Two down, one to go.
The Hayfield Vikings baseball team has had lofty goals all season. The Vikings wanted to win a Gopher Conference title, the a Section 1A title. They accomplished both of those goals and now one goal remains: Winning a Class A state title.
“We’ve done two of those and now the third one is the biggest and the hardest of those, to win that state title,” Hayfield coach Kasey Krekling said.
Coming off a Section 1A championship, the Vikings are 23-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state heading into the Class A state quarterfinals. Hayfield is the No. 1 seed in the tournament and will face Adrian-Ellsworth (14-12) in the state opener at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in St. Cloud.
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“Obviously making it to state is the first step, but winning it is the ultimate goal,” Hayfield junior Easton Fritcher said.
Hayfield also played in the state tournament in 2019. A year ago there was no season due to COVID-19.
The Vikings have a few key players back from two years ago and many others who were along for the experience.
“It will be nice that they’ve had the experience of being at state once before to kind of get the jitters out of the way,” Krekling said. “Because that kind of got to us the first game at state in 2019.”
Hayfield lost to Sacred Heart 10-6 in the state quarterfinals that year, making some rare mistakes in the process.
This season the Vikings have mauled teams all season and Krekling said with the team’s talent, mistakes might be the only thing preventing Hayfield from a state title.
“We’re very sound on the mound and defensively so we hope that rolls over to the state tournament,” Krekling said.
“Obviously we’ve got some talent, but definitely the confidence thing is a factor,” Fritcher said. “We go out there every day knowing we’re going to compete and have a good chance at winning.”
The Vikings have three stellar pitchers in juniors Fritcher (9-0, 1.13 ERA) and Nolan Klocke (5-0, 1.29) and senior Joey Tempel (7-0, 1.19). All three of those pitchers have had a 14-strikeout game this season and Klocke pitched a no-hitter in the regular-season finale.
“They can all be dominant on the mound,” Krekling said.
Fritcher, a left-hander, is expected to start in the state quarterfinals, just as he did as a freshman in 2019.
“Obviously I’ve been to the big stage, going to state freshman year and pitching and being put under pressure,” Fritcher said. “I’m definitely ready.”
A stellar offense
The Vikings are also hitting a lofty .396 as a team and average 12.2 runs a game while allowing just 1.8 per contest.
“We have guys who can hit all over the lineup,” Krekling said. “Our six and seven hitters are hitting over .400. That’s unheard of in Class A high school baseball. It doesn’t matter who we have up there, one through nine, we feel very confident in whoever’s up there.”
Hayfield’s top-end hitters, Fritcher (.557 average, seven homers, 47 RBIs) and fellow junior Karver Heydt (.528, four homers, 36 RBIs) “can really mash the ball,” Krekling said. “And behind them we have very, very good hitters.”
The Vikings have seven players with 20 or more RBIs. The others include Tempel (.412, 29 RBIs), Eric Bungum (.433, 26 RBIs), Isaac Watson (.356, 21 RBIs), Lucas Hanson (.333, 21 RBIs) and Ethan Slaathaug (.413, 20 RBIs).
“When you have that kind of pitching and that kind of offense, we’re going to be tough to beat unless we do things to beat ourselves,” Krekling said.
If Hayfield wins, it would face the winner of No. 4 South Ridge (21-3) and No. 5 Springfield (18-7) in the state semifinals on Wednesday.
“Our pitchers have to throw strikes and just have the confidence they’ve had all year,” Krekling said. “Don’t let the big stage get to them and just do the same thing that’s gotten us there.”
In the other half of the bracket, New York Mills (21-2) is seeded No. 2 and unbeaten Randolph (22-0) is No. 3.
Despite being unbeaten, the Vikings don’t think that’s any added pressure going into the tournament.
“It’s in the back of our mind, but the regular season is over,” Fritcher said. “State’s a whole new thing. We start at zero going to it and still have to play to our best ability and play hard every game.”
“It’s still a baseball game played by kids for fun so we just have to make sure we have a lot of fun while we’re up there,” Krekling said.