Aggies clinch Region 6 regular-season crown

Velva-Drake-Anamoose has been in this position before.

With the top seed in the Region 6 tournament secured, the Aggies enter next week’s six-team competition with both eyes set firmly on the state tournemant.

But it’s the same song, different day. Last year, the Aggies were eventually swept out of the postseason by Bishop Ryan.

On Saturday, V-D-A handed the Lions their second region loss of the season, a 5-1 result in Velva. It was also the second time that Ryan has failed to defeat the Aggies this year.

But if championships were won in the regular season, V-D-A’s ultimate goal would have already been realized.

It isn’t yet.

“I told them, enjoy this for 15 minutes until we play again, and then it’s back to work,” V-D-A coach Matt Weidler said. “There’s a bigger prize at the end, and our guys realize that. This game was just another opportunity for us to get better.”

Last year, the Aggies notched a narrow 6-5 win over Ryan to clinch the Region 6 regular-season championship.

But less than two weeks later, the Lions swept their region tournament opponents, including two defeats over V-D-A, to capture a state tournament berth.

Weidler is anxious to avoid a similar outcome, and he believes his team’s defense and pitching will continue to carry the Aggies (16-3 overall, 8-0 region).

“Once you get in the the region tournament, it’s a different level for any sport,” Weidler said. “You’re gonna see better pitching, and the scores are gonna be down. And that’s when your defense comes into play.”

V-D-A played solid defense behind starter Brady Engebretson, who delivered a powerful performance from the mound. He threw all seven innings, giving up one earned run on four hits and two walks while striking out seven.

“He had good velocity on his fastball today, and he was changing the eye level,” Weidler said. “We’ve been working with his breaking ball, trying to develop it a little bit. But he’s had success with the fastball, so we stayed with it.”

Of the 99 pitches Engebretson threw, 69 were strikes.

And the Lions were making contact.

“I thought some of our kids hit the ball pretty hard, but it was right at people,” Ryan coach Brent Nelson said. “Their defense made some good plays.”

Down 3-0, the Lions (16-4 overall, 6-2 region) had a good chance to shrink the deficit in the third with two runners on.

Ryan senior outfielder Nick Berentson stepped to the plate and drove Engretson’s offering to the edge of the track in right center-field, but V-D-A’s Drew Effertz settled under it to end the inning.

“It makes it easier on the pitcher when you can pitch to contact and know your defense is gonna make the plays behind you,” Weidler said.

The Lions started with their ace on the mound in senior Austin Eggl, and errors proved costly. Ryan finished with three in the ballgame, all of which led to V-D-A runs.

Eggl allowed five runs in the game. Only one was earned.

“That was the main thing for us,” Nelson said. “Those three errors definitely hurt.”

The mistake that put the game at a distance came in the bottom of the sixth.

Sophomore Bradley Dean ripped a single up the middle with runners on first and second. Onrushing Ryan outfielder Brady Bosch then let the ball skip through his legs, allowing both runners to score, putting Dean on third following a two-base error.

But Weidler beileves his team earned its luck Saturday with a strong overall performance.

“You have to be able to field the ball, hit the ball and pitch the ball, and we were pretty good in all three phases,” Weidler said. “Usually the score ends up in your favor when you do all those things.”

The Lions found their bats in a 12-3 Game 2 win, particularly senior Mason Kramer. The Ryan clean up hitter went 3-for-3 with two home runs, a double and five RBIs. Senior catcher Jake Magnuson also submitted a three-hit performance, scoring once and driving in two.

Nelson was relieved by his team’s improved effort in the nightcap.

“That’s how we play: aggressive,” Nelson said. “The first game, it seemed like we were on our heels, we just didn’t attack and weren’t as aggressive. The second game was the total opposite of the first, so I was happy with how our team responded.”

The Region 6 tournament begins Friday at Corbett Field. As the competition’s top two seeds, V-D-A and Ryan have byes.

Joe Mellenbruch covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.