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Austin wants some more baseball history

One of the favorites in the American Legion baseball Division I Sub-State Tournament is tradition-rich Austin.

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They do love their baseball in Austin. Here, Austin’s Teyghan Hovland, top, celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run home run in a Class AAA baseball state semifinal game against St. Thomas Academy on Friday, June 14, 2019, at Siebert Field in Minneapolis.

Baseball runs deep in Austin, with a history that includes the meat-packing town once housing a semi-professional team, the Austin Packers. From 1937-53, they played in the old Southern Minny League.

Home games — starting in 1948 — were played at the same Marcusen Park that now houses the Austin American Legion team, as well as its amateur clubs. Such stars as Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige once competed in Austin.

Current Austin Legion coach Joe Ciola has a sense of all of that history. The 53-year-old grew up with Austin baseball and was regaled by stories from his late father, Lou Ciola, about life in that Southern Minny League. Lou was a one-time player/manager for the Austin Packers.

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That bond with baseball has never worn off in Austin. Joe Ciola sees it with his current bunch of Legion players, who’ve been playing the game together since their early grade-school days and still treat it like the prize they did as little kids.

“Our culture is a big reason we’ve been good,” Ciola said. “With this team, the baseball field is the first place they want to be. A lot of times, ball players have other things they’d like to do, where baseball might be their second or third choice. But on this team, their first choice is to be together and to be together on the baseball field, enjoying each other’s friendships and creating a lot of memories. And I think for them, playing baseball at Marcusen Park brings a lot of nostalgia. They hear about the history of the park. It’s there that they get their education about it.”

All of that bonding has made this a tough team to beat and one of the favorites in a Division I Sub-State Tournament that begins Sunday and ends next Saturday.

Sunday will include a couple of play-in games for the lowest seeds. Monday’s second round, like Round 1, will be hosted by the higher seeds. Beginning Wednesday, the action permanently shifts to that history-rich baseball venue, Marcusen Park.

Austin enters 13-4 overall (as of Wednesday), including a 6-2 mark in the First District. There are some obvious standouts here, including Teyghan Hovland, who’ll play Division II baseball at St. Cloud State in the fall. Others who jump out are Dustin Copley, Tony Ciola, Jed Nelson and Sam Nelsen. Ciola and Nelson will both play baseball at Riverland Community College in the fall.

Joe Ciola says what he appreciates most about this bunch is its willingness to keep fighting. Austin has found itself trailing by wide margins multiple times in games only to come back and get the win.

“Even when we’re down, we’ve found ways to win in the sixth and seventh innings,” Ciola said. “It’s the joy of baseball with these guys. It’s not over until it’s over.”

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Here is a look at the Rochester teams competing in the Sub-State Tournament.

Redhawks (6-2, 10-14 as of Wednesday)

The Redhawks have been considered one of the powers in District One all season. They’ve earned that reputation with some prolific hitting, led by Ian Regal, Kyle Prindle, Mason Leimbek and Adam McPhail.

Regal is batting .455, Prindle .437, Leimbeck .349 and McPhail .345.

I feel good going into the playoffs,” Redhawks coach Chris Prindle said. “If we can get all of our pitching worked out, we should be able to set ourselves up pretty well.”

The Redhawks’ top pitchers are McPhail, Prindle, Regal and Brevin Goetz.

Chris Prindle also says he is looking for his team to pick things up defensively. That hasn’t always been a strength. Everyone staying focused, he says, is the biggest key.

“Our biggest thing is we have to eliminate some errors,” Prindle said. “Playing clean defense is a big thing.”

A’s (5-3, 6-11-1)

The A’s have a solid bunch of pitchers, excellent senior leadership and a red-hot hitter in Matt Haun.

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The top three pitchers are Josh Fletcher, Matt Haun and Michael Rand. Fletcher has particularly come on of late. A’s coach Todd Stellmaker notes that he’s “learned how to pitch.”

“Josh is not just chucking it up there anymore,” Stellmaker said. “He’s really taken a turn.”

Haun can pitch and hit. He’s hovering right around .400 with his batting average now, raising things the last few weeks. As a pitcher, he’s been put in some challenging spots, asked to get tough outs late in games. He’s also the team’s No. 1 catcher.

Stellmaker isn’t sure what to make of the competition his team will face in the Sub-State Tournament. He’s familiar with all the teams, with them coming from the same First District as the A’s. But he also knows that teams tend to not be at full strength much of the summer due to family vacations, etc.

At post-season tournament time, that changes.

“Teams tend to do whatever they can during the regular season to work around vacations,” Stellmaker said. “But at playoff time, everyone is at full strength. It’s an interesting dynamic.”

Patriots (3-4, 4-11)

The Patriots can hit, with six regulars batting 326 or better. That includes Cayden Cherevko at .452, Jayden Guillette at .400, Ryan Hus at .354, Jake Schmidt at .346, Aiden Smoley at .340 and Adam Hegrenes at .326.

“Throughout the season, we’ve been getting much batter at-bats,” Patriots coach Taylor Field said. “We are really hitting well as a team.”

Where the Patriots have too often suffered, though, is in the field. It only takes one group implosion per game to lead to a loss.

“There is room for improvement there,” Field said. “We tend to have that one inning that hurts us. If we can minimize that and capitalize when we get leads, we can get hot and keep moving in the playoffs.”

The Patriots’ top pitcher has been Nick Scott, with a 4.1 ERA.

Related Topics: BASEBALLAUSTIN
Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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