A decade ago, the Carver Black Sox were an afterthought in the Crow River Valley League. In 2016, for just the second time in six years, Carver advanced to the Region 7C Tournament.
Then came 2017. A group of Black Sox regulars in their fifth or sixth seasons in the Carver dugout, broke through, qualifying for the state tournament for the first time since 1983.
On Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, Carver made it four years in a row to state. With a number of those same players in the line-up.
A dominating 12-strikeout performance from Andrew Weber, the 2019 Crow River Valley League pitcher of the year, led Carver to a 6-1 win over Mayer in Watertown.
It was the sixth victory in a seven-game stretch, including the fourth of the post-season for the No. 10 seed in the Crow River Valley League.
"You can see what type of team we have when we have a full team. All year, even the last two or three years, we knew we were good enough to beat anyone in the league on a given day. The (Crow River Valley) league is as strong as it's ever been, so it took a strong effort these last couple of weeks to be here," Carver third baseman David Dolan said.
Like in an elimination round victory over Cologne six days earlier, Carver grabbed the first lead, producing three runs on only a bloop single in the third inning.
Back-to-back walks to Kyle Dalton and Jay Bresnahan was followed by a Dan Gastuch single in front of the the Mayer outfield.
A David Dolan slow chopper plated Dalton with a passed ball scoring Bresnahan for the 2-0 lead. Weber's hard-hit grounder to deep second base allowed Gastuch to score for the third run.
Carver added two more runs in the fourth inning on a Bailey Melz walk, Connor Cornell single and Dalton RBI-double to the fence. Cornell crossed home plate on a sacrifice fly from Bresnahan at 5-0.
Weber walked and eventually scored on a passed ball in the seventh inning.
On the mound, Weber and catcher Sam Warner worked a masterpiece, moving the target all around the zone, resulting in many swing-and-misses as well as weak fly balls.
Weber surrendered just three hits and a single run in the eighth inning before Bryce Tuma recorded the final three outs, a 5-4-3 double play, ending the game.
"We have this core group of guys that are still here, still playing ball, and we want to keep getting a shot at the state tournament," said Dolan, who also added the depth and flexibility the Black Sox have work well in a playoff setting.
Carver will represent Region 7 as the fourth seed after a 5-3 loss to regular season champion Waconia in the nightcap Aug. 15.
Young America won twice Sunday, defeating Waconia 3-2 and Watertown 7-6 to claim its second consecutive Region 7C championship. Watertown is the No. 2 seed with Waconia the third seed.
The 48-team Class C State Tournament bracket was released on Aug. 16 with Carver paired up with Region 9 second seed Clinton Cards in a 2 p.m. game on Sunday, Aug. 23 in Springfield. It is the Cards' first state appearance since 2006.
Springfield and Milroy are co-hosts for 2020.
"Mark (Ulrich)'s strong right now. He's kind of always been our No. 1, and add in what Weber has been doing. (Jacob) Booden in relief. We really feel good about our chances. It's just about whether our bats are alive that day I guess," Dolan said.
Other first-round match-ups are Waconia and Cannon Falls (8/22 in Springfield, 5 p.m.) and Watertown and Red Wing (8/22 in Milroy, 8 p.m.).