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Section 1AA baseball tournament features half-dozen true title contenders

Lourdes, Chatfield are the top subsection seeds in the Section 1AA baseball tournament, which begins on Wednesday

Stewartville, Pine Island boys baseball
Pine Island’s Johnny Bauer makes a play during a baseball game against Stewartville on Monday, May 2, 2022, in Stewartville. Bauer and the Panthers hope to make a run during the Section 1AA tournament, which begins on Wednesday, May 25.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin file photo
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The Section 1AA baseball tournament should be an all-out battle. Again.

Over the past six years (there was no season in 2020) five different teams have been Section 1AA champions. There are usually plenty of talented teams and this year is no different.

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“There’s always some deep teams and usually one or two teams that seem to surprise in the first round, too,” Lourdes coach Dave Jenson said.

Lourdes is the top seed in the West Subsection while Chatfield, which is ranked in the top 10 in Class AA, is the No. 1 seed in the East Subsection.

“There are six or seven teams right now (in the running),” Chatfield coach Brian Baum said. “I think Lourdes is probably the team to beat at this point.”

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One advantage that Lourdes has is there are only seven teams in the West Subsection this year. That means the Eagles will get a bye in the first round. And the first round is crucial because it is a single-elimination round. After that, the final eight teams play double elimination with the top two in each subsection advancing to the Section 1AA final four.

“Section 1AA tournament is always tough,” La Crescent-Hokah coach Ryan Niedfeldt said. “Great coaches, fabulous athletes, wonderful teams. Chatfield, Rochester Lourdes and Caledonia I would think are some of the favorites.”

But teams like Dover-Eyota, defending section champion Plainview-Elgin-Millville, Cannon Falls, Pine Island and Zumbrota-Mazeppa could all be in the mix as well.

“I think you have to stay away from walks, you have to stay away from (giving up) extra outs,” Baum said. “You have to catch the ball and you have to put the ball in play.”

Pitching is obviously important, but Baum said making contact while hitting and putting pressure on the opponent’s defense is also a big factor.

Pitching will be huge

“There’s probably three or four teams that they’re going to go three deep in their starting rotation,” Jenson said. “Depending on where the pitcher lines up, the game can be very different.”

Both Joe Sperry (four wins, 0.52 ERA) and Carter Wenszell (three wins, 0.58 ERA) both have an ERA under 1.00 for Lourdes and Isaac Wenszell (two wins, 1.32 ERA) is close behind. Chatfield has the tandem of Caden Nolte (5-0, 1.23 ERA) and Carter Daniels (5-0, 2.17 ERA).

Caledonia features Thane Meiners (five wins, 2.65 ERA) and Tristan Augedahl (three wins, 1.40 ERA); P-E-M has Carson Reeve (3-0, 1.50 ERA), Jameson Brinkman (2-0, 2.71 ERA) and Jason Feils (2-2, 1.59 ERA); La Crescent-Hokah has a deep staff led by Jack Welch (three wins, 1.93 ERA), Eli McCool (two wins, 2.92 ERA) and Zack Bentzen (two wins, 1.72 ERA); Dover-Eyota has seven players who have collected wins and five with saves, including Levi Williams (three wins, one save, 0.62 ERA); and Cannon Falls has a strong duo in Jonny Monson (four wins, 2.16 ERA) and Beau Zimmerman (four wins).

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"Once you get past that first round, the pitching depth has to come through for you,” Baum said. “Teams with depth that have that two, three, four (starting pitchers) really goes a long way, with the pitch count especially.”

Jenson also noted teams with long-time coaches like Cannon Falls (Bucky Lindow) and Plainview-Elgin-Millville (Scott Flattum) are always a threat when they have solid teams.

“Those are guys who know how to get better throughout the season,” Jenson said. “If you play a team in April and you play a team in June, that can be a very different game.”

Jenson said the Eagles are playing well right now and their schedule was back-loaded with some strong teams at the end of the regular season.

Lourdes has a veteran team back after losing just four starters from a year ago. Plus the returning players also had the sting of losing in the section finals to P-E-M last spring.

“I know our players that are returning are not taking anything for granted,” Jenson said. “They’re not going to show up to the field and think we’re going to win just because we showed up. But I think it helps to have that experience.”

And the key to winning the section title?

“(A) deep pitching staff, timely hitting, solid defense and of course some luck,” Niedfeldt said.

Guy N. Limbeck is a Rochester native who has been working at a daily newspaper since 1981. He has worked at the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Guy at 507-285-7724 or glimbeck@postbulletin.com.
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