Cando claws into final

BEULAH – Who needs arms anyway?

That is Cando ace Jake Hagler’s sentiment.

Pitching on just three days’ rest, the 18-year-old right-hander went the duration Saturday afternoon at Goldmann Field in the Bearcats’ 6-3 win against LaMoure in the American Legion Class B State Tournament semifinals.

“Right now, your arms will be arms,” said Hagler, with a bag of ice fixed to his right elbow. “You have all of next week and the next three months to rest. This is the last Legion baseball games for most of us here.”

Cando (17-12) will play defending champ Grafton for the state title beginning at 1 p.m. today.

Though thrilled to play for a state championship, Hagler acknowledged that the Bearcats – the No. 3 seed in the Section 5 tournament – are as surprised as anyone.

“After Thursday I said, ‘I only packed for two days. I don’t have enough clothes to stay here,'” Hagler said. “Now we’re just enjoying the ride.”

LaMoure (28-12-1) plated two unearned runs in the top of the first on two hits and a pair of Bearcat errors.

Cando coach Jesse Vote said that following a Friday evening loss to tournament favorite Grafton, his team looked “out of it” in the early going.

“We were not ready to go,” Vote said. “Our energy level was so down and we were looking for something to kick-start us.”

In the bottom of the second, left fielder Brooks Larson rescued Cando from its humdrum outing to that point.

After right fielder Steven Hunt walked to lead off, third baseman Christian Kvilvang lasered a single to right field. Up next was Larson.

“I told Brooks to swing hard,” Vote said.

The right-handed Larson took the first pitch of his at-bat – a high, outside fastball – and hammered it deep to the opposite field for a three-run homer. With the wind gusting in at 15 mph, the ball barely carried the 275 feet necessary to clear the right-field fence.

“I was pretty mad because I knew if we didn’t get something going, it was going to be a long day for us,” Larson said. “I just came up there with the attitude that I was going to hit the ball as hard as I could and it worked out for me.”

Suddenly the Cando dugout filled with chatter and energy, and Hagler had a 3-2 lead to work with.

That one-run barrier didn’t last long. LaMoure answered in the third inning with a tying run.

With one out, LaMoure shortstop Jared Meiklejohn singled to right-center field and reached second when Tyler Thielges grounded out to first. Beau Diegel drove in Meiklejohn with a single to deep left-center field for LaMoure’s only earned run of the afternoon.

Over the final four innings, Hagler, an all-state selection in football and basketball during his high school career, gave up two hits – both in the seventh inning. Overall, he scattered six hits, allowed one earned run and two walks, and struck out nine for the win on short rest.

“That’s a pretty gutsy performance,” LaMoure coach J.R. Thielges said. “You could kind of tell his arm was hurting up there. He wasn’t throwing a lot of warm-up pitches or anything in between innings. But he got ‘er done when the time came.”

After a pair of scoreless frames, Cando supplied the rest of its run support in the fifth inning.

M.J. Klier led off with a single to left field and Drew Schill followed with a one-bagger to right. Daniel Grande scored Klier on a third straight single. Following Jaden Komrosky’s strikeout, Hagler aided his own cause and doubled on a liner that landed just inside the right-field chalk, plating Schill and moving Grande to third. Hunt added a single to right to drive in Grande before the inning ended on a double play.

Tyler Thielges suffered the loss for LaMoure.

Larson led the Bearcats with a 2-for-3 performance. Hunt and Grande had identical offensive showings, going 2 for 2 with an RBI, one run scored and a walk.

Larson will take the mound on three days’ rest for Cando in today’s first championship game against Grafton, which has yet to lose in the state tournament. Should the Bearcats knock off Grafton in the first game, a second will be played around 3:30 p.m. to decide the champion.

Vote is eager for a rematch with Grafton, which beat Cando 9-2 on Friday.

“Whether we challenge them or not, we’d like to get another shot and try to prove what we’re capable of doing,” he said.

It all will depend on the Bearcats’ limited pitching staff. Vote’s other pitching options – Grande and Schill – will be working with two days’ rest. Hagler said all four of the Cando hurlers will be prepared to pitch.

“I told Jesse if he needs me to go, I’ll be ready,” Hagler said. “I said I could pitch a couple more tomorrow if he even needs me.”

Added Larson: “(My arm’s) a little sore. I’m going to ice it and go for a run and I think it’ll be good for tomorrow.”

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