Ticket takers closed up shop a few innings into the Section 2-3A Baseball championship June 3, 2015. By last count there were more than 1,000 paid admissions at Chaska's Athletic Park.
The grounds crew was in the double-digits that evening. Each with two or three family members it seemed. There were spectators everywhere the eye could see from home plate.
As each inning went by, the crowd grew. Posts on social media only spurred others from the community to head to downtown Chaska.
"Five years later, those two games are brought up all the time to me," Chaska baseball coach Craig Baumann said. "I've had multiple people tell me those were the two best baseball games they've ever experienced."
Fans lined each foul line, many times two to three people deep. From the dugout to the corner where Chanhassen parent Steve Clute paced.
"The atmosphere that night. It felt like the entire Carver County was there. It was electric," Carter Schmidt, Chaska Class of 2015 graduate, said. "There was that many people there. To say standing room-only would be an understatement. I've been to Lenzen Night many times and those crowds were bigger than any Lenzen night."
A night after second-ranked Chanhassen forced a second game, a 3-2 win over third-ranked Chaska, the two teams played long into the night after rain earlier in the day forced the start of the championship to be pushed back.
Extra innings, the two teams tied at six through seven regulation innings, just allowed more spectators to join in on the fun. Social media reports led to many people jumping into the car after 10 p.m., heading to downtown Chaska where cars lined First Street all the way to Guardian Angels.
"Those two games at Chaska, especially the second game with extra innings, the back and forth score, it was the best game I've ever been a part of," former Chanhassen head coach AJ Pettersen said.
"The atmosphere was electric. It helped that the two high schools are what, a mile apart. Everyone in the community bought in. You thought you were at a state championship football game with the crowd we had," Chanhassen's Ty Denzer, a 2015 graduate, said. "I remember the student chants. Chad Clute was warming up and he throws the first pitch off the backstop and the Chaska students cheered. Then he threw one right down the middle of the plate and the Chan students cheered. I remember turning to Nick Smith behind the mound and saying something like 'this is crazy.'"
DOWN, BUT NOT OUT
Waconia's Jake Stevenson wasn't going to lose. The future Minnesota Gopher walked six batters, surrendered another six hits, but staked with a one-run lead on a Cole Peters' home run, he wasn't going to let that slip away.
The right-hander, with a blazing fastball clocked in the 90s, shutout the second-seeded Chanhassen Storm 1-0 to open the 2015 section playoffs.
"I tip my cap to Jake. He was better than our bats that day. Maybe we were playing nervous, the first playoff game and all," then Chanhassen senior designated hitter Jack Mattson said. "Maybe it was for the better we lost."
Disappointed, yes, eliminated, no. Chanhassen still had a fighting chance and they came together after suffering the opening round loss in the playoffs.
"It's hard to even put into words how close we were. How hard we worked. I almost get chills thinking about that team. We had never had a winning season before that year. I remember at the beginning of the season, AJ asked us all to write down what our goal was. All of us did it separately. We all filled it out. And I think the majority of the team wrote 'win state.' That was pretty crazy for a team coming off I think a 5-16 season," Chanhassen Class of 2015 graduate Jack Schnettler said.
The Storm beat Shakopee 13-3, scoring nine runs in the sixth inning, getting early home runs from Jared Davidson and Chad Clute.
Schnettler pitched a four-hit shutout, Chanhassen eliminating Hutchinson 10-0 in five innings on a three-RBI game from Jeffrey Kressler and a home run from Cullen McNeill.
Chanhassen completed the journey all the way through the losers bracket with dominating wins over Minnetonka (11-0) and Waconia (9-2) on one Saturday afternoon at Athletic Park.
Denzer hit home runs in each of the Storm victories, setting up the championship series with Chaska.
"I remember telling them, we need to play some short games. We need to save some innings from our pitchers if we want to advance. Luckily we were facing team's second, third, fourth pitchers. We were able to blow out some teams, 10-run them, and move along where we still had arms for Chaska," Coach Pettersen said.
"Every guy had a special moment after that loss to Waconia. Cullen McNeill's diving catches. Logan Graves coming up big, getting a big out. Everyone played a role in getting us to the championship," Nick Smith, Chanhassen High School Class of 2015 graduate, said. "No matter what level I've played at, college ball, amateur baseball, no matter what I've done, I always think back to those two games with Chaska."
The term "bulldog" gets thrown around often around pitchers in baseball. Chaska's Luke Roskam in the Webster's Dictionary is the definition.
"Luke is definitely one of my favorite guys to catch. And I caught a bunch throughout high school and college. When you threw the ball back to him, he wanted the next sign. He stood on the mound, he wanted to work fast. He wanted to attack the hitter. He didn't mess around," Carter Schmidt, a captain of the 2015 team, said.
Roskam led Chaska to a 3-1 win in the opening round of the 2015 playoffs, beating Mankato West and their star pitcher Ryan Schlichte, who months later was roommates in college with Chaska's Justin Arnold.
After the Hawks dispatched Hutchinson by a 6-1 score, all seven innings pitched by Blake Tritch, Roskam locked up with Stevenson and Waconia on a late May afternoon at Athletic Park.
"We knew he was on fumes," Roskam said of Stevenson. "We could see it that first inning. We felt confident about our chances."
Stevenson was coming off back-to-back wins over Chanhassen and Buffalo, a third start in the week. Tritch made him pay early, a three-run blast for the 4-0 lead.
"He started me off with a curve ball and I just knew a fastball was coming. He fed me one and I just got the barrel on it," Tritch, a 2015 Chaska graduate, said.
Meanwhile, Roskam was dealing for the Hawks. Three up, three down, Six up, six down. Nine up, nine down. By the seventh inning when no Waconia runners had reached base, the hum of the crowd quickly changed from "will he do it" to "he's going to do it."
"It's something I'll remember forever, being a part of. I could tell from the first pitch he was locked in," Schmidt said. "The funny story is before the game, he comes up to me and says 'I don't have it.' I remember we got through the first three innings, we got through the order one time, and I'm thinking to myself you have it."
Twenty-one up, twenty-one down. Two strikeouts capped Roskam's perfect game. The first Chaska perfect game since Jerry Riesgraf in 1981.
"My shoulder was killing me right away in warm-ups. I remember going up to Coach Baumann after a few innings, I told him I'm not feeling good. He said, well, let me when you need to be done. I must have said one more inning, one more inning, and every inning I just kept getting outs," Roskam said of the perfect game. "It's something I'll always remember for the rest of my life. Having Dick Osdoba on the PA, what he said, was really cool. I think not having my best stuff, it made me focus a bit more from pitch one."
Chaska was one win away from playing in the state tournament. And they were remaining at Athletic Park, a field they had won 10 games that season.
"We knew going in the season, our top five guys were going to be really good. If we could find four guys to come around for the ride. And we definitely got that," Coach Baumann said. "Our team wouldn't have been where we were without the leadership of our seniors. They welcomed the younger guys in. Showed them the way."
Hunter Even remembers having a conversation with Coach Pettersen before the start of the section championship game June 2, 2015. Jack Schnettler was getting the start; Even was first one up in relief.
"We talked about being as efficient with our pitches as we could, knowing we needed to win two games," Even said.
Chaska was in the driver's seat, needing just one victory to qualify for state and they had top arms Blake Tritch and Luke Roskam ready to go.
Chanhassen struck first, a Nick Smith triple on the first pitch, followed by a Ty Denzer sacrifice fly for the 1-0 lead.
"Benji (Hidalgo) lays out for the hit and it gets by him and Nick Smith ends up on third base. I'm thinking I'm going to have to grind it out. Those guys made me work. I don't think I've ever been as mentally exhausted pitching as I was that game," Tritch said of the Chanhassen line-up. "It was like playing chess with guys that knew me so well. They knew me, I knew them."
Chaska managed to tie the game at one off Schnettler without a hit in the third inning. A one-out walk to Justin Arnold started the scoring threat, a stolen base and overthrow into the outfield advanced the future Minnesota State University-Mankato football star to third base.
Chaska's Derek Annett lifted a long fly ball into the outfield to plate Arnold for the Hawks' first run.
One inning later, a Roskam single and stolen base set the stage for a Schmidt RBI-double for the 2-1 lead. Now runners on second and third, with one out, Schnettler needed to bare down.
"I wasn't good that day. Nothing came easy. It was hard at that point, pitching against Chaska. I had pitched against them so many times, I wasn't surprising anyone," Schnettler said. "They were a difficult team to face. So crazy talented. I knew I was going to be in for tough one."
Schnettler picked up a key strikeout before a pop out to shortstop ended the threat, the damage held to a minimum. A missed opportunity for Chaska.
Pettersen made the change, sending Hunter Even out for the fifth inning. Schnettler, at 76 pitches, said he always "hated coming out of the game."
"Up until that point, I was the guy out of the bullpen," Even said. "I had a lot of faith in myself, a lot of faith in my teammates. We all believed in each other. I embraced the role of being the guy that came into that situation, came into those pressure situations."
Even pitched a 1-2-3 fifth inning and a 1-2-3 sixth inning, getting past Chaska's meat of the batting order. Now it was up to the Storm's offense.
Down 2-1 in the top of the sixth inning, Denzer and Chad Clute reached on back-to-back singles and after a strikeout, Tritch was one pitch from a second out, an 0-2 count to Kevin Sampson.
"I had set him up with a hard fastball on the outside corner, so I knew I could come back with a breaking ball inside and lock him up. It was a bit off the plate and he stuck out his body a bit. I remember (Coach Baumann) came out, argued with the umpire. I couldn't believe it," Tritch said.
Two batters later, the bases loaded, two outs on the scoreboard, Jared Davidson worked the count full for Chanhassen. The crowd on its feet, Davidson laid off a fastball just north of the zone. Tie game.
Tritch kept the game at two, inducing a ground ball back to him on the mound. No throw to first base necessary, as Tritch sprinted to the base ahead of the runner. Onto the seventh inning.
Nick Smith knew he needed to be the spark. As the Storm's lead-off hitter, it was his job to get on base, anyway how.
"I remember the first pitch was a fastball inside. I thought I got it pretty good," Smith said.
"He hits it and I am convinced I jammed him. There's no way this ball gets out," Tritch recalled. "I saw Connor Ploen drifting back toward the fence and I couldn't believe it."
"I'm running to first base and I see Connor Ploen standing at the fence, camped under it. As I'm rounding first base, I think he's caught it. I'm holding my helmet in my hands. Everyone starts cheering and everyone is like it's a home run. That ended up being my first over-the-fence home run," Smith said.
"We had to beat them twice, but when Nick hit the home run, it let the air out of their tires I think," Jack Mattson said.
Even went to the mound in the bottom half of the seventh inning, a 3-2 lead at hand. After battling to record the first out, Even attacked, striking out the final two batters for the win.
"To beat them in that environment, that was the tipping point," Even said. "Our team motto was 'it's not over until it's over.' We had come back all the way through the losers' bracket. We were on even ground with them and we had the momentum."
Rain fell all day on Wednesday, June 3, 2015. A baseball game being played was in jeopardy. An original start time of 6 p.m., grounds crew worked tirelessly to get Athletic Park in shape for first pitch closer to 8 p.m.
The pitching match-up was Luke Roskam, coming off a perfect game, and Chanhassen ace Jordan Bonk, who was dominant in two post-season starts.
"I think both teams showed their true sides that night. Both were good offensive teams. I don't think there was anyway possible that the teams were going to be held to a couple hits apiece again that second game," Ty Denzer said.
Chaska, despite the loss one night earlier, regrouped knowing they were the No. 1 seed for a reason. They were still one of the best teams in state.
"The message all year long was control what you can control. Focus on the next game, focus on the next at-bat, focus on the next pitch," Carter Schmidt said.
Chaska's perseverance showed early on as they jumped on Bonk for four runs in the first three at-bats. A two-out walk to Connor Ploen followed by a single from Benji Hidalgo set the stage for a RBI-double from Justin Arnold at 1-0.
The big blow came in the third inning as Blake Tritch doubled, Roskam walked and Schmidt sent the first pitch he saw over the left-center field fence. The first of four times he reached base in the game.
With Roskam allowing just one base runner through three innings, a four-run lead seemed safe. Chanhassen, though down, was never out.
Loading the bases on a Cole Kirchoff single, a walk and hit-batsman, pinch hitter Daniel Pharis walked into the batter's box for the Storm. Jeffrey Kressler had won the starting catcher job during the spring season, but every time it seemed Pharis came up in a big spot, he delivered.
Pharis, recently married in May 2020, came through with a two-run double into the left-center gap to cut the deficit to 4-2. The next batter, Jared Davidson, blooped a single that fell between three diving Chaska defenders to tie the game at four.
Two swings of the bat, tie game.
"They had all the momentum right away until Daniel Pharis got the big double. He always came up big. That was our team, we just kept chipping away," Jack Mattson said.
Reid Young's run-scoring double in the fifth inning regained the lead momentarily for Chaska before Kirchoff launched a pitch into the trees to tie the game at five for Chanhassen.
The next run might be the game, players remember. So when Cullen McNeill hit a ball through the hole, just out of the reach of a diving Blake Tritch at first base, Chanhassen third base coach Chris Wilson gambled by sending pinch runner Joey Costello home.
Connor Ploen's strong throw home beat Costello, Schmidt ready to apply the tag when the Storm runner went airborne.
"I remember the ball coming from in from the outfield. It one-hopped me. I caught it in front of the plate. I saw the runner, I think it was Joey Costello, start to go wide, so I moved toward him and as he went up I hit his leg with my glove," the Chaska catcher remembered.
Costello laid on the ground, stunned from the acrobatic fall to the ground.
"Everyone starts yelling. Tag him! Joey is dragged to the plate and I see the umpire call him safe. I couldn't believe it," Schmidt said. "All hell broke loose."
Chaska's bench erupted, players and coaches scattering the grass between the dugout and foul line. Coach Baumann got between the plate umpire and Schmidt.
"If Baumann didn't get tossed, I would have gotten tossed. And then Luke started yelling at the umpire and I had to go get him. We couldn't afford to lose him. It was the turning point in that game in my opinion," Schmidt said.
"The whole world saw it. Everyone at the park saw it. It was hard to process because we played the game telling ourselves we can only control what we can control and to have the biggest play be something we couldn't control, something we believe cost us the game and a shot at state, it was tough," Tritch said.
Down to their last three outs, at one point down to their last strike, a 6-5 deficit, Chaska tied the game without a hit in the seventh inning.
Roskam fouled off four straight 2-2 pitches, coaxing a lead-off walk with a 10-pitch battle with Chanhassen relief pitcher Hunter Even. Schmidt did the same, staying alive three times with two strikes, ending up on base after nine pitches.
Even recorded a strikeout after two failed bunt attempts before being pulled by Coach Pettersen.
"We had a strict 45-pitch limit for me. Kudos to Coach AJ. I didn't want to come out, but he was looking out for my best interests," Even said.
Enter Chad Clute, the first-year Storm transfer from Hawley in northwestern Minnesota. Clute had thrown only a handful of times all season.
Nick Smith, like Ty Denzer, remembers being behind the mound, listening to the Chanhassen and Chaska crowds cheer a strike or a ball during Clute's warm-up pitches.
After loading the bases on his third pitch, a hit batter, Clute bared down for a strikeout for out No. 2. No. 9 hitter Benji Hidalgo, a freshman, stepped into the box. Working the count full, a pitch just low plated the tying run at six. Clute stranded three runners on base two pitches later.
Chanhassen, with a chance to win in the bottom half of the seventh inning, had a runner thrown out at home plate on a throw from Reid Young to Schmidt. A base-running mistake resulted in a third out happening at third base.
Onto extra innings as fog rolled through the outfield.
"You had two of the best teams in state going toe to toe in a championship atmosphere. We had studs in our line-up headed to college baseball, football programs. They had studs headed to college programs. We had young guys in the line-up, they had some young guys on their team," Tritch said.
Chanhassen pitcher Logan Graves, 4-0 during the 2015 post-season run, worked the final two innings, striking out two batters to end the ninth frame.
Smith, with the late-inning heroics the night before, was 0-for-4 as he started off the ninth inning for Chanhassen.
"All credit to Luke. He was such a great pitcher. I've played with him multiple times and he was a gamer. Seeing him for the fifth time, knowing he had thrown a lot of pitches, being a senior leader, I just wanted to make something happen," Smith said.
A blooper from Smith on an 0-2 pitch started the rally for the Storm. Kirchoff followed with a two-strike single, putting the winning run 180 feet from home plate, with no outs.
"I was just trying for something good to hit," said Denzer, who popped up in foul territory for out one. "You can't come through every time. I knew someone would come through and pick me up."
That person was Jack Mattson. Two outs on the scoreboard, Roskam at 132 pitches. After a long delay, Chaska coaches questioning the return to the game for Mattson, who moved from designated hitter to the outfield and was pulled, later re-entering, the senior was given the green light.
"After the long delay, I just wanted to get up, get it over with. I think the delay lasted like 10 minutes. Every coach on both benches got into it," Mattson said.
"Me and my dad were just talking about it," said Roskam. "(Acting manager) Erik Olson came up to me, asked me how I was feeling. I wanted to finish out the ninth inning and then I'd come out. I just wanted to complete it for my team."
Like he did with all five batters that inning, Roskam got ahead of Mattson with a strike. On pitch No. 134, Mattson chopped the ball through the hole on the right side.
"Nick is such a good base runner. I knew he'd get a good jump and he would be sent home," Mattson said.
Making sure to reach first base, Mattson turned as the ball sailed into the infield, not in time as Smith scored the game-winning run.
"It was chaos. We're running after Mattson. He wouldn't stop, he just kept running into the outfield," Denzer said.
"Realizing what we worked for, and accomplished, it was almost a blackout moment. I was so happy for Mattson, so happy for the team. The end of the game, it felt like a state championship," Smith said. "I played with Justin Arnold, Carter Schmidt, so many of those guys. Knowing how good of players they were, the talent they had. I had so much respect for them. I wish that game was for the state title."
"Jack Mattson's hit gets through the infield and I go to back up home plate as the run scores. I was devastated," Roskam said. "I had emptied my tank, put everything into that game. It hurt. I didn't want to talk about it for a couple of years with those guys."
"I remember the throw coming in from the outfield, it went over my head, and I saw (Nick Smith) score. Man, it hurts a little bit still. It will always well," Tritch said. "If you were at that game, you will remember it, that's for sure."
For the Chaska team, after such a deep run, falling one game short was disappointing.
"It was definitely one of the most fun teams I've been apart of from youth to my college teams. Looking back, it still hurts. We wanted to be the team playing at state, but I think it was a good learning experience. It helped put into perspective some things in life," said Schmidt, who told teammates crushed following the loss to get up and shake Chanhassen player's hands.
"As a junior, those seniors were incredible. I was so close with the guys, and they taught us that winning culture," Roskam said. "It was one of the best teams I've ever been on. When I was a freshman at Nebraska, we were Big 10 champs, but that Chaska team was right there."
"The energy in the park, it was just awesome. You could feel it when you got there for batting practice. And it only increased as time went by. Looking back, I think about all of the talent on the field between the two teams, how both were 1-run games, and it was truly something special to be a part of," Coach Baumann said.
ONE MORE THING TO DO
Chanhassen still had work to do at the Class 3A State Tournament nine days later.
"Just at that point we felt if we could beat Chaska, arguably one of the two best teams in state, the streak we were on, there wasn't anyone that could beat us. We were playing with so much confidence," Denzer said.
"It almost felt like we had to win it all. You don't get though that tough of a section, like we did, and not win. It would have been devastating to drop one of those games," Mattson said.
Chanhassen won 1-0 in nine innings over St. Michael-Albertville at CHS Field in downtown St. Paul on June 12, 2015. One day later, it was a 7-2 win over Robbinsdale Armstrong in the semifinals. And then Jack Schnettler's four-hit shutout in the championship at Target Field, a 2-0 win over Lakeville North.