'They're a special group': Langdon/Edmore/Munich wins first baseball state title in 29 years
The Class B state baseball tournament ended the same way it has ended for the past four out of five seasons. A team from way up north comes down the Jamestown, dominates the field, and walks away with the state crown. It has been almost rinse and repeat.
However, without detail, there was something vastly different to the pattern this season. Upon the final out in the top of the seventh, the team celebrating from the borderlands of Region IV wasn't Park River. They were gone 11 days earlier in the Region IV tournament, the first time since 2016 that they would not be going down south.
The team dog piling on the mound as the sunset over them at Jack Brown Stadium was one that had been sitting in the Aggies shadow for the better part of four years. They had come one win away from ending the Aggies reign so many times, but it had always fallen short. Add in a canceled season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Region IV's runner-up was still parked in northern North Dakota.
"It was tough," senior Simon Romfo said. "Those three years coming home after that Tuesday game, thinking we just had one more to win. If you told me we would lose two times twice in a row, I would've told you were crazy. It was tough losing a season last year and this season we wanted to put an exclamation point on it."
Langdon/Edmore/Munich have had their own individual success at the top of the baseball world. Munich has won state twice in a co-op, Edmore has won it twice as an independent team and Langdon has been to the state tournament once. But together they have never been.
Seniors Simon Romfo and Grant Romfo have mentioned time and time again that the teams they are a part of hate to lose more than they like to win. Those runner-up losses began to burn heavy in the hearts of the Cardinals, sparking a regular season for the ages, heading into the Region IV tournament with a 23-1 record.
Eventually, the Cardinals exercised their demons, punching the team's first ticket to the state tournament since 2006. Upon arrival to Jamestown, No. 1 L/E/M blew past Beulah, then-No. 4 Thompson, and then came LaMoure-Litchville/Marion, a team that was playing in its first-ever state tournament. The peak was here and the Cardinals were zeroed in, and in the blink of an eye, it was 9-1 in the top of the seventh.
As senior Cooper Zimmer heaved what he was hoping to be the final pitch of his Cardinal career it connected and was tossed to first for the third out. As gloves flew up in the air, so did the Cardinals' crushed dreams of the past three seasons. A 9-1 victory would be enough to hand L/E/M its first state championship in almost 30 years.
"You never think it's going to be that easy," Cardinals head coach Josh Krivarchka said. "It's not like it was easy, but you win a state championship baseball game 9-1. They're a special group and I get emotional thinking about them."
A balanced attack has guided L/E/M to the deepest depth of the post-season, seeing the team key into athleticism in baserunning and a trio of hot hands on the mound heading the defensive effort. After Simon ran out his count against Thompson on Friday and Grant was near his count after pitching against Beulah on Thursday, it was the next senior's turn to pack the heat one last time in Zimmer.
After allowing a double off the first pitch, Zimmer locked in. He would allow only one run on five hits, striking out three in his curtain call performance on the bump. He had confidence in his self and those behind them, pitch after pitch.
"I just needed to throw strikes and I knew the boys behind me would make plays," Zimmer said. "We were motivated to get it done because we knew we could. We had a good chance last year to get it done and it feels good to come here and do it."
Grant was going to fill in if needed towards the end of the game, but after cruising to a wide lead and seeing Zimmer throw lights out deep into the game, Krivarchka had Zimmer finish out. Grant commended Zimmer's efforts on the mound, leading the Cardinals to the win.
"Cooper was awesome," Grant said. "He was battling the strike zone and filling it up, and just making them hit the ball. He did a great job just filling up the zone and allowing us to make plays behind him."
As the Cardinals weathered the storm in the top halves, they were connecting with just about everything L-L/M pitcher Landon Piehl was throwing at them. Zimmer, now at home plate, would double to score Grant and freshman Mason Romfo, to jump a Cardinal 2-0 lead early. In the third, Mason would double to score Simon, 3-0. A double from Grant scored two more and it was 5-0.
The future was looking bright from a cautious distance for the Cardinals, but then came the bottom of the fifth, and L/E/M's state dreams were starting to show signs of reality. Four runs in the fifth blew open a 9-0 lead, and if sophomore Gage Goodman came home, the game would be over.
"We started thinking, 'Hey, we're going to be state champs'," Grant said. "A lot of excitement happens and a lot of guys were talking in the dugout, but you don't want to talk about it too much because you don't want to jinx anything. Everybody was really excited for sure."
While there was some hope to end the game early, the Cardinals felt seventh inning out was a magical way to close out everything.
"It's kind of fun to end the game on a putout," Krivarchka said. "You always want to end the game as quickly as possible, but if you can end it on a putout, it's even more special for thee kids."
Class B awards, placements
Class B Senior Athlete of the Year: Simon Romfo, Langdon/Edmore/Munich
Class B Coach of the Year: Josh Krivarchka, Langdon/Edmore/Munich
2021 Class B Champion - Langdon/Edmore/Munich
Runner-up - LaMoure-Litchville/Marion
3rd place - Thompson
4th place - Renville County
5th place - Central Cass
6th place - Bishop Ryan
7th place - Beulah
8th palce - North Star
Success and championships aren't something new to the Cardinals. The bulk of the roster has been a part of the three-pete state champion football team from 2018 to 2020 in Class A, however, many agreed that a first state title as a baseball team feels different. After chasing just a tournament berth so many times, to reach the top has a richer taste.
"It feels a little more special after losing three years in regionals," Zimmer said. "It feels good to get it done after three straight losses in regionals."
"When you start repeating, the feeling gets different, but the first time will always be the best," Simon said. "The first and I guess last is just a special moment."
For five players in particular: Grant, Simon, Zimmer, Drew Simpson, and Alex Cluchie, the win is a storybook ending. They were the ones who were at the brunt of all the Park River losses and now, wearing the Cardinal red for the last time ever, they are ending their careers at a peak they had wished for a long time.
"I couldn't ask for a better way to do it," Grant said. "This is definitely the way I wanted to go out."
"It feels amazing to end my career like this," Zimmer said.
For Simon and Grant, this is the final time that they will play together as they head their separate ways, for the first time in their lives, going to play college football. It means a lot to the seniors, but to the two brothers, who have spent almost every moment together, it only strengthens their bond.
"It's the only way we could go out," Simon said. "It's the best feeling you could possibly get. It's the end of a legacy."
"It feels awesome," Grant said. "I feel like we've left our mark on the community and I hope they remember what we did, and how much fun we had doing it."
29-1 has a dominant flash to it, and the Cardinals dictated their fate in 2021. However, looking deeper, L/E/M's failures only built to something bigger off of a drive to win, hate to lose, and confidence in each other.
"The seniors are not just great athletes but great leaders," Krivarchka said. "They've really helped these young kids along and it's great to see. You feel great for the kids. It's a great group and I feel great for them."