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Glenn Pursley, Published August 04 2013

Grafton wins second straight ND Class B Legion state crown

BEULAH, N.D. – Jamie Villarreal is used to leading his team on offense, but Sunday he did his job from the pitcher’s mound.

Grafton’s Sam Heuchert drove in the game-winning run and Villarreal struck out eight in a complete-game effort to help his team beat Cando 1-0 at the North Dakota Class B American Legion state baseball tournament to win the title for a second consecutive year.

“I don’t have the words to say how I feel,” said Heuchert, who received a scholarship to play baseball for Jamestown (N.D.) College. “To win it in 2012 and again here is just amazing.”

With Austin Markel on third and only one out in the sixth, Heuchert ripped the third pitch he saw from Cando starter Brooks Larson down the third-base line and past the glove of Christian Kvilvang, who was playing

in to try and prevent the suicide squeeze.

Heuchert sold the squeeze by squaring up to bunt the previous two pitches.

“It wasn’t in our play book or anything like that,” Grafton head coach Chad Kliniske said. “We weighed it out and that’s what we felt like doing.”

Markel led off the inning with a double, and advanced to third on Garek Droog’s sacrifice bunt before scoring the deciding run.

Sunday’s game was the first time that Villarreal had taken the mound since July 12th due to tendinitis in his elbow. It took him a couple of innings to get back into his groove, but after striking out the side in the fourth, it was lights out for Cando.

Villarreal gave up five hits in the first three innings, but didn’t allow another until Daniel Grande singled in the seventh.

“I was kind of nervous at the beginning of the game, kind of shaky at first.” Villarreal said. “I knew it was going to be a battle from the get-go and knew I had to keep them to at most one run to win this game. I was rooting for our guys to just get one.”

Steven Hunt singled in the sixth for Cando and Kvilvang reached on a walk. Larson was hit by a pitch the next at-bat to load the bases, but Villarreal was able to get Aaron Bergdahl to ground out to the shortstop to end the threat.

“I’ve been here before and done that,” Villarreal said. “Last year I got in a couple jams, but made pitches and found ways to get out of them.”

Apart from his success on the mound, Villarreal was the driving force for Grafton on offense throughout the tournament. He drove in five runs off five hits, including one triple and a double.

Grafton’s Christian Lunde had four triples and finished with six RBIs. Markel had two doubles in Sunday’s championship game.

“Anyone who will tell you the first time is easy is a liar, but anybody that comes from the other side of it and says the second time is easy has never won it twice,” Kliniske said of repeating as state champions. “It was a really, really difficult road and we got pushed by everyone we played.”

Cando had a chance to take the lead early on, but Kvilvang was thrown out at home while trying to score on a teammate’s steal attempting.

“We had plenty of opportunities but we couldn’t cash in on any of them,” Cando head coach Jesse Vote said. “Give them credit. A lot of people didn’t expect us to be in the position we are in and to come away losing 1-0 in our first championship game is a big accomplishment for us. I’m proud of the kids.”

C 000 000 0– 0 6 1

G 000 001 x– 1 5 0

Larson and Schill. Villarreal and Heuchert. W–Villarreal. L–Larson.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Glenn Pursley at (701) 241-5549