Cando does it

CANDO – Finally.

No other words describe the satisfaction Cando felt after its 6-1 victory over top-seeded Harvey in the Section 5 championship game on Saturday.

The kids from Cando reached the Class B state tournament in football and basketball while playing as North Star during their high school careers. And now, finally, a trip to the Class B American Legion baseball state tourney, which begins Wednesday in Beulah.

“It feels really good to make it in baseball,” winning pitcher Daniel Grande said. “That’s the sport we have fun with.

“We go hard in all of them but we haven’t really been known for baseball, so to make it to state in baseball is really fun.”

Third-seeded Cando (14-11) scored all six of its runs with two outs in the top of the third inning to break a scoreless tie.

Cando shortstop Jacob Hagler reached on a fielding error and moved to second on clean-up hitter Steven Hunt’s single to right field. Brooks Larson singled to drive in Hagler and advance Hunt to third. After Hunt scored on a wild pitch, Jalen Pfeifer and Grande combined to drive in three more runs and chase Harvey pitcher Shaun Kourajian.

Right-hander Mark Nyhus then relieved Kourajian, who allowed five runs – four earned – on six hits and a walk.

Nyhus threw a wild pitch that allowed Drew Schill to score from third before striking out Jayden Komrosky to stop the bleeding. Nyhus gave up just two hits the rest of the way, but it was too late.

“In that inning, they just put the ball in play where we weren’t,” Harvey coach Olson Zerr said. “They got the hits and that’s what you need to win games.”

Grande scattered two hits over the next three innings before giving up two singles and a run in the sixth. Overall, he allowed five hits and one walk to go with two strikeouts in 5 1/3 before Hagler relieved him.

“I kind of got in a rhythm right after we got up six,” Grande said. “Then I got comfortable. Before then it was a little shaky but I felt confident once we got those runs in and then just coasted from there.”

Hagler, who Zerr described as “one of the top pitchers in the state,” retired all five batters he faced, three coming on strikeouts.

After Hagler’s 1-2-3 seventh inning to punch Cando’s ticket to state, there wasn’t a dogpile near the mound, seemingly because the Cando High School infield is all dirt and no grass. Just the way host Cando likes it.

“We’ve got the open-skinned field and teams have to adjust to it,” Cando coach Jesse Vote said.

Grande added: “With the home-field advantage, we kind of know all the spots where to hit the ball. Whether we do it or not’s a different story.”

Harvey won the high school region tournament on Cando’s field in May but couldn’t duplicate its success and finished 12-4.

“I’m a little disappointed, but Cando’s a good team,” Zerr said. “They fought well. They did a really good job and they deserve it.”

Grande and Pfeifer – a 15-year-old who also plays Babe Ruth ball with state tournament qualifier Rolette – both went 3-for-4 to lead Cando. Grande had two RBIs and Pfeifer had one RBI and scored a run.

It’s a relief at last for Cando, but Vote hopes its journey is just beginning.

“We finally got over the hump,” Vote said. “It’s going to be a fun ride. Hopefully we can prove something once we get to Beulah.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Legion baseball and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgrenMDN.