Four area teams will compete in the Class A State Amateur baseball tournament, which begins Friday at Dick Putz Field and Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud.
The four teams are Stark, New Ulm Brewers, Leavenworth and Lamberton, all qualifying from Region 2C. Stark will begin play at 5:30 p.m. Friday when it plays Waconia at Faber Field.
New Ulm plays Maple Lake at 11 a.m. Saturday at Putz Field and Leavenworth will play Belle Plaine at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Faber Field.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Brady Ranweiler makes contact for the New Ulm Brewers earlier this season. The Brewers and three other area teams will compete in the Class A State Amateur baseball tournament, which begins Friday in St. Cloud.
Lamberton plays the winner of Avon and Young America at 11:30 a.m., Sunday, August 26 at Faber Field.
Stark enters the 2012 State Tournament after a 25-year drought, last appearing at the tournament in 1988. The Longhorns faithful finally get a chance to watch their team play in a long-awaited state tournament game on Friday.
"It's very exciting for everybody, I think we've had a few teams that got beat out a game or two away from state," coach Brian Mathiowetz said. "So it's good to see the team go in a year where we didn't really think it was going to happen."
Both Brian and his twin brother Brad were part of the last Stark team to make it to state. Now the two, along with another brother, Scott, will join forces in St. Cloud for what they hope is a long run.
"Just to be able to play ball all these years and get back to state, it's just special and we're gonna cherish this moment," Mathiowetz said.
The Longhorns didn't exactly get off to a hot start, but they managed to finish strong.
"We started out, at one point in the year we were 2-12, but we had our best pitcher injured and two or three other players were away for about a month," Mathiowetz said. "We kept playing hard and we knew that towards the end of the year we'll get some of these guys back and we could be competitive."
Leading the team on the mound will be Caleb Hillesheim, who is back after an injury earlier this season. Joey Wahl is also one of the team's top pitchers.
Stark also has draftees Sean Mathiowetz (Sleepy Eye), Alex Frank (Springfield) and Andrew Woitas (Sleepy Eye) to help out on the mound.
Offensively, Bob Schmid is the team's shortstop and No. 3 hitter and Wahl leads the team with 10 home runs. Tyler Jensen and Chris Fahey are also middle-of-the-line-up producers for the Longhorns.
"Getting everyone back and healthy was a real big thing for us and probably the last five or six games before playoffs our defense was playing a lot better," Mathiowetz said. "We started catching the ball and doing some little things and everything is kind of just jelling to place."
New Ulm Brewers
The Brewers cruised through the regular season with a record of 18-4, but they had a bit of a tough time once the Region 2C playoffs rolled around and finished with a 3-2 record, locking up the No. 2 seed along the way.
"I think it was a little bit of a wakeup call for the team," head coach Al Flor said. "We finished with an 18-4 record in the season, and it made them understand that there are some really good pitchers out there and also, if we don't hit quite as well as we did all year, we're going to be in for a dogfight.
The Brewers - who open state tournament play on Saturday - last qualified for state in 2010, so that experience is still somewhat fresh in their minds. Last time, the Brewers were eliminated in the first round of the tournament.
"This time there's quite a few of them that have played there before, so we're a little better prepared," Flor said. "We're a little bit older. Last time these kids were 18,19, so we're a little more mature and not as on edge."
Flor said that pitching has been the team's strong point this year. Colin Wendinger, Chris Cariveau and Zach More have been the Brewers; top pitchers according to Flor. The team will also have draftees Brady Mosenden (Hanska), Eric Portner (Hanska) and Kyle M. Fischer (Searles).
Offensively, Zach Hoffmann leads the team in batting average and home runs. He will be one of the top hitters, along with Brady Ranweiler and Wade French.
"Offensively we were kind of stuttering through the regionals, but otherwise our offense has been pretty consistent," Flor said. "We never had any outstanding hitters, but we had a couple of .300 hitters and a couple of .280 hitters and some guys that drove in quite a few runs."
Lamberton Long Sox
Of all the area teams that are going to the state tournament, Lamberton boasts one of the more remarkable line-ups and pitching staffs. That combination of arms and bats helped the Long Sox to 18 wins during the regular season and seven straight wins in the postseason.
The Long Sox last appeared at the state tournament in 2009, but they've had a pretty good run in their 11 years as a team. They've won their division 10 straight years and they've been to the state tournament four times (2005, 2008, 2009, 2012) in that stretch.
Lamberton's last run to state was a deep one, but they've had a couple of close calls since then. However, playing in a league with a lot of talent, it's not easy to get back to state every year.
"We got a lot of good teams in the Tomahawk East, a lot of times it can just be a bad bounce here or there or one pitch," coach Derrick Jenniges said.
Jenniges is one of the team's dominant pitchers. He enters the state tournament with a record of 12-0, a 0.95 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 85 2/3 innings. Johnny Pistulka is 6-2 with an ERA of 2.53 (73 strikeouts) in 64 innings. Shane Shoborg (2-1, 3.40 ERA), Jacob Jenniges (3-3, 5.18 ERA) and Tyler Reiner (3-1, 4.83) are also some players who could see time on the mound, along with draftees Alan Woitas of Sleepy Eye, John Jenniges of Redwood Falls and Dayton Larson of Hanska.
Hitting-wise, the Long Sox are led by a solid group, starting with leadoff hitter Donald Strand, who is hitting .336 and has 24 stolen bases on the season.
Pistulka is hitting .402 with 15 stolen bases and 32 RBIs and Colby Pack is hitting .322 with three home runs and 21 RBIs. Landon Erickson is hitting .330 with six home runs and 31 RBIs and Isaac Jenniges is hitting .291 with 15 RBIs. Mike Wotschke (.308) and Holden Salfer (.275) are also among the offensive leaders.
Like Stark, Leavenworth has had a long run since its last state tournament appearance.
Team manager Leon Hillesheim said the Orioles' last state trip was in 1987 and there's been a lot of excitement amongst the fans.
"I played back in the 80s when they did make it there, so it's kind of exciting for me to get back there," Hillesheim said. "It's been a long time. We've been close many times, we've just never been able to close the deal."
Pitching has been the team's strength, according to Hillesheim. The Orioles are led by Andy Cook and Briar Braulick on the mound and both figure to play a big part if the team makes a run at state. The team also has draftees Dusty Fleck (Essig), Kyle Maurer (Gibbon), and Jason Nachreiner (Springfield).
Offensively, the team is led by Cook and Braulick, along with catcher Chris Reinarts, Zach Mickelson and Brian Schwartz. Braulick leads the team with a .330 batting average and Cook is hitting .266, with Reinarts (.234), Mickelson (.230) and Schwartz (.224) rounding out the top five.
After defeating Hanska as the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, the Orioles advanced to the Region 2C tournament and finished fourth. Because the top four seeds advanced, Leavenworth qualified and will open at 1:30 p.m. Sunday against Belle Plaine at Faber Field.
"Our pitching carried us through against Hanska," Hillesheim said. "When we played during the regular season, we just played to get ready for the playoffs and we gotta start grooming our guys towards the end. We knew they [Hanska] were beatable if our pitching would held out, which it did."
Those interested in attending the game in support of Leavenworth can ride a fan bus that will be leaving from the Railway Bar and Grill parking lot at 10 a.m. Sunday morning. Cost is $15 per person and those interested can call Jane Cook at 507-794-7967 to reserve a seat.