Advanced: South Range VFW tops Auto Pro, 11-6

Jamie Glenn/Daily Mining Gazette A pitcher for Auto Pro Glass & Tire warms up before an inning during a Portage Lake Little League Minors playoff game against South Range VFW Monday.

SOUTH RANGE — Despite cold temperatures, the South Range VFW used two strong offensive innings to hold off the home team, Auto Pro Glass & Tire, 11-6, and advancing in the Portage Lake Little League Minors postseason tournament in South Range on Monday.

With the win, South Range improved to 8-5-2 on the season.

“I think we were missing a few key players, (but we) battled through and pulled out a win. (We) had a lot of guys stepped up,” said South Range manager Kurt Larson. “Our pichers did good and (we had) a lot of nice timely hits and good plays in the infield, so I think, all together, our team played a good game, top to bottom.”

South Range started things off with a line drive to left field from Jamie Larson, sending Porter Markham home from second base.

Auto Pro’s Danny Sturos led off the bottom half of the first inning with a single and later scored on a slow return on a double by Vince Heinonen to even the score at 1-1.

From there, the evenly-played game took a turn.

South Range used the five-run rule in the second inning to create some separation between the two teams.

With the bases loaded after Graham Johnson walked, Landyn Heinonen was hit by a pitch and Kameron Johnson walked, Ethan Kilpela also walked, bringing in the first run. Brexton Kinnunen then tripled to clear the rest of the bases and put South Range up 5-1. Markham then singled to bring Kinnunen home and end the inning.

South Range’s bats went cold over the next two innings, as they managed just two hits over that stretch.

In the bottom of the fourth, Auto Pro worked their way back into the game.

Vince Heinonen singled to lead off. Gage Chynoweth followed with a single of his own. Ted Kilpela also singled. All three made their way home before Peter Heinonen struck out looking to end the inning.

In the top of the fifth, Owen Turpeinen was hit by a pitch to spark South Range. Johnson sacrificed two batters later to bring him home and giving them a 7-4 lead.

In the bottom half of the fifth, Auto Pro responded by adding two runs of their own.

Sturos singled. Redick Randell followed with a single of his own. Vince Heinonen knocked both home to pull Auto Pro within one, 7-6.

That was as close as they would get, however, as South Range scored four times in the top of the sixth to close out the contest.

Ethan Kilpela led with a single. Kinnunen brought him home with an RBI triple. Markham singled to bring Kinnunen home. Larson followed with a single as well. Both Markham and Larson crossed home plate before Jackson Williams struck out for the final out.

South Range fought throughout the night, and Kurt Larson could not help but highlight the importance of his team’s last at bat and their overall team effort as well. Auto Pro had Gavin Larson and Ensio Anderson on base in the bottom of the sixth, but could not get another hit to bring them home.

“It was very crucial,” said Larson. “Our pitcher really stepped up to close out that last sixth inning too with a couple of guys on base.

“I think everyone did a good job (and) had some real key plays, even some of the guys at the bottom of the order had some nice RBI’s to bring in some key runs. Wednesday, we’ll play and I’m just hoping that we’ll play the same style (of) game (that) we did today (Monday).”

Auto Pro Glass & Tire’s (8-6 overall) manager Bruce Larson was proud of how much his young team accomplished over the course of the season.

“The team that hit better won the game,” he said. “Otherwise it was (a) very even matchup. They just hit a little better than us. That was it.

“The players came a long way (this season) from our first game. We only had a couple (of) 10-year-olds, so we had a bunch of 9-year-olds (and) there were quite a few (athletes) who had never played baseball before. They came a long way. I hope all of the kids had fun.”

South Range VFW will advance in postseason play and will be back in action on Wednesday.