AUSTIN EDITION Austin high school players turn 2 into 12
The Austin High School baseball team started the season as cold as the early April weather and never recovered.
The Packers won just once in the regular season, then matched that total with a playoff win over rival Albert Lea, but finished the season 2-20.
So, how does a team go from two wins to 12 just by changing from a high school jersey to an American Legion jersey?
"Confidence," shortstop Conor Johnson said. "That's really the biggest thing."
It's been a dramatic turnaround for Austin, a team full of confidence after knocking off the No. 4-ranked team in the state, the Rochester A's, 4-2 on Wednesday.
It doesn't hurt that catcher Adam Edge has returned for the Legion season after his first year at Riverland Community College. And the Austin High guys have opened their arms to Nick Ehret and Josh Baumann, both of whom played high school baseball for Lyle/Pacelli.
Ehret was the winning pitcher against the A's on Wednesday, giving up only four hits and one earned run.
"It's just a different feeling when he pitches," Austin third baseman Josh Dunfee said of Ehret. "There's something about his attitude, the way he handles himself, that gets us all ready to play.
"He's fun to play behind."
Fun. That's something that was missing in the spring and Dunfee said the players take the responsibility for that.
"It's just a different atmosphere in the dugout," he said. "Now we want to go out and play, go out and win. During the school season we were down on ourselves. We didn't get a lot done in practice."
The fun has returned as the summer has gone on. Some wins early in the Legion season lifted the spirits of the Austin players and lifted their win total, too. Post 91 has weathered a couple of four-game losing streaks, but it has also cruised through a six-game winning streak.
"Once we came out and got a couple of wins," Dunfee said, "after that we remembered how good it feels to win and how much fun it could be."
That confident feeling helped Austin finish with a 9-6 record in First District play this summer. Next up is the district tournament next week, a time when Dunfee said Post 91 will have to lean on guys like Edge and Ehret.
"They bring experience and consistency," Dunfee said. "They bring a positive attitude and never look nervous. They go out and expect to win."
Jason Feldman is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org