Longhorns carry momentum into Class C state tournament

File photo by Travis Rosenau Stark’s Zach Haala races down the first base line during the Region 2C championship game with New Ulm on Aug. 13 at Memorial Park in Fairfax. Haala holds a 2.33 ERA on the mound this season and is hitting .405 at the plate.

STARK — The Stark Longhorns are looking to carry their momentum into the 2022 Class C Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament on Saturday. The tournament begins Friday night in Faribault and Dundas, while Stark opens play at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Dundas when they meet Maple Lake.

The Longhorns, the runner-ups in Section 2C, may be a team that can be described as one that is loves the late-inning comebacks.

In a Region 2C elimination game against Springfield, Stark used an extra-inning win to top the Tigers. Then in a state tournament qualifying game, the Longhorns plated three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning for a 4-3 comeback win over Lamberton.

“When you come back through the loser’s bracket like we did, it builds confidence with every win,” Stark manager Dusty Mangen said. “We knew it would be a tough game against Lamberton. But we battled all game — we could have let the game get out of hand (down 3-0 after the first inning). But Zach (Haala, Stark pitcher), he got out of every jam after the first inning.

“We were able to put something together in the eighth (inning) and got the win.”

Mangen said that the two late-inning wins has his team playing with more confidence going into the state tournament.

“When you can come back through the loser’s bracket like we did and face the quality of pitchers and teams that we did, you can gain nothing but confidence,” he said. “When we lost to Hanska, we knew that it would be a tough road. But every team we faced after that was in the same boat as us — win or go home.”

Mangen said the Stark pitching staff has been their best asset.

“Zach (Haala) and Adam (Sellner) always give us a chance to win.”

Haala has a 6-2 record along with a 2.33 ERA, while Sellner is 5-0 and carries a minuscule ERA of 1.81.

“And we have other pitchers like Avery Stevens (3-1) and Josh Kopacek, who give us innings,” Mangen said. “The guys that we put on the mound always give us a chance to win. Pitching in amateur baseball is everything.”

The Longhorns’ staff ERA is a combined 3.11.

Stark is hitting .298 as a team, which Mangen said is down this season compared to last year.

“Last year we hit around .330 as a team,” he said. “We have struggled more at the plate — we are trying to find consistency — and pretty much now we rely on the one big inning. That is not the way you always want to go. I would like us to be more on our run separation. We have faced everyone’s best pitcher in the regions. And we have cut down our strikeouts a ton from the beginning of the season.”

Haala leads the Longhorns with a solid .405 average and is followed by Adam Sellner at .391. Sean Mathiowetz is hitting .374 from his leadoff spot, with Mason Cox hitting .367.

“It seems like Mason gets two hits every game and if you ask him if he is having a good year hitting, he will probably say no,” Mangen said. “But those are just the standards that he sets for himself — he is starting to drive the ball lately.

“Sean is solid at leadoff as he always is and anytime we need a big hit, we have Zach or Nick Labat — they are the two guys we want up right now. They always seem to come through for us.”

But Mangen and the rest of Region 2C knows that the elephant in the room is the lack of success in the first round of state.

“Every year we have been more comfortable,” he said. “Last year we had a good showing. But last year Adam (Sellner) was not available for us. But this year he will definitely be on the mound for us. This year the glare of the state tournament will be greatly diminished. Hopefully we can just go there and play and not worry about that. We know if we play a good game we have a good chance to win.”


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