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Published May 27 2011

Kindred-Richland snaps state drought with Region 1 baseball championship

KINDRED, N.D. – Kindred-Richland pitcher Nick Milbrandt felt the butterflies in his stomach early in Thursday’s North Dakota Class B, Region 1 championship game.

However, it didn’t take long for the junior to find his groove.

Milbrandt allowed eight hits and struck out seven in a 4-0 masterpiece shutout of Central Cass to lead the Vikings to their first state tournament appearance since 1959.

“We knew we had to play good baseball,” Milbrandt said. “We couldn’t make any errors. The team pulled together and we hit the ball and we fielded the ball.”

Milbrandt, the son of Kindred-Richland head coach Scott Milbrandt, entered the game with a microscopic 0.19 ERA.

He used a hard fastball, slider and changeup to induce nine ground ball outs, and appeared to be in command throughout his second seven-inning stint of the playoffs.

Milbrandt, who has allowed just one earned run all season, opened the postseason with a 3-0 win against Northern Cass to propel the Vikings into the best-of-3 region championship series against the Squirrels.

The Squirrels and Vikings split a pair of games on Tuesday to send the series to a winner-take-all game.

Kindred-Richland broke through against Central Cass starter Ross Radermacher with a pair of runs in the first.

Zach Nelson and Casey Reinke each had RBI singles to put the Vikings ahead 2-0.

It was all Milbrandt needed.

Milbrandt worked both sides of the plate and bared down when he needed to the most.

Central Cass stranded nine runners on base. The Squirrels had runners in scoring position in the first, second, fourth and sixth innings.

The biggest moment came when Milbrandt kept the Squirrels off the scoreboard in the top of the second, despite loading the bases with nobody out.

“To win this we needed to hit,” Squirrels coach Justin Fletschock said. “And we didn’t come up with the big hit. The funny thing was that we got guys in scoring position. We just didn’t come up with the big one. … You have to tip your hat. (Milbrandt) did a great job.”

The Squirrels came into Thursday with their state tournament hopes riding on an overworked pitching staff.

Radermacher, who was 3-0 with 0.61 ERA entering the playoffs, had tossed eight innings and allowed two unearned runs in the postseason leading up to the matchup with the Vikings.

He was pulled when Kindred-Richland took a 4-0 lead with two out in the second inning.

Squirrels reliever Jon Lubbers didn’t allow a hit before he reached his innings limit for the postseason after two innings of work. Lubbers had pitched 12 innings in Central Cass’s three games leading up to Thursday.

Squirrels pitchers didn’t allow a hit to the Vikings in the final four innings.

“I am so proud of these kids,” Scott Milbrandt said. “They worked hard all season. I knew they could do it. They showed confidence and poise, they made the plays. We hit the ball today.”

Nelson was 2-for-3 with an RBI to lead the Vikings at the plate.

Second baseman Ben Sundquist had a pair of singles to lead Central Cass.

But this game was all about pitching and defense. Both have been the strength of the Vikings team all season.

Kindred-Richland scooped up nearly everything behind Milbrandt on Thursday. The only miscue came when first baseman Austin Dahlgren let a ground ball roll through his legs to lead off the seventh.

Milbrandt made sure nothing materialized. He closed the door with a strike out a pair of infield pop outs, setting off wild celebration by the Vikings on the field.

Milbrandt was mobbed by teammates near the mound.

The Vikings are scheduled to face Region 8 champion Hettinger next Thursday in the final game of the first round of the state tournament in Mandan. The tournament is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m.

“Our initial goal was No. 1 seed in the region and we got that,” Vikings catcher Jason Van Horn said. “Our goal from there was to go to state. Now our third goal is to win state, one game at a time. It’s absolutely amazing.”

CC 000 000 0– 0 7 0

KR 220 000 0– 4 8 1

Radermacher, Lubbers (2), Scheer (4) and Bresnahan. Milbrandt and Van Horn. W–Milbrandt. L–Radermacher.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com