Six teams from the surrounding area will play in the Class C State Amateur baseball tournament, which begins on Friday. Games will be played in Maple Lake and Delano throughout the course of the single-elimination tournament, which concludes Monday, Sept. 2 in Maple Lake.
The Lamberton Long Sox, the Sleepy Eye Indians, the New Ulm Brewers and the Springfield Tigers will represent the Tomahawk East League and Region 2. Lamberton won the region and will get a bye in the first round. Sleepy Eye was seeded second, followed by New Ulm and Springfield.
The Fairfax Cardinals are also making an appearance from Region 6, along with Brownton in Region 7.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Sleepy Eye second baseman Derek Nachreiner and Springfield baserunner Cooper Scheffler look to see what the call will be during a play at second base during a playoff game at Springfield.
Here is a brief summary of the area teams that will be playing at the state tournament.
LAMBERTON LONG SOX
The Long Sox are back at the state tournament for the fifth time since the team re-surfaced in 2002. Lamberton previously played at the state tournament in 2005, 2008, 2009, and 2012 and the Long Sox have a good mix of both younger players and seasoned veterans that help them capture the Region 2 championship for the second year in a row.
That means the Long Sox will get to sit the first week out of the tournament and await the winner of the Dumont and Brownton. Lamberton (24-6) plays at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24 in Delano, and it gives the Long Sox some much needed time to heal injuries.
While some teams don't like to have the week off in between games, Long Sox coach Derrick Jenniges said that he looks at having the week off in a couple of different ways.
"It's one less opportunity to lose if you think you have the potential to make a deep run, but at the same time, we were playing three or four nights a week during the summer, and now you have two weeks off," Jenniges said. "At this time of year, you have teachers who are going back to school or guys who are college-age going back to college. It's a little bit more difficult to get them all together and they all have a lot of stuff going on in their lives. It definitely can throw off your timing.
"But this year for us, I think it plays a little bit more toward our advantage, because we have a couple of guys who got pretty banged up in the region tournament that probably could use two weeks of rest and we could use them playing as close to 100 percent as possible," Jenniges added.
Donald Strand is the team's leadoff hitter and has gotten on base a lot. He's hitting .409 and has a team-high 24 stolen bases.
Isaac Jenniges is hitting .284 but has 10 sacrifice bunts, so his ability to put on the hit-and-run or move a runner up is big for the middle of the order.
Johnny Pistulka hits third and is batting .333 with 17 stolen bases and 23 RBIs. When any combo of those three are able to get on, it usually spells trouble with Colby Pack awaiting, who is hitting .363 with two home runs and 20 RBIs. Landon Erickson has five home runs and 25 RBIs and Mike Wotschke is hitting .293.
While the hitting has been impressive and the defense good, the pitching isn't too shabby, either.
Pistulka has been the ace for the Long Sox. He has a record of 5-2 and an ERA of 1.55. Most impressive is the fact that he's struck out 99 batters in 58 innings.
Jacob Jenniges is 5-1 with a 1.61 ERA. Shane Shoborg is 8-1 and has an ERA of 2.71, so there's plenty of pitching depth for the Long Sox.
The Long Sox made a deep run in 2009, advancing to the third weekend of the tournament. With many veterans back from that team, they certainly are a team that can go that far again.
"It's important to have veteran players, but we at the same time we have a lot of younger players who are big contributors," Jenniges said. "You don't necessarily see their names in the stats, but the younger guys have come in and done a good job of running the bases for us."
SLEEPY EYE INDIANS
Sleepy Eye is making a return trip to the state tournament. The Indians qualified in 2011 and lost in the first round to Mankato 4-2, a team that went deep into the tournament.
Most of the Indians on this year's roster are back from 2011. The Indians finished the season strong and went 4-1 in the Region 2 playoffs, forcing a playoff with Lamberton for the top spot. Lamberton won the game and the No. 1 seed, so Sleepy Eye (18-11) will face Green Isle at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Maple Lake.
"We played good baseball during the latter part of the year, I think we were 8-1 in the second half going into the playoffs when we swept Searles in the league playoffs," Sleepy Eye coach Bruce Woitas said. "We've been playing well, and we have everyone back. Our starting pitching has been holding up for us as well."
The Indians are led on the mound by Alan and Andrew Woitas. Alan Woitas has a record of 8-2 and a 3.05 ERA. Andrew Woitas is 4-3 with an ERA of 1.83. Matt Helget is 4-0 with a 2.21 ERA and could also see some time on the mound should the Indians make a deep run at state.
The Indians' pitching has been helping them out, but the offense picks up the hits too, keeping the squad well-balanced.
Andrew Woitas has a .359 batting average and seven stolen bases. The Indians only have four home runs as a team.
Jake Bohnen is hitting .344 and Sean Mathiowetz is hitting .341. Alan Woitas (.336), Scott Salfer (.299) and Joey Walter (.290) are also some of the top hitters for Sleepy Eye.
NEW ULM BREWERS
New Ulm qualified for the state tournament last year, but the Brewers were eliminated in the first round.
The Brewers return pretty much everyone from last year's team and they won't have the jitters this time around.
"It helps with just being there before," coach Al Flor said. "Not even the veteran mentality, it's just not as nervous. The experience goes to show."
The Brewers cruised through the Tomahawk East League portion of the schedule with a 20-2 record. After sweeping Redwood Falls in the first round of the playoffs, they struggled, dropping two of the first three games in the region playoffs before getting back on track. They won their last two games, including a 13-2, eight-inning win over Region 2 champion Lamberton.
That game against the Long Sox was exactly what the Brewers needed to get back on track.
"We've played Lamberton well over the last three or four years," Flor said. "We tend to hit them and score runs. That got our bats going and we got the pitching performance that we had been getting all season from one of our pitchers."
New Ulm (25-4) opens the state tournament at 1 p.m. Saturday when it plays Fairmont in Delano. Fairmont was the runner-up in Region 13.
The Brewers have a number of arms that they can turn to at the state tournament, but they likely will go with Wade French or veteran Chris Cariveau. Both have been tough all season and that trend should carry over.
Hanska draftees Brady Mosenden and Gary Wilfahrt Jr. and Stark draftee Adam Sellner give the Brewers more options should they go deep in the tournament.
Not only are the Brewers deep with pitching, but they can hit the ball too. The bats took a couple of games off early in the Region 2 tournament before resuming where they left off during the regular season. Flor is confident that the good hitting will continue.
"Last year when we got there, we hit the ball well and we didn't pitch well when we got there," Flor said. "This year, we pitched well all year and hit the ball all year, except in the [Region] tournament when we didn't hit the ball well or pitch well."
Leading the offense for the Brewers are Chris Peters, Brady and Cory Ranweiler and French. Zach Hoffmann plays college baseball at St. Cloud State University, so he's one who can get hot in the tournament too.
It's certainly been a good year for baseball in Springfield. The high school team made it all the way to the Section 3A championship game this past spring and at the beginning of the summer, Springfield native Jordan Milbrath was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.
To top off the excitement, the amateur baseball team qualified for the state tournament. The Tigers (20-15) are making their first trip to the state tournament since 2007 and the roster is almost entirely different from that trip six years ago.
For the current players, it gives them a chance to add on to the rich tradition that the town has seen in the past.
On Sunday, the Tigers, who were the fourth seed in Region 2, play New Prague, the runner-up in Region 3. The game is at 12 p.m. in Maple Lake.
This year's team features a crop of younger players who are learning more and more about the amateur game as they gain experience.
"I would say we have solid pitching and we pick the ball real well," coach Steve Helget said. "Defensively we're very solid."
Brandon Wilhelmi is the team's top pitcher. Although team stats weren't available, Helget said that Wilhelmi had about 65 strikeouts on the season and an ERA of about 2.00. Jason Nachreiner, Christian Loomis and Alex Frank also are top pitchers for the Tigers and they also have an ERA of about 2.00.
Offensively, the Tigers are led by Alex Fink, Wilhelmi, Jake Menage and Ryan Sturm.
"We have Alex Fink, and he leads our team in just about every offensive category," Helget said. "He came back out of college [Augustana] and he had a great year for us."
The Tigers as a team don't have a lot of power. But they do get on base and move the runners up one base at a time.
"We don't hit a whole lot, but our on base percentage is real good, we get on with walks," Helget said. "We get some key hits and we have stole about 70 bases as a team."
Overall, the Tigers' youth will have to mature quickly for this weekend, but Helget isn't too worried about that.
"We've had a turnover [from 2007], but we have a lot of young talent and a lot of speed right now," Helget said. "We lost a couple players that left town but we've had a good nucleus."
The Fairfax Cardinals definitely picked the right time to get hot, and that of course was during the Region 6 Tournament. The Carinals are making a trip to the state tournament, last qualifying in 2011. There, they lost in the first round of the tournament, but many of the key members of that team are back for coach Keith Buboltz.
Fairfax enters tournament play with a record of 8-13 and will play Union Hill, the Region 3 third-place team, at 5 p.m. Sunday in Delano.
Buboltz said that the pitching has been key for the Cardinals during the playoff run, and that staff is led by Cody Loverude, who is 4-3 with a 1.95 ERA this year.
"Pitching wins you ballgames, and our pitching in the playoffs has been phenomenal," Buboltz said. "We gave up two earned runs in four games in the playoffs, but we need to clean up our defense a little bit, that's the only reason why we've had as many close games in the playoffs, because of some unearned runs."
Scott Palmer is the team's other top starting pitcher. Palmer threw a five-hitter against Jordan in the Region 6 tournament, so he has also been tough to hit.
Austin Black leads the offense with a .380 batting average. James Panning is the No. 2 hitter in the order and he's hitting at about .340 on the year with limited playing time this year. Adam Buboltz and Blake Clobes are also some of the top hitters for the Cardinals.
Despite the below .500 record, the Cardinals are not a team to be taken lightly, emerging from a tough region to earn the second seed.
"Like I said, we knew we had a tough team, it was just a matter of putting it all together," Buboltz said. "We're putting it together at the right time."
The Bruins (21-11) are making their first trip to the state tournament since 1991. They were the fourth-place team in Region 7 and they open the tournament at 5 p.m. Sunday against Dumont in Maple Lake.
Ryan Grams leads the team with a .336 batting average and 12 stolen bases. Taylor Schuette is hitting .314 with three home runs and Spencer Glaeser is hitting .286.
On the mound, Nick Heller is 3-2 with a 2.08 ERA. Josh Wendlandt is 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA and 47 strikeouts and Joe Ahlers is 5-1 with a 2.86 ERA.
Ryan Grams leads the team with 59 strikeouts. and Michael Hahn is 5-3 with a 3.23 ERA.
The Bruins are a veteran team made up of mostly players from the old McLeod West school, which closed in 2009.
"We've got a nucleus that we've had together for quite some time," coach Doug Schuette said. "We've been to the Region the last six years in a row, we've been close and we finally got over the hump."
The Bruins ended a 22-year state-tournament drought last Friday after qualifying for the tournament. It was a big reward for both the players and the fans, who don't have a high school team or a legion team to call their own anymore.
"We have a pretty good following and we have for plenty of years now," Schuette said. "Actually, with not having a school anymore, we've picked up some people that come out and now watch amateur ball because they have to drive to another town to watch high school ball. We've got a pretty good following and people are pretty excited."