Tigers prepare for Class A state tournament
SPRINGFIELD — While Springfield was battling BOLD in the second game of the Section 2A baseball championship series on Thursday at ISG Field in Mankato, the Tigers got an unexpected surprise.
Midway through the game, the Springfield softball team arrived to the park from Caswell Park in North Mankato after they had qualified for the upcoming state softball tournament. The baseball team immediately saw them and they and the Tiger baseball fans greeted the softball team with a loud round of applause. That moment was enough for the Tiger baseball team to get fired up, and they went on to advance to the state tournament with a 4-1 win over the Warriors.
It’s the first time since 2016 that the Tigers have qualified for state. This year, the Tigers bring an 18-7 mark into the Class A state tournament and they will face No. 4 seed South Ridge at 11:45 a.m. at Faber Field in St. Cloud.
Armed with an impressive senior group of leaders, the Tigers know that they can compete.
“They’re ready for the moment, we talked about it all year, prepare for the moment and this [senior] class has been overshadowed by a lot of really good players above them the last few years,” Tigers coach Brandon Wilhelmi said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have that strong senior class the last few years. Last season, we obviously didn’t play but we had great seniors and these kids would’ve been mixed in, they’re ready for it and they want it. They wanted to show everyone that this class can do it and they have, they’ve owned it.”
All season long, they have relied on longtime Springfield baseball staples: bunting, stealing bases, pitching and good defense. It also helps that they play in the always competitive Tomahawk Conference. This year, the Tigers finished fourth in the conference regular season standings, but that meant nothing come playoff time.
“I think the conference prepares us for what we see in the section,” Wilhelmi said. “What I like is that is that we’ve seen everyone’s best. One of the main messages I told my guys was to stop worrying about the end result. Just go out and play and have fun. I think when we started doing that, guys were playing a lot looser, having more fun and a lot more chatter. Little baseball things that just made the game fun again and we started playing really well after that.”
The Tigers went 5-1 in the Section 2A tournament, including an impressive 6-4 victory over BOLD on June 3 in which the Tigers used the squeeze bunt to their advantage three straight times with the bases loaded. That set them up for a game against Mankato Loyola, where they won 5-0. At that point, the Tigers were in the driver’s seat and had to lose twice to be denied a trip to the state tournament. With senior ace Mason Leonard and freshman pitcher Jakob Nachreiner set to throw, it wasn’t in the cards for the Warriors to win twice.
At the plate, the Tigers are led by Leonard with a .309 average, 21 RBIs and two home runs. Brendon Buerkle is hitting .355 with 22 runs scored, and11 RBIs and Helget is hitting .299 with 22 runs scored and 37 stolen bases. Jason Berberich (.297, 18 RBIs), Jakob Nachreiner (.250) and Dylan Batzlaff (.244) have also been leaders at the plate.
Once the Tigers get on first, don’t expect them to stay there. They have seven players with at least 10 stole bases and they stole 145 bases on the season. Helget leads the way with 37 stolen bases, Buerkle has 15, Ashtin Johnson 20, Kadin Johnson 12, Jason Berberich 14, Dylan Batzlaff 13 and MaCoy Crick 11.
The pitching staff is led by Leonard, who will take his game to the University of Sioux Falls next year. Leonard went 5-3 with a .896 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings. Nachreiner is 7-0 with a 1.05 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings, while Tori Helget is 4-2 with a 1.09 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 32 innings.
“Those guys worked extremely hard, I talked with Mason at the beginning of the year and he’s going to the University of Sioux Falls next year and he’s going to pitch there, we told him we need him to take our team to the next level,” Wilhelmi said. “Pitching coach Jason Nachreiner did a phenomenal job with those guys. Jakob, he wants the ball and even going to the sectional championship games, we were going to go with our horse first [Leonard] and Jakob is a great guy to bring in, he’s got ice in his veins. And how lucky are we to have a guy like Tori, who has started a lot of games for us this year, he’s pitched really well and he comes in to close games, he wants the ball, three saves in the section tournament for us.”