Baseball: Chatfield will baby-step through state
Chatfield would like to take a giant leap in the Class A state baseball tournaments this week.
Chatfield would like to take a giant leap in the Class A state baseball tournament, but first the Gophers have to take some baby steps.
The Gophers had four state berths in a six-year span which ended in 2006. Chatfield also had a state appearance in 1998. But in those five trips, the Gophers never managed to win in the quarterfinal round of the eight-team tournament.
"You really want to go up there and play well and represent your section," Chatfield coach Brian Baum said. "We've had some bad draws in the past and never won in the quarterfinals. We haven't won that elusive first game."
The Gophers, the Section One champions, didn't have to worry about a bad draw this year. Seedings are now used and Chatfield (21-3) earned a No. 3 seed. The Gophers open state play at 3 p.m. Thursday in Chaska against unseeded Royalton (12-10).
"The goal is to win state,"Chatfield senior Nate Skare said. "Anything we do now is more topping."
Chatfield has had a stellar year in boys sports in 2013-14. In the fall the Gophers won the Class AA state football title. The Gophers' wrestling team followed with a Class A state championship in February, while the basketball team went 19-7 and lost in the subsection semifinals.
"We learned to play with confidence in football and learned how to keep our cool," said Skare, who was the quarterback of the football team.
The Gophers have won six straight and 16 of 17. But they had to win those last six games to earn a state berth after suffering a loss in subsection play.
"We just never got rattled," Baum said.
Senior Jake Neis, who was a standout running back for the Gophers, also thinks Chatfield has another key advantage.
"I think we have an up on everyone because we have a lot of pitching," Neis said. "We have three or four guys who are good starters."
"Our kids really stepped up," Baum said. "We've played some very good games to get where we're at. We've pitched very well and caught the ball."
Neis expected to start
Baum expects Neis (4-2, 1.00 ERA) to start the state opener against Royalton. Tommy Jech (6-0, 0.54 ERA) will start in the second round followed by Skare (2-0, 0.39) if the Gophers play a third game. Drew Hurley (1-1, four saves, 0.90) could be the first pitcher used in relief.
"We have good depth," Baum said. "They're more about control and location."
Baum realizes that each team will throw their ace in the quarterfinal round. Royalton is likely to start Nathan Psyck (7-3, 4.43 ERA). He also is batting .348 and leads the team with three home runs and 26 RBIs. Chad Stang is batting .507 for the Section Five champions.
"Hitting is one thing we're really going to have to do up there (at state)," Baum said.
The Gophers have received most of their offensive production from the top half of the order. But Baum said the entire lineup will have to contribute for a successful state run.
Neis leads the team in hitting (.456) and RBIs (19) and has hit the team's lone home run. Neis follows Zach Eggers (.276, 13 RBIs) in the order.
The rest of the starting lineup figures to be Skare (.247, 14 RBIs), Nathan Woltz (.408, 18 RBIs), Noah Grant (.265, 14 RBIs), Hurley (.298, 9 RBIs), TJ Moechnig (.265), Jech (.279, 17 RBIs) and Ben Pierce (.280). Woltz has been on a tear in the playoffs, hitting close to .500.
"I think the big thing is we've been faced with six elimination games," Baum said. "We've been on the ropes and the kids have responded."
The semifinals and consolation games are Friday at Chaska and also at the Mini Met in Jordan.
The championship games in all three classes will be Saturday at Target Field with games at noon (Class A), 3 p.m. (AA) and 6 p.m. (AAA).