The pitcher was a pop-up artist. The offense was opportunistic. And the opponent was sloppy.
That was a winning combination for the Rock County River Monsters on Monday, who advanced to the American Legion Class AAA state tournament with an 11-3 victory over Madison Impact at Riverside Park.
Starting pitcher Tyler Aasen went the distance and was terrific, with one his three runs coming on a gift when the Rock County center fielder lost a ball in the lights for a leadoff triple in the sixth.
Otherwise, the Evansville graduate picked up a rather remarkable 16 of his 21 outs via flyball or pop-up.
“That definitely wasn’t part of the plan for me,” Aasen said. “I just know that I’m not a strikeout pitcher, so I just try to get in there and get easy contact and let my fielders do the work.”
Rock County will play at 5 p.m. Friday at the state tournament in Chippewa Falls, where it will take on either Marinette or Bay Port.
The River Monsters broke through for three runs in the top of the third. With nobody on and two outs, Corbin Ovist singled to left for Rock County’s first hit. A wild pick-off throw sent Ovist to third, and Jake Raisbeck followed with a walk and a stolen base to put runners on second and third.
Drew Ries, one of Rock County’s top hitters all season, roped a single to center to break the scoreless tie. A walk to Aasen loaded the bases, and a wild pitch scored Raisbeck.
With runners on second and third, the Madison catcher attempted to pick off Aasen at second. The throw was wild, allowing Ries to score from third and make it 3-0.
Madison responded with a run in the bottom of the inning, but Rock County’s offense did not let up.
In the fourth, a pair of walks and a bunt by Sam Nemetz loaded the bases with nobody out.
Ovist lined a single to center, and after a double play threatened to halt the rally, Ries again came through. This time, the Beloit Turner third baseman, nursing a sprained ankle, hit a bad-hop single that bounced over the head of the Madison third baseman, plating two runs to make it 6-1.
The River Monsters finished with 10 hits to go along with four Madison errors.
Ries finished the game 3-for-4 with a walk to highlight the offensive onslaught.
“The best way I can describe this team is that they are fearless,” Rock County coach Rich Raisbeck said. “There’s really not much that gets them rattled. They are all about the next ball, next play, next swing. We’ve got some tough grinders on the mound that can set a tone and guys that can really swing the bat. We put a lot of pressure on the opponent consistently, and you saw that again tonight.”
Ries said the team’s focus was the key to its showing in the regional tournament.
“At the beginning of the season, we showed just how much talent we had,” Ries said. “And then we kind of struggled for a little bit. We got too full of ourselves, but when it came down to it, we all put our minds together that we were going to state, and nothing was going to stop us.
“We played for each other, and we got the job done.”