Prep baseball: Patient Pedersen pitches Marshall into state semifinals
ST. CLOUD — With a fastball that's been clocked in the low 90s, Duluth Marshall junior pitcher Ben Pedersen could have mowed down St. Cloud Cathedral one after another with his heater in the Class AA state baseball quarterfinals.
Instead, manager Joe Wicklund asked for a bit of patience from his ace.
"We talked about it before the game, the importance of having his best stuff in the seventh and the first," Wicklund said. "So pace yourself, be smart about it."
The strategy worked to a tee on a breezy Thursday morning at Dick Putz Field, allowing the top-seeded Hilltoppers (22-4) to advance to the state semifinals for the second year in a row via a 6-2 victory over the Crusaders (17-9).
Pedersen, the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder who is verbally committed to playing at Missouri in the future, struck out nine Crusaders in his complete-game three-hitter. He gave up just his third and fourth earned runs of the season and walked three of the 28 batters he faced.
"Ben, that's definitely not his sharpest performance, but the bar for Ben and the expectations for Ben are so out of whack now," Wicklund said. "You get to a spot where he's played so well all year, you expect the absolute best. For him, he was still awesome today."
Marshall scored five runs in the bottom half of the second inning to take control and will now face No. 5 Caledonia at noon Friday back in St. Cloud.
Senior Derrick Winn will start on the mound in the semifinals. Last year he struck out eight batters in a 1-0 semifinal loss to Pierz.
Winn caught for Pedersen on Thursday and called the game along with the team's ace. Neither takes signs from their coaches in the dugout.
Winn said that's easy to do with a fearless pitcher like Pedersen.
"He can command the game pretty much," Winn said. "He can do what he wants. He's not afraid of anything. Everyone is afraid of him. That's what I like about him."
Pedersen kept his fastball to the high 80s — an estimate from Wicklund — on Thursday, mixing in curveballs, changeups and sliders. Pedersen said the slider — what he considers his second-best pitch — was effective early against Cathedral.
Pedersen said the five-run second inning was a big boost to his confidence, though, much more than the early strikeouts he racked up against the Crusaders.
"The second inning was huge," Pedersen said. "It really lets you relax a lot more and you can just deliver your pitches, trust that your defense is going to get the job done."
Marshall designated hitter Alex Busick, batting in the eighth spot, opened the floodgates in the bottom of the second with a one-out, RBI-double down the left-field line. Leadoff batter and junior first baseman Maddux Baggs drove in a run after beating the throw to first for an RBI single. Winn picked up an RBI with an infield groundout. Two runs were scored on wild pitches.
Marshall added another run in the sixth with an RBI single by junior third baseman Tyler Johnson. He scored junior right fielder Carter Sullivan, who went 2-for-2 with a double, triple and run scored.
First baseman James Anderson had two of the Crusaders' three hits, including a double. Both of Cathedral's runs came in the top of the fourth on aggressive base running, a wild pitch and a sacrifice.