Baseball: Three Rivers Conference preview
Last season in review:Wabasha-Kellogg repeated as the Three Rivers Conference baseball champion in 2010, finishing just one game ahead of Southland and Caledonia/Spring Grove. W-K, Southland and Rushford-Peterson were in the Section 1A final four, and St. Charles played in the Section 1AA final four. Southland ran the table in 1A and claimed its second section crown in three years, then finished sixth at state. Plainview-Elgin-Millville had the highest-scoring team in the conference at 9.3 runs per game, and W-K allowed the fewest runs (3.3).
2011 season outlook:Based on returning experience W-K, Southland and Plainview-Elgin-Millville are tabbed by many conference coaches as the favorites in the TRC this season. W-K and Southland have become two of the most consistently successful programs in the region over the last five years. Overall it appears that many teams in the conference have a lot of holes to fill in their lineups, so there could be some dark horses in this 11-team field.
WABASHA-KELLOGG (19-5, 17-3)continued to excel last year under head coach Chris Gove, with a second straight conference title, third in four years, and a fourth straight appearance in the Section 1A final four. Gove is already coming up on his 100th win in just his six season here, with a record of 93-39. The Falcons were the toughest team in the conference to score against last year, allowing just 3.3 runs per game. Five seniors will lead W-K, including third-year starters P/3B Eric Sandstrom (9-1, 1.66, 57 Ks/.397, 28 RBIs, 4 HRs, 10 SB), LF Ben Edelbach (.200, 12 SB) and C Tom Greenheck (.288, 14 RBIs, 2 HRs). Other returning starters are junior P/1B Hunter Baab (2-1, 5.76/.254, 21 RBIs, 4 HRs) and sophomore IF/OF/P Will Greenheck (3-2, 2.94/.222). The Falcons graduated three players who had been five-year varsity players.
SOUTHLAND (22-6, 16-4)used a string of good pitching performances to sweep through the Section 1A tournament and on to a sixth-place finish at the 2010 Class A state tournament, which was held at Target Field. It was Southland’s second section title in three years under head coach Scott Retterath, who got his 100th win at state; his teams have won 82 games in the last four seasons. This will be another veteran Southland team with nine seniors and seven juniors, led by third-year senior P/SS Alan May, P Trevor Emanuel, P Tom Sheely and P/LF Adam Kieffer. Senior 2B Grant Hegge and junior CF Tyler Kressin are also varsity veterans. "We have some kids with decent pop, but I'm looking at more small ball this season with more speed on the team than in the past," Retterath said. "We'll do more bunting and steal some more bases to manufacture runs."
CALEDONIA/SPRING GROVE (17-5, 16-4)has a familiar new head coach as Dave Konz returns to lead the program. He was head coach at Spring Grove for 13 seasons, and then was an assistant last year to Elliott Kranz in the first year of the cooperative. Konz inherits a team that contended for the TRC title until the final week in 2010. A 3-1 loss to Southland kept CSG from claiming a share. The Warriors had the second-best offense in the conference at 8.8 runs per game, and the pitching and defense (4.6) wasn’t bad either. Konz has some rebuilding to do with only three returning starters, senior LF Cole O’Heron, senior C Seth Kasten and senior SS/P Ivan Augedahl., the only pitcher with varsity experience. "Our goal is to be around the top of the conference, but that will depend on the leadership from our returning seniors and how the inexperienced players step in," Konz said. "We inherit many good players from a solid JV team."
PLAINVIEW-ELGIN-MILLVILLE (13-7, 13-6)was supposed to be rebuilding last season, but the Bulldogs just reloaded and had a strong regular season. PEM had the highest scored team in the TRC at 9.3 runs per game, and they roared into the playoffs on four-game win streak scoring 16, 13, 14 and 16 runs. But the big bats fell silent in the first round of the Section 1AA West tournament in a season-ending 3-1 loss to Cotter. Head coach Scott Flattum lists 10 experienced players but only three returning starters, senior 1B/P Cole Olstad (.383, 19 runs), senior IF/P Gabe Kirchner (3-3, 2.22, 46 Ks), and senior 1B/P Alex Feils (3-0, 3.98). Flattum said PEM is inexperienced but should have solid pitching and good team speed. "Our hope is to be right there contending at section tournament time," Flattum said. "We’ve had that experience two of the last three years and would like to be in that situation again."
RUSHFORD-PETERSON (14-8, 13-6)is coming off its second straight winning season under 29-year-old head coach Dan Mlsna, after a string of seasons below the .500 mark. R-P played into the Section 1A final four and had one of the top offenses in the TRC last season at 8 runs per game. Mlsna has a lot of holes to fill with only three returning starters, senior OF Riley Anderson (.190, 7 runs), senior P/IF Blake Erickson (4-1, 3.94, 31 Ks/.410, 23 RBIs, 14 runs), and senior C Jared Brown (.250). Senior IF Ben Kramer (.200) and junior IF Ethan Wilkemeyer (.330, 4 runs) also saw playing time last season. "If we can find a third and fourth pitcher along with solid team defense, we should be in the race," said Mlsna, who grew up in Cashton, Wis., and attended WSU.
ST. CHARLES (13-11, 11-9)has had outstanding B squad teams the last three years, with 19, 18 and 18 wins, and now all of that experience is on the varsity. Tenth-year head coach Scott McCready has six players back from a team that got hot at the end and played into the Section 1AA final four, losing a 1-run game to Lourdes in 8 innings. Five are seniors; IF’s Jared Stevens (.379, 11 runs), Chris Bambenek (2-2, 2.33/.321, 25 runs, 15 RBIs), Joey Ellinghuysen (.296), Ian Peck (.278, 15 runs) and P Joseph Montgomery (4-1, 3.54/.231); along with junior P/C Cole Small (1-3, 10.5 ERA/.262). "Our returning pitchers will need to be more durable and our newcomers will need to adjust to varsity level hitters," McCready said. "Our numbers are quite high at all levels and the leadership we are seeing is also very positive. This should be a fun season."
LEWISTON-ALTURA (8-14, 7-13)played like a contender for most of the season last year and had a 8-7 record at one point. But the Cardinals lost their last six regular season game and allowed 10 runs or more in five of those. The Cards’ season ended in the Section 1A East second round with a 10-0 loss to Rushford-Peterson. Longtime head coach Jerry Stensgard has a luxury with his three top pitchers back, senior P Layton Kreidermacher (2-5, 2.97), senior P Luke Buehler (2-5, 7.36/.194), and junior P Zach Nelson (4-4, 4.11/.403). Other returning starters are senior IF Clint Neumann (0-1, 9.80/.190) and junior IF Jalen Heyer (.257). "With our top three pitchers coming back, I expect to be more consistent at that position," said Stensgard. "Our season with depend on our pitching and how our youth comes along."
FILLMORE CENTRAL/LANESBORO (7-14, 7-13)more than tripled its win total last season from just two wins in 2009. But the season ended on a down note as FCL lost four of its last five games and then fell in the Section 1AA West opener to St. Charles, 3-2. The Falcons gave up runs by the bunches at 8.3 per game, and allowed double digits in 11 defeats. Third-year head coach Ryan Scheevel is optimistic FCL can keep improving, led by two returning startrs, senior P/IF Colton Hampel (5-3, 54 Ks/.389, 33 RBIs, 12 runs, 9 SB), and junior IF/OF Tyler Eickhoff (.524, 8 RBIs, 19 SB). Others with varsity experience are junior C Ryan Bigalk (.236, 11 runs), senior IF’s Darren Hill (.211, 5 runs) and Jordan Ristau (.162, 4 RBIs), and sophomore OF Dan Gatzke (.267, 7 runs). "We need to get on the bases and be able to use our team speed to manufacture runs," Scheevel said.
CHATFIELD (7-14, 7-13)suffered a letdown last season, after finishing one win short of the state tournament in 2009. Last year the Gophers lost four of their last five regular season games and were dismissed in the first round of Section 1A East by Mabel-Canton, 12-0. Chatfield gave up 10 runs or more in its last four defeats. Head coach Brian Baum thought he had four returning starters to build around, senior P/IF Erik Hilgren (3-6, 4.77/.441, 9 RBIs), senior C/IF Nathan Vogen (.371, 17 RBIs, 3 HR), senior P/IF Aric Swancutt (.220, 9 RBIs), and senior IF Chandler Burkholder (.196, 8 RBIs). But Swancutt and Burkholder are both sidelined at the start of the season. Baum said his team should play good defense, but everything else is a question mark. "We have a lot of work to do with our injuries and inexperience," said Baum, who enters his 10th season as coach with a 168-100 career record.
GRAND MEADOW/LE ROY-OSTRANDER/KINGSLAND (1-20, 1-19)has been stuck in an unfortunate rut, with a 6-72 record over the last four seasons. But the Bulldogs should turn the corner to competitiveness under third-year head coach Taran Jack, with eight returning starters. Four seniors will lead, OF Kirk Nelson (.333, 14 runs, 13 SB), 1B Alan McCauley (.236, 10 RBIs), SS/CF Caleb Leichtnam (.393, 16 runs, 13 RBIs, 26 SB) and 2B Cody Snyder (.136). Experienced underclassmen are junior C/P Sam Eberle (.362, 16 runs, 17 RBIs ), sophomores 3B Marshall Oeltjen (.245 ) and OF Perry Stejskal ( .286), and freshman SS/P Trenton Bleifus (.267). "I look for us to be in some very competitive games with many more turning out in our favor," said Jack, who lists a speedy outfield and good base stealers as team strengths.
DOVER-EYOTA (1-20, 1-19)had its fourth straight losing season in 2010, and it was a rough one for new head coach Brad Wick. The Eagles lost their last 15 games and their only win was against GMLOK. D-E’s pitching and defense gave up 13 runs per game, the most by far in the TRC, while the offense produced a conference low 3.8 rpg. Wick has some veteran leadership with six seniors, including second-year starters Adam Borst at SS/P, and 1B/P Drew Turnquist, IF’s Dylan Meyer, and Kyle Borst, and OF’s Jacob Meyer and Ethan Meyer.
Note: Returning player statistics were provided by coaches, but not all coaches provided information or statistics.
— Donny Henn