|St. Paul senior pitcher Connor Crean found himself in big trouble in the semifinal and the final, |
yet he always seemed to be able to get out of it.
What Crean did have, however, was the stuff and frankly, the guts, to get out of jam after jam on the road to a state championship.
"That's Connor's story all year," Falcons head coach Vic Rinaldi said after Sunday's 4-2 state championship win over Morgan. "He was the stuff where he can work in and out of trouble."
Crean can hit 91-92 on the radar gun with his fastball. When it's accurate, it's very hard for a high school hitter to catch up to, especially in a small-school class where batters may not see that kind of speed. The problem was control, and Crean knew it. He walked seven in less than five innings in the semifinal, then walked eight in a complete-game effort on Sunday.
"Those eight walks were fricking killing me," Crean said, able to smile after striking out the last three batters he faced to clinch the championship. He finished with 13 punch-outs.
Pitching coach Jarrett Stawarz went out to talk to Crean at one point, as did Rinaldi. They knew that it was in Crean's hands, and there wasn't much to say.
"He's pretty much numb from the neck up," Rinaldi said, adding that the staff is used to that.
It's just how Crean is on the mound. The same thing that can get him in trouble can get him out of it.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, the first Morgan batter reached on a throwing error by sophomore second baseman Nick Morrell. Rinaldi held a conference at the mound and told his pitcher he had to pick up the young second baseman. Crean struck out the next two hitters, then gave up a walk. Morrell then had his back, however, throwing to first on a grounder for the final out of a crucial inning.
"I just knew the team had my back, no matter what," Crean said.
"I think that was important, keeping it 2-2 until the we get to that seventh inning with the top of our order, to limit the momentum on their side," Rinaldi said. "[Crean] did a good job of that."
Crean worked around a one-out infield single in the sixth with the game still tied, then rebounded after a leadoff walk in the seventh and struck out the side.
As for closing out his final season with a state championship, Crean had this to say:
Even in big jams -- often of his own creation -- Crean was the best at escaping danger.