Grafton hands Cando first loss

BEULAH – Cando’s Cinderella run through the American Legion Class B State Tournament isn’t over, but it hit a significant road block.

Defending champion Grafton dealt the Bearcats a 9-2 setback on Friday at Goldmann Field, their first loss in the double-elimination tournament.

Both ballclubs advance to the semifinals, though Cando’s is a loser-out game. The Bearcats (16-12) will face LaMoure at 2:30 p.m. today and Grafton will follow with a 5 p.m. first pitch against Hatton.

“We’re going to come and approach that game like we have the last three,” Cando coach Jesse Vote said. “We’re here to move on. Lose, we’re done. Win, and we move on to the next day. That’s our goal is to try to get to Sunday.”

Grafton (27-8) opened the game with a three-run first inning, the trio of runs coming on a Jaime Villarreal single that got by Cando center fielder Brooks Larson.

Villarreal had a similar single to center the previous night to drive in the winning run of Grafton’s walk-off victory over Beulah.

“Hitting continued from last night,” Villarreal said. “I felt good today. I saw the ball real well and got my team a couple runs.”

Grafton added two runs on two hits in the third inning and another run on two hits in the top of the fifth to chase Cando pitcher Daniel Grande. All the while, Grafton starter Hunter Baldwin held Cando scoreless through the first four innings.

“He had pinpoint control to start the game,” Grafton coach Chad Kliniske said. “He was throwing BBs on the outside corners and that’s the difference.”

The 16-year-old right-hander recorded the complete-game win and held Cando to six hits and a walk.

“We’ve gone through this tournament with a lot of young pitchers and they’re good young pitchers,” Villarreal said. “I’d watch out for them in the future.”

Cando cut Grafton’s lead to 6-2 in the bottom of the fifth with a pair of runs coming on Grande’s fielder’s choice and left fielder Jayden Komrosky’s single to center.

Grafton plated three runs off Cando reliever Drew Schill in the top of the sixth. Neither team recorded a hit after that.

Vote credited Grafton for imposing its will at the plate.

“They can hit the baseball,” he said. “They’re a good baseball team. They’re a baseball program.”

Still, Vote said the Bearcats aren’t prepared to give in. At this point, they’re playing with house money, he said, and have everything to gain.

“How many people expected us to be where we are right now?” Vote said. “I would say not very many. We’ve got a tremendous group of athletes on our team and they’re carrying us. We don’t have anything to lose.”

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