Knutson’s diving catch helps secure Minnesota’s win

A closer look at the 2-1 Coon Rapids, Minnesota, win over Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Friday at Lamade Stadium.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Jaxon Knutson’s Ozzie Smith impersonation — Kentucky had the tying runner on second and go-ahead runner at first when, Knutson flew through the air like Superman and robbed Luke Idlett of a hit that would have at least tied the game with two outs in the fifth inning. Idlett scorched a liner that looked like it would head into the left-center field gap. Instead of going for a single or double, Knutson dove to his right, extended his entire body and snared the line drive. Kentucky would have tied the game had he not made the play and had the winning run at third base. This was the play of the Series through the first three games and one that likely will be shown in future Series highlight compilations.

KENTUCKY PLAYER OF THE GAME: Chaze Huff — The Kentucky pitcher was super in relief, throwing four no-hit innings and giving Kentucky plenty of chances to come from behind. Huff struck out four and was backed by a strong defense that made no errors.

MINNESOTA PLAYER OF THE GAME: Jameson Kuznia — Six days after hitting the game-winning, three-run home run in the Midwest championship, Kuznia owned the big stage with his arm. Kuznia stifled a hard-hitting offense, throwing 4 2/3 brilliant innings of two-hit baseball and allowing just one unearned run. Kuznia struck out five and helped Minnesota keep nearly all its pitching options available for Sunday.

BIG INNING: Minnesota’s second — Tyler Phillips provided the big blow in a two-run second inning that paved the way for victory. After Dylan Bloom drew a leadoff walk, Phillips rocketed an RBI double to deep right field and took third on the throw home. He then scored on a two-out wild pitch, giving Minnesota all the runs it needed.

BEST EFFORT: Jaxon Knutson’s flying stop — The entire game changes if Knutson does not make that diving catch. If it goes to the wall, William Alexander might have scored from first and given Kentucky the lead. One play can often determine the outcome of an entire game and this one is another good example.

FLASHING LEATHER: Kentucky catcher Harrison Yates started the game strong, using his speed and arm to pounce on Cayden Alpin’s bunt that opened the game. Alpin dropped what looked like a perfect bunt a few feet from home, but Yates burst up, quickly retrieved the ball and made a laser-like throw to first that beat Alpin by a split second. Kentucky shortstop Evan Schallert started an inning-ending double play in the fourth inning, fielding a grounder and throwing to first baseman William Alexander for an easy out. Alertly, Alexander kept his eyes on the runner and made a quick throw as Matthew Escalera applied the tag for the third out. Tyler Phillips played a sinking Jackson Idlett liner just right in the fifth inning, keeping a runner on second and preserving Minnesota’s 2-1 lead. Escalera was at it again when he went into Jerry Rice-mode and made a tremendous over the shoulder catch on a pop up that was twisting in the wind. Knutson made another great play in the sixth inning, running into shallow left field and catching Huff’s blooper.

WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “I thought he (Knutson) had a chance,” Minnesota manager Greg Bloom said. “When I saw him start diving I thought he was going to get it. He’s made those plays before and it wasn’t too surprising he made it again. He’s made those plays all year.”

WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “I was kind of playing toward third at the beginning because he might have bunted. I had a little extra to cover there, but I saw it off the bat,” Knutson said. “It was a hard line drive and it was just instinct so I went to my left and dived.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Minnesota became the first team from its state to win a Series game since 2007 and only the second Midwest team since the Series expanded in 2001 to win its Series opener. It plays Virginia in Sunday’s winner’s bracket semifinals. Kentucky plays Rhode Island Saturday with the loser being eliminated.

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