It’s been a long time in the making, but Hayfield has finally reached the Class A baseball state tournament.
The Vikings take a stellar 22-2 record and are the No. 3 seed heading into Thursday’s quarterfinal game against unseeded Sacred Heart (13-8). The game is at 5:30 pm. at the Mini Met in Jordan.
“Obviously we’re very excited,” Hayfield coach Kasey Krekling said. “Not just our players, but our community is very excited to go to state and see what we can do.”
Hayfield has lost twice recently in the Section 1A title game, in both 2017 and 2015.
“It’s been a really great experience,” said Vikings shortstop Mason Tapp, the lone senior on the team. “We always watched our softball team go to state so now we get our own chance. But we haven’t done anything yet. We still have a lot of work to do.”
Krekling is in his eighth season as the coach at Hayfield. He is also a 2007 Hayfield grad and played baseball for the Vikings so he knows how important going to state is to the players and community.
“We’re going to have a ton of fun,” he said. “We’re going up to win games and have the experience, but we want to have fun. It’s the experience for the community as well.”
The Vikings appear to have the talent to make a run for a state title. Despite having just one senior, the Vikings have a veteran squad with eight starters back.
“We have most of our players back this year,” Tapp said, “and we’ve been in this position before. It helps us being experienced and we shouldn’t be as nervous as in the past.”
Aside from Tapp, six of Hayfield’s starters are juniors, but freshmen Easton Fritcher and Karver Heydt, along with sophomore Joey Temple, have also played big roles.
The Vikings feature five hitters in the lineup who have driven in between 18 and 26 runs in Fritcher (.382 batting average, 26 RBIs), Brady Nelson (.376, 21 RBIs), Mason Tapp (.303, 23 RBIs), Kolby Tapp (.286, 22 RBIs) and Jake Risius (.338, 18 RBIs).
Heydt (.340) has 12 RBIs and Temple (.299) has 11.
“It’s been that way all year,” Krekling said of run production throughout the lineup. “We know one through nine, someone is always going to get the job done.”
Left-hander Fritcher and Nelson have also been the aces on the mound. Frichter, who will start in the quarterfinals, is 9-0 with a 1.10 ERA.
Nelson is 8-0 with a 2.24 ERA and either he or junior lefty Luke Dudycha (4-2, 2.24 ERA) will start on the mound in the second game.
“Easton has had a good year for us,” Krekling said. “He doesn’t look or act like a ninth-grader on the field. Luke and Brady have both pitched well all season. We have some pitching depth; it’s nice to have some options.”
Sacred Heart, the Section 8A champion, has a modest 13-8 record going into the state tournament.
The Eagles did win five straight games in section play — three by shutout — and has an elite pitcher in Brenden Bethke. Bethke has a 6-1 record with a 0.68 ERA. He has a fastball that is in the 84-87 mile-per-hour range and has 66 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings.
“We’ve faced some good ones this year,” Krekling said. “We’ve faced some hard pitchers and have made adjustments late in the game all year. A lot of games we’ve come from behind late in the game against some good pitchers.”
Section Two has been tough to beat in recent years at state. This year’s Section Two representative, BOLD, is the top seed in the tournament, and on the opposite side of the bracket as Hayfield. If the Vikings win their state opener, a contest against No. 2 New York Mills could be on tap in the semifinals Friday.
“I think everybody who makes it has a chance to win,” Kreckling said. “You always have to play pretty well and you need to have a little luck.”
And Hayfield is confident that it can make a run at a state title in its first appearance on the big stage.
“Our pitching is going to have to be like it has been all year,” Krekling said. “And our offense, we’re going to have to play some small ball and we have to make the plays on defense.”
“We’re just going to have to take care of the little things, bunting, base running and putting the ball in play,” Mason Tapp said.