HUTCHINSON – With a base hit by Austin Kantola that drove in Isaac Nelson and Billy Aho, the Cokato Kernels defeated Loretto 11-1 in eight innings, cementing their first state appearance in 10 years.
The Cokato Kernels were born in 2010. They did not make the state tournament in any one of their first nine seasons.
It is, however, the third state tournament appearance for teams named Cokato. Cokato advanced to the state tournament twice: in 1933, and 1935.
Kernels manager Nick Corbin said the win over Loretto was an exciting day for everyone involved.
“I felt like last year we turned a corner, and we’ve turned into a consistently good team. We didn’t get as far as I thought we were capable of [last year], but the guys came back motivated and it’s paying off,” Corbin said.
Corbin said he was especially happy for his veterans – Bill Aho, Tanner Terning, Barney [Adam Barnaal], and Eric and Vinne Pokornowski.
“These guys helped get the Cokato team going in 2010 and are the core of our team. They have been great leaders for our young talent,” Corbin said. “It was fitting that Vinne got to pitch this game. He has worked so hard and been so consistent for us. I’m very happy for him.
“Also, if he would have pitched poorly, I would have had to trade him to Montrose,” Corbin quipped.
In his postgame comments to the team following the game against Loretto, Corbin told the players that if they continue to play the way they have been playing, there is no reason why the team could not contend for a deep playoff push, or even a state championship. He noted that in 2017, the Kernels defeated the eventual state champions Kimball Express, but Kimball just put everything together during their championship run.
“Now we get to reset our goals a little higher and try to win the region tournament, and then set our sights on some state tournament wins,” Corbin said.
The Region 12C tournament continues this weekend at Hutchinson, with the top-four finishers advancing to the state tournament. By winning their first two games, the Kernels are guaranteed no less than a #3 seed from the region.
However, Cokato will continue to strive for the #1 seed as the region tournament continues (The region champion receives a bye in the first weekend of the state tournament).
The Kernels will face #2 seed Hutchinson tonight (Friday) at Hutch (all region games are at Veterans Memorial Field).
If the Kernels win that game, they will play for the championship at 1 p.m. Sunday.
If they lose the game against Hutch Friday, they will play at 7 p.m. Saturday, with the chance to play for the championship if they win that game.
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