MITCHELL — From the first pitch, the Crofton Bluejays knew it was going to be a special day at Cadwell Park.
No, not the fastball that Crofton pitcher Scot Donner hummed in to Harrisburg’s J.T. Miller, who managed to foul it off before hitting the next pitch for a lazy fly ball to center field for the game’s first out.
It was earlier, when Joe Mueller, father of their late teammate Kyle Mueller, threw out a ceremonial first pitch while wearing Kyle’s number 55 jersey, before hanging it and Kyle’s hat in the third base dugout prior to Crofton’s 5-1 victory over Harrisburg in the first round of the South Dakota State Class B Amateur Baseball Tournament on Thursday in Mitchell.
“You could tell we had 10 guys today,” Crofton manager Ben Hegge said. “We’ve been playing for Kyle all seasons. We all had him in mind.”
Donner, who improved to 11-2 all-time in state tournament play, scattered seven hits and allowed one unearned run in earning the victory. He struck out three batters and walked just one.
Donner credited extra work to strengthen and take care of his arm — in part because the team had dedicated the season to his longtime friend and teammate Kyle Mueller — for his strong outing.
“There’s been so much work put in by the whole team,” Donner said.
Offensively, Crofton was held to just four hits but made them count. Nick Hegge had two hits and a run scored. Donner had a RBI triple and a run scored. Jared Wiebelhaus had a two-run single. Austin Hegge scored twice and Corey Roach scored in the victory.
For Harrisburg, Robin Chute, a pickup player from Elk Point, had two hits. Brian Stoebner, Mark Abrahamson, Dalton Allen, Brandon Kemp and Tanner Brown each had a hit.
Allen, who helped Harrisburg knock Crofton out of the tournament two years ago, took the loss, striking out five and allowing all five runs, one earned. Tanner Brown struck out seven in four innings of shutout relief.
“We saw Allen two years ago and he shoved it down our throats. He’s a really good pitcher,” Ben Hegge said. “We just got a few breaks and some timely hits.”
The first of those breaks came in the bottom of the first. An error, a hit batter and a walk loaded the bases for Wiebelhaus, who ripped a two-out single for the game’s first two runs.
“That definitely helped out. They gave us a couple of breaks, then Wiebs (Wiebelhaus) came up with a hard-hit ball,” Donner said. “They outhit us, but we got those timely hits.”
Crofton doubled its lead in the third, when a two-out error and a wild pitch plated two runs. Crofton finished its scoring in the fourth, when Austin Hegge walked, then scored on Donner’s triple.
“I hit one in the same spot at Wynot (during the District 6B Tournament), and Wynot’s 400 to center field (Cadwell is 420 feet to straight-away center),” Donner said. “I hit the ball well, just to the wrong part of the park. Luckily he (Harrisburg center fielder Miller) froze, and I got it over his head.”
Harrisburg scored its run in the sixth inning. Miller’s hard shot to left-center field went off a glove for an error, putting him on second. Chute, the former Vermillion Red Sox standout, singled to put runners at the corners. A double-play ball off the bat of Ryan Menssen scored Miller.
The Woodies threatened again in the seventh, getting runners on first and second with one out, but could not capitalize, as Donner retired eight of the final nine batters of the game.
Crofton’s victory sends the Bluejays to a second-round matchup against Plankinton, a 6-5 winner over Salem on Thursday afternoon, in Sunday’s late game, a scheduled 7:30 p.m. start.
“We need to play our game, play how Kyle would play,” Donner said. “Then we’ll be right in it.”
Follow @JCimburek on Twitter.