (W) and Danny Rusten; 2B-Joe Udd, Joe Allison.