MBA 2019 State

Twenty-four hours after Cologne's first State Amateur Baseball Tournament win, Craig Pexa was fixated on a first-inning decision.

"I should have squeezed. We talked about how we were going to do those type of things, move runners up, small-ball stuff," Pexa lamented despite a 5-2 win over Hadley in the opening round.

One week later, runners on second and third, one out, Pexa pulled the trigger in a scoreless game in the seventh inning.

Joey Lilya's bunt plated pinch runner Kyle Twait from third base, part of a two-run frame as Cologne, behind a one-hit, eight-strikeout performance from Christian Johnson, moved on to the third round in a 2-0 win over Nisswa Aug. 24 in Delano.

"Brenner gets on, Kyle Twait runs for him. Bomber (Tim Swanson) gets a base hit down the line and Twait comes first to third. I held him and I look at the throw and it's up the line, he would easily have scored. They change pitchers and we're talking about it. Joey tells me 'I've put some bunt downs.' We've all put some bunts down, right? He gets a 3-1 count. I know he's coming fastball. Joey gets it down. We score. Bomber comes into third and says, 'You got a big set of balls," Pexa said.

"I told the guys you get a run, we're in good shape. You get two runs and that's the dagger," the manager said.

The Hollanders, making its first state tournament since 1972, is among the final 16 teams in Class C.

Anthony Brenner started the seventh inning by getting on base with a single, a Tim Swanson double moving runners into scoring position. Swanson added a second run on a wild pitch at 2-0.

Johnson, coming off a 12-strikeout performance in round one against Hadley, was even better in round two, surrendering a borderline base hit in the sixth inning. The single was originally ruled an error.

Nisswa had just three batters reach base, once on a single and another on a walk from Tory Miller, and a hit by pitch.

"Saturday, he knew the scouting report on them. He got some information on their line-up. Their 2-3-4 were awfully good. And he minimized them to nothing. The one hit wasn't much. Some say it was an error. The average second baseman doesn't get to that. We have an above average second baseman. ... He almost kept the no-hitter for us," Pexa said.

The manager said the wind played a large role in the game. Cole Pengilly, No. 4 hitter for the Hollanders, likely was robbed of three hits.

A lead late, even with a runner on, Johnson elected to pitch to Nisswa's top hitter, Jason Roepke, knowing it would be tough to tie the game.

"Bomber went out to Christian and they talked about pitching around him. Christian told him something like I want to get him out. And he did. He's confident right now. He believes in himself right now," Pexa said.

Cologne plays Region 10 champion Bemidji at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31 in Delano. Jordan or Fergus Falls would be a potential fourth-round match-up on Sunday, Sept. 1 with the final two rounds that Sunday night and the championship on Labor Day.

Johnson will get the ball for the third straight start. After that, Pexa and the team will make the call who is next. They hope.

"I tell the guys before the game, have fun. It's baseball. We're having fun. There's no pressure, we're underdogs. The guys like it that way. This has been unbelievable. Something I can't explain. One of the best moments in my life," the Cologne manager said.

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