JORDAN – The meat of the batting order for the baseball team from Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove must scare the dickens out of opposing pitchers, even before they step in the batter’s box. No 3 hitter Cole Pankonin, who stands stands 6 feet tall and weighs 230 pounds, is followed by Corey Maras (6-2, 235) and Trevor Pederson (6-5, 300). All are seniors.
The star for the Falcons, however, in Thursday’s Class 1A state quarterfinal was someone younger and smaller than those guys. Sophomore left fielder Austin Irlbeck, all 5-10 and 155 pounds, had three hits and drove in three runs as the Falcons defeated Fosston 11-1 in six innings.
Irlbeck, the only non-senior in the batting order, singled, doubled and hit a home run over the right-field fence at the Mini Met. It was his team’s second home run of the season; Pankonin hit the first earlier in the year.
“Austin is a special player,” said Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove
coach Derrick Jenniges. “He’s a good contact player, he can run the bases really well, he’s a good bunter, so he gives us lots of options. Especially at the top of the order, he gives a little protection for those big swingers behind him.”
The day’s biggest swing came from Irlbeck in the second inning when his solo homer gave the Falcons a 3-0 lead. He belted a two-run double in the third and singled in the fifth. Pankonin also had three hits, while Maras, Evan Blomgren and Mitchell Willhite had two each. Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove finished with 13 hits.
The last time a baseball team from any of those southern Minnesota communities went to state was in the 1940s; Westbrook made the trip in 1947 and 1949. Things are different now, with several communities and two schools coming together.
Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove will meet Parkers Prairie in Friday’s semifinals at noon Friday in Jordan. The winner will play for the state title Monday at Target Field.
“This is really big,” Irlbeck said. “We come from a small town and we want to try to help each other out the best we can, do it for the town, do it for our school, do it for our fans.”
As he said those words, one of Austin’s teammates handed him a plastic turkey, a good-luck charm which he was happy to explain…
“This is Tom the Turkey. He’s been with us since last year when we had a little run in the playoffs. He’s stuck ever since.”The Goal: Return To Target Field
Parkers Prairie knows what it’s like to play at the home of the Minnesota Twins. The Panthers were the 1A runners-up last year, and they moved one step closer to a return visit to Target Field with an 8-0 win over Pillager in Thursday’s 1A quarterfinals.
Parkers Prairie and Pillager are both in the Park Region Conference, and the Panthers defeated Pillager twice during the regular season.
“You come down here and you think you’ll see different teams, and then you see a conference opponent,” said Panthers coach Derek Denny. “There were no secrets; we knew them, they knew us. It was about the players; let the boys come out and just play the game. We’re happy. Very happy.”
Parkers Prairie’s Levi Arnold improved his pitching record to 11-0 with the victory. He had a no-hitter through five innings and gave up two singles in the final two innings, throwing a fastball, curveball and knuckleball.
A year ago the Panthers lost in the championship game to Springfield 4-2 in 11 innings. It was the second-longest championship game in MSHSL baseball history, and the Panthers would love to get back.
“We were one out away (from winning last year),” Arnold said. “We want to make it back. We don’t need to win it, but that would be really nice.”State Baseball Quarterfinals
Parkers Prairie 8, Pillager 0
Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove 11, Fosston 1
Legacy Christian 9, Ely 4
Wabasha-Kellogg 2, Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman 2
Minnehaha Academy 10, Warroad 5
Maple Lake 11, Rochester Lourdes 1
Duluth Marshall 8, Belle Plaine 4
Pierz 6, New London-Spicer 2Class 3A
Waconia 2, Mahtomedi 1 (9)
Marshall 3, Red Wing 1
Hibbing 9, St. Cloud Tech 2
Alexandria 7, St. Thomas Academy 2Class 4A
Eden Prairie 6, Wayzata 1
Lakeville North 8, Burnsville 1
Forest Lake 6, Maple Grove 5
Woodbury 4, Champlin Park 1Boys Lacrosse State Semifinals
Benilde-St. Margaret’s 6, Wayzata 5
Eagan 12, Mahtomedi 11 (OT) Girls Lacrosse State Semifinals
Blake 10, Prior Lake 9
Eden Prairie 19, Farmington 3Lacrosse State Championship Games
Saturday at Chanhassen High School
Girls at 3:30 p.m.
Blake vs, Eden Prairie
Boys at 6 p.m.
Benilde-St. Margaret's vs. Eagan
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 788
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