Rain gives life to Lakeville North bats in section opener

Following a 150-minute rain delay, the LNHS baseball team registered more hits in the sixth inning than it had in the previous five

2.5 hours of rain proved to be life-giving for Lakeville North bats that experienced drought most of the game.

Three hits in the bottom of the sixth following a 2.5 hour rain delay helped No. 1 seed Lakevile North secure a 2-0 victory over No. 8 seed Farmington in the first round of Section 1AAAA play at Lakeville North High School on Saturday. The Panthers, who defeated Farmington twice in the regular season, will face No. 4 seed Rochester Mayo on Monday at LNHS at 1:30 p.m.

Lakeville North did not register its first hit until the fifth inning, which did not shock Panthers’ coach Tony Market.

“It’s the same way we’ve been playing all year,” Market said.

Lakeville North designated hitter Nick Spitt’s single in the bottom of the fifth was the hit to end the drought, enabling Joey Larson to score Spitt with an RBI single later in the inning.

Although the rain that ensued at the top of the sixth inning halted Lakeville North’s brief momentum, the Panthers picked up right where they left off once the rain passed and the fields became playable.

Farmington pitcher Justin King allowed the three runs in the bottom of the sixth, and an RBI single from Spitt gave Lakeville North a 2-0 lead it did not give up.

King gave up more hits in the sixth inning than he had given up in the previous five, two of which he struck out five of six batters in.

What changed?

“All of a sudden, he has to sit for an extended period of time,” Market said. “You have guys are who are hungry and have already seen him a few times, so they have confidence.”

Lakeville North senior pitcher Billy Riach, however, fared better than King following the rain delay. Riach closed out the sixth inning without allowing a run and one hit after the 150-minute delay. Luke DeGrammont pitched the last two outs of the seventh, though, after Riach walked a batter and gave up a hit in the seventh. 

Riach gave up three hits in a little over six innings.

Riach, who led Lakeville North to a team-high five victories in the regular season, said there was nothing special to how prepared himself during the 2.5 hour delay for him to pick up where he left off once play resumed. 

“I just hung out, and went out and threw (closer to the end of the delay),” Riach said. “I just got right back into it.”

Riach also did not let the pressure of having to come back and pitch in a close game get to him.

“I like pitching in tight games because it keeps the adrenaline pumping and makes sure you are pitching well,” Riach said.

Calming the nerves of Riach and his teammates was playing at their home field, something the none of the Panthers have done for a section game. Lakeville North moved from Section 3AAAA to Section 1AAAA in 2016, which allows for it to play at its home field for the first three games if the Panthers win the first two.

When Lakeville North won the last three Section 3AAAA titles, the road to state was through Alimagnet Park in Burnsville. But with the journey to CHS Field largely through the Panthers’ home, it allows for an easier acclimation process.

“It is nice to be able to start sections—especially for the newer kids—at a place that is more familiar to everybody,” Riach said.

And even though Lakeville North could have found more success at the plate, Market will take the victory.

“Doesn’t have to be pretty, but it wasn’t ugly,” Market said.