The Rocori Spartans defeated the Sartell Sabres 9-8 in dramatic fashion Monday morning at Haugen Field at St. John’s University. The Spartans stay alive in the Section 5AAA tournament, while the Sabres see their season come to an end with a record of 7-12.

The Spartans did not lead the game until a walk-off single from Matt Koshiol in the bottom of the seventh inning.

“You have to tip your cap to Sartell, they hit one of our best pitchers really hard,” Rocori coach Jeff Illies said. “We battled and hung in there and found a way to win.”

The Sabres jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning against Spartans starter Eli Emerson. The rally started when Dylan Notsch reached on an error by Rocori second baseman Dalton Thelen, then continued with a single from Sartell’s Brody O’Hara.

Riley Harwig followed with a sharp single to center field, and the ball skipped past center fielder Brady Klehr all the way to the wall, scoring Notsch and O’Hara. Riley Ahrndt then tripled to center to plate Hartwig and make the score 3-0.

Spartans coach Illies said that while his team has played four games this season at SJU, the turf can take some getting used to.

“Both teams have to play on (the turf),” Illies said after the game. “It got us a couple times, but it ended up getting (Sartell) later in the game, so it evened out.”

The Spartans answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning. Thelen led off with a walk against Sabres pitcher O’Hara, Klehr doubled to put runners on second and third, and Matt Waletzko grounded out to second baseman Ahrndt to plate Thelen.

Tyler Schroeder then popped up to Ahrndt, who dropped the ball behind the pitcher’s mound. He was able to recover and get the out at second base, but the miscue allowed Klehr to score and make it a one-run game.

The Spartans tied the game in the bottom of the second inning. Jack Steil led off with a double and ended up scoring on Thelen’s groundout to make the score 3-3. The Sabres avoided more damage when left fielder Nathan Shaw made a spectacular diving catch in the gap to rob Klehr of an RBI double, ending the inning.

Sartell retook the lead with a three-run top of the third inning. Jake Schelonka led off with a walk, Notsch reached on a strikeout/wild pitch and Hartiwg scored Schelonka with a double down the left field line. Ahrndt would plate a pair with a ground-rule double to right-center field.

Rocori catcher Mason Primus led off the bottom of the third with a single, and came around to score on a Brandon Gill single to make the score 6-4 in favor of the Sabres after three innings.

Rocori scored a pair of runs to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth inning despite not registering a hit against Sartell reliever Schelonka. Thelen reached on an error by Sabres centerfielder Ryan Giguere, followed by a walk to Primus.

Waletzko then hit a routine ground ball to Hartwig at third base, but Hartwig’s throw sailed wide of the bag and allowed both Rocori runners to score, tying the game 6-6.

The Sabres added a run in the top of the sixth inning on a Notsch single, then took an 8-6 lead on Justin Houge’s RBI single.

Eli Emerson allowed eight runs (four earned) on 11 hits in pitching a complete game. Emerson walked one and struck out eight to earn the victory. Coach Illies called Emerson’s performance “huge,” as he didn’t have to use up another arm in a tournament situation.

“With the fact that we could potentially play five games in three days, it was important for Eli to give us a complete game,” Illies said. “Even though he wasn’t as sharp as he normally is, he battled and found a way to get us the complete game.”

“We put Eli in a tough spot in the first inning, going down 3-0, but he battled and hung in there,” junior outfielder Matt Koshiol said after the game.

The Spartans rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to earn the win and stay alive in the tournament. Waletzko led off with a single, Gill singled to right field to put two runners on, and Reed Ruegemer singled to load the bases.

Jack Steil followed with a chopper off the turf and over Sabres first baseman Brody O’Hara’s head to plate a pair of runs and tie the game, and Koshiol followed with a walk-off single for the 9-8 win.

Koshiol said his team’s spirits were high heading into the seventh inning, despite the two-run deficit.

“We had no doubt that we were going to win the game,” Koshiol said. “That’s kind of our thing, to never lose hope that we are going to win it, that’s what we go with.”


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