VFW Baseball: Brainerd hopes to capitalize on home-field advantage
For the first time in 21 years, Brainerd will host the state VFW baseball tournament at Adamson and Mills fields.
And, Brainerd hopes home-field advantage helps it accomplish something Post 1647 has never done — win the VFW state championship.
The 59th annual event, for players who don't turn 17 before June 1, opens at 10 a.m. Thursday at Adamson Field. District 6 champion Brainerd plays its opening game at 12:30 p.m. Thursday against District 2 champion Mankato at Adamson Field.
Brainerd brings a 36-3 record and 15-game win streak into the contest. Pitching in the 4-day double-elimination event will be crucial and Brainerd appears to have the depth on the mound to go deep into a possible 19-game tournament.
"I will not say at the end of the tournament that we've run out of pitching," Brainerd head coach Keith Peterson said. "We might have some other things go wrong.
"One of the great things about having so many games per week is we're going to develop depth in pitching. A lot of teams might say we don't want to play that game because we don't want to play three or four times a week because we don't have the pitching, but that's where we've developed some depth.
"We don't necessarily have guys that throw 85-90 (mph), but we'll have to have all of our guys go maybe a couple times in three or four days depending on how long we last in the tournament."
Hanson Devine, Chris Pederson and Jake Meyer headline the pitching staff.
Devine is 7-0 with a 1.658 ERA in 50.2 innings, Pederson 6-0 with a 1.370 in 46 innings and Meyer 5-3 with a 2.55 in 46.2 innings.
"Devine is our really good strike-one guy — 62 percent," Keith Peterson said. "Chris probably has the most experience of those three guys in terms of total games pitched for this class, but Jake has been very stable. Jake has gone out there in our toughest games all summer and done just fine. He picked up the save in our last win against Becker.
"Those three guys will start a game each if we get that far."
Dylan Harbo, C.J. Wohl and Jack Geraets each has made big contributions on the mound. Harbo is 5-0 with a 0.771 ERA in 36.1 innings, Wohl is 4-0 with a 0.689 in 20.1 innings and Geraets 4-0 with a 2.014 in 24.1 innings.
"Geraets has kind of come back from a little bit of a sore elbow midway through the summer," Peterson said. "He did great at the beginning. He's an outstanding left-handed relief guy.
"Harbo is our No. 1 strike percentage guy at 64 percent. He also has our fewest pitches per inning at 12.2, so he's our most efficient guy. He came in and gave us three scoreless innings against Becker that were critical in coming back in that winners' bracket game at Cold Spring.
"Wohl's victories came in second games of doubleheaders."
Brainerd hits about as well as it pitches.
Geraets leads off and is hitting .387 with four doubles and 22 RBIs. Meyer follows and leads the team with a .416 average and 42 hits. He has added three doubles and 19 RBIs.
Pederson mans the No. 3 hole with a .333 mark, nine doubles and a team-high four triples. Tristan Brecht is the clean-up hitter with a .330 mark, a team-high 10 doubles and a triple.
"Brecht opened the season at like 4-for-37, now he's got 33 hits," Peterson said. "Over the first three weeks he had like four hits, so I dropped him down, eighth or ninth, and now he's worked his way back up.
"He's driven in some big runs, including the three runs to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh against Becker, with a 3-run double."
Others hitting .300 (with at least 47 at bats) include Luke West .340, Allen Jevning .319 and Devine .305.
Brainerd's defense has been at its best in pressure situations. Its fielding average is .940 but it has turned 20 double plays.
"Our overall fielding average doesn't tell the story because in postseason play we've recovered from errors really well," Peterson said. "If there's such a thing as clutch defense that's what we've been best at. Our best defense has been played with runners on base. That's a little bit unusual for kids this age.
"They've really shown some poise when things seem to be crumbling around them. I'm going to give the pitchers credit too because sometimes you make an error, then you walk a couple guys. We have not really had that happen. We've been able to stay out of the big inning. I can count on one hand three innings that got away from us all year.
"One of the things we do is play or practice five times a week all summer. Not all teams do that, maybe they can't. Everyone's situation is different. But you lose the defense faster if you don't practice.
"Guys that can hit can hit generally by age 16 or 17. They want to hit every day, and we do that at practice, but if you skip several days on defense that's where it starts to erode. At this time of summer, you can't have bad defense."