Knowing he had his biggest outing of the season ahead of him, East Ridge pitcher Luke Ryerse spent a fitful night Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he used those nerves to his advantage, leaning heavily on adrenaline to guide him through a rough patch or two early and pitching the Raptors to a 4-3 victory over Minnetonka in the semifinals of the Class 4A baseball state tournament at CHS Field.
Ryerse, a sophomore, pitched 6 ⅔ innings, giving up three runs and six hits — only one hit and two baserunners after the third inning — to push East Ridge within a game of its second championship in five years. The Raptors won the 4A title in 2019.
"I didn't sleep too well last night," Ryerse said. "I was anxious, up thinking about this. Not nervous, just excited for the opportunity."
After Alex Mezzetti singled in a run in the bottom of the first to stake the Raptors to a 1-0 lead, Minnetonka answered by bunching three hits — singles by August Berger and Jacob McCuskey sandwiched around a double by Hudson Poole — to score two runs in the top of the second.
The Skippers added another in the third, when Ethan Binder drove in Will Koeppen for a 3-1 lead.
That proved to be the last real threat Minnetonka would pose as Ryerse settled in behind some airtight defense.
East Ridge regained the lead in the third with three runs, taking advantage of confusion in the Minnetonka infield.
Mezzetti scored from third base after nearly getting caught in a rundown that Minnetonka failed to execute properly. Cole Widen scored on a balk on the first offering from relief pitcher Kieran Haaland, who relieved starter Jack Kochevar.
Luke Skinner, whose bunt started the rundown madness, scored the final run on a single by catcher Joe Merchlewitz.
That was all the offense Ryerse needed. He settled in, setting down Minnetonka meekly though the rest of his outing, allowing just one runner to get as far as third base, the result of an errant pickoff attempt.
Ryerse couldn't finish his outing because of pitch count limits. Ashton Poole picked up the game's final out.
"I wanted to get that last out," Ryerse said. "I can name a couple of spots where I could have saved a couple of pitches so I could get that last guy, but that was fun."
Head coach Brian Sprout confirmed that, as good as Ryerse was, he's seen him better. Not that he's complaining.
"He did not have his best stuff. He was struggling early on, trying to locate," said Sprout. "But he's got good enough stuff that even on days when he's not at his best, he can compete and get guys out."