Bandits rise up in EML playoffs

Kevin Auth smacked run-scoring hits in both Rum River playoff victories, including roping this sinking liner against Princeton July 29.  Story & photos by Greg Hunt

Two wins put Rum River in great position:  Rum River came through with its two biggest wins in the team’s short history this past weekend in the Eastern Minny League tournament, including knocking off top-seed Princeton 3-2 on Sunday. Essentially, the No. 4 seed Bandits are one win away from qualifying for the Region 1C tourney for the first time.

Rum River next faces No. 3 seed Mora Wednesday, Aug. 1 at 7:30 p.m. in Princeton. The winner of that game automatically reaches the Region 1C tourney but will play for seeding position on Sunday at the high-seed site. The Wednesday night loser will play the EML losers’ bracket survivor on Saturday.

The Bandits opened the playoffs by rallying for a 5-2 win over No. 5 Nowthen Saturday afternoon in Hinckley. Kevin Auth (4-1) tossed a complete-game win, striking out 11 while surrendering just five hits. His one wild stretch with three straight walks contributed to Nowthen’s 2-0 lead.

“Kevin just shut the door on Nowthen after that and gave us a chance to win,” said Bandit Manager Tom Koplitz.

In the seventh, Auth’s two-run double followed an outstanding at-bat by Tyler Kronstedt, and the Bandits led 3-2. Rum River then tacked on two runs in the eighth for insurance on RBIs from Tim Koplitz (two hits in game) and Ben Poidinger.

Following Kevin Auth’s performance on Saturday, Josh Coleman gave the Bandits nine strong innings to pull off the upset over top-seed Princeton on Sunday at Hinckley.

Rum River 3, Princeton 2

Princeton overcame a slow start to the 2012 season by finishing the regular season strongly and entering the Eastern Minny playoffs as the top seed. Sunday afternoon in Hinckley, the Panthers looked formidable by opening a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on three hits and a sac fly to right.

Rum River starter Josh Coleman (4-2) got out of that inning by catching a Panther looking at a curve, and he continued to craftily pitch the remaining eight innings. Coleman finished with three strikeouts and eight hits allowed.

“Josh did a great job pitching out of trouble all day long, battling a good lineup on a hot day,” said Coach Koplitz.

Rum River (15-12) tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the third with a two-out rally. Dan Schoess was plunked in the helmet by a wild Josh Ludwig pitch, then he moved up when Tyler Kronstedt singled. Auth hit a sinking liner to center which popped out of the Panther’s glove to plate Schoess, then Coleman helped his cause when his bloop double down the right field line also eluded a Princeton glove, scoring pinch-runner Tim Hale.

Bandit rookie Matt Ziebarth contributed a sneaky triple into the right-center gap which plated the game-winner in the top of the sixth against the Panthers.

In the bottom of the fifth, RR shortstop Mike Koplitz turned a double play by catching a liner when the Panthers had a steal on to help Coleman. In the sixth, the Bandits took the lead when Auth’s hot grounder was not handled at second. Coleman laid down a two-strike bunt to move him up, then Auth easily scored when newcomer Matt Ziebarth tripled to the right-center gap.

Princeton (14-7) nearly plated the tying run in the bottom of the ninth, but the Bandits held tough. With runners at first and second with two outs, M. Koplitz dove to stop a bleeder up the middle. His flip to second was bobbled, and the lead Princeton baserunner Kyle Norman kept rolling from third base. Second-bagger T. Koplitz fired home to catcher Billy Shay who made the tag despite getting barrelled over by Norman.

Norman received a one-game suspension for that play. Princeton will face the winner between Hinckley and Quamba in a Friday night elimination game.

The Region 1C tourney will run Aug. 9-12 back in Hinckley. Sartell and Clear Lake already qualified for the 1C brackets out of the west side of the region.