Photos by Brad O’Neil. Right-click for larger images.
UPDATE: The North Branch Nighthawks defeated the Braham Snappers 6-3 on Aug. 2 to claim the final available berth in the Region 1-C tournament.
All games in the regional tournament will be played at Brennan Field in Hinckley. The Nighthawks will open play at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 5 against the Sartell Muskies of the Sauk Valley League.
The tournament is double elimination, so regardless of the outcome against Sartell, the Nighthawks will play again on Sunday, Aug. 6, against the winner or loser of a game between the Rum River Bandits and the Foley Lumberjacks.
If the Nighthawks win their opening game, they will play their Sunday game at 4:30 p.m. If they lose, their Sunday game will commence at 11 a.m.
Provided the Nighthawks win at least one game this weekend, they will advance to the second weekend of play Aug. 11-13.
The top three teams in the eight-team regional tournament will claim spots in the Class C state tournament.
Nighthawks to play off for regional berth
The following appeared in the Aug. 2 print edition, which went to press before the Nighthawks’ playoff against Braham:
After a weekend of games in the Eastern Minny tournament, the North Branch Nighthawks are set to play in a single-game do-or-die playoff for the final berth to the Region 1-C tournament.
The Nighthawks finished second in the Eastern Minny, West Division at 10-5 and earned a bye into the second round of the league tournament. North Branch lost to old nemesis Rum River in round two 3-2 on July 29. The Nighthawks then dominated the Nowthen Knights 7-1 on July 30 before falling to Rum River again 7-3 on July 31.
The Nighthawks have lost to Rum River four times this season, while beating Nowthen three times.
“We have Nowthen’s number, and Rum River has our number,” manager Jim Skroch said.
In the round two game, played at Brennan Field in Hinckley, Nighthawk pitcher Charlie Linder opened the scoring in the bottom of the first with a single to bring home Dillyn Negley from second.
The Nighthawks doubled their lead in the sixth. Negley and Nick Pilz led off the inning with singles, and Linder walked to load the bases. Shortstop Jimmy Skroch hit a sacrifice fly to bring Negley home for the second time, though Rum River got out of the inning without further damage.
Linder allowed only three hits through the first six innings, but Rum River broke through with three runs in the seventh.
With two on and two out, Linder faced Bandit catcher Eric Koplitz and worked an 0-2 count, but then lost him with four straight balls.
Linder hit Shawn Motl to force in a run, then Tyler Kronstedt singled to tie the game. Pilz replaced Linder on the mound, but he hit Andy Julkowski to force in the winning run.
“That’s happened to us three times against Rum River: One bad inning cost us the game,” Jim Skroch said.
Bemidji State pitcher Terry Hadden took the mound for Nowthen in round three, but for the second time this summer the Nighthawks made easy work of one of the league’s top pitchers.
“For some reason, we always hit him,” Jim Skroch said.
Jimmy Skroch walked to begin the bottom of the second and was sacrificed to second by Nick Solberg and to third by Ryan Byrkit. Nick Fairbanks hit a difficult grounder that the second basement collected, but he could not complete the play and Skroch scored.
A four-run third inning gave the Nighthawks a comfortable lead that they would not relinquish. Negley was hit by a pitch, then stole second and moved to third when the Nowthen pickoff attempt sailed into center field. Pilz singled him home, then moved to second when Linder walked.
Tony Dahlberg smacked a double to bring in Pilz, and Dahlberg scored when Solberg’s grounder skipped under the glove of the charging second baseman. Fairbanks hit a two-out RBI single to extend the lead to 5-0.
The Nighthawks added on in the fourth. Negley and Pilz again led off with singles, then moved up a base on Linder’s ground out to the right side. Hadden threw a wild pitch that allowed Negley to score, then Jimmy Skroch brought Pilz home with an RBI double.
Jimmy Skroch held strong on the mound, allowing only one hit and one walk over six innings while striking out nine.
Hadden hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh to prevent a shutout. The Knights were eliminated with the third-round loss.
The Princeton Panthers beat Rum River later in the day to claim the first berth to the Region 1-C tournament, setting up a playoff for the second berth between North Branch and Rum River.
Playing at Chisago Lakes High School, the Nighthawks once again saw an early lead evaporate against the Bandits.
Negley scored on a Pilz ground out in the first, then Byrkit scored through an unlikely sequence in the third. After singling, Byrkit moved to second on a balk. Negley struck out swinging on a passed ball, and while the Bandits were busy throwing him out to complete the strikeout, Byrkit advanced to third, and later scored on a wild pitch.
The Bandits did not dent the plate once in the first five innings, but did not fail to score in the final four, getting one in the sixth, two in the seventh, one in the eight and three in the ninth.
Brady Brodin hit an RBI single in the seventh to finalize the Nighthawks’ total.
“We just have to come back and win on Wednesday,” Jim Skroch said.
With the win, Rum River advanced to the regional tournament. In the Eastern division, Hinckley and Mora are qualified.
The fifth and final berth to regionals will be decided by a crossover game at Chisago Lakes High School at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2, between North Branch and the Braham Snappers from the East division.
The Nighthawks should feel confident about their chances, having beaten Braham 8-3 in a regular season meeting on June 2. If they advance, the Nighthawks will begin play in the regional tournament on Aug. 5 in Hinckley.