Athletics: Bialka a big fan of state titles

Nikki Anderson Vert.jpg
Former Brainerd Warriors pitcher Nikki Anderson delivers a pitch. Anderson went on to pitch for the University of Minnesota Gophers. Brainerd Dispatch / Steve Kohls

During a sports writing career that spanned parts of five decades at The Brainerd Dispatch, I don’t remember experiencing anything close to what we are currently enduring with this pandemic.

In the early 1980s, I recall that a few Central Lakes Conference schools went on strike, forcing cancelation of a few Brainerd Warrior contests scheduled against those opponents. And the spring of 2013 may have been the worst weather-wise ever, postponing almost the entire April schedule for every sport. Brainerd played its 2013 baseball opener at St. John’s University because it had turf but the field was bordered by snow.

So, during this down time, Dispatch sports editor Jeremy Millsop reached out to ask if I would consider writing five highlights of spring sports that I covered. I’m sure after this is published I will think of several more but following are five that stick out in recent memory:


1995 Warriors state baseball champs

The first of two state titles for coach Lowell Scearcy’s squad probably is my top spring highlight. It was the middle year of a 3-year state run of excellence during which Brainerd finished fifth, first and second in Class 2A state tournaments.

That 1995 team stood 3-3 after a 10-2 loss to Cretin-Derham Hall. Brainerd didn’t lose again, rattling off 20 straight wins, culminating with 7-2, 5-4 and 4-3 state tournament wins against Forest Lake, C-DH and Rosemount.

After beating Forest Lake in the quarterfinals, the Warriors went up against C-DH ace lefty Ben Birk, younger brother of former Minnesota Vikings center Matt Birk. Brainerd scored the semifinal upset when Todd Anderson drilled a game-winning single in the bottom of the seventh.

Second-ranked Rosemount was the opponent in the championship game. Wade Haapajoki’s RBI single in the top of the seventh won it for Brainerd.

That team was loaded with talent.

It featured lights-out pitching from Tony Whitlock, Mike Shogren, Luke Weiland and Jeff Barrett. They were the only four who threw an inning all season.

That team featured everyday standouts like Jade O’Brien, who went on to play baseball at Iowa State University; Justin Kieffer, who went on to play hockey at the Air Force Academy; and Josh Smith, who went on to become the most valuable player in the North Central Conference while playing baseball for Minnesota State Mankato.

O’Brien hit .458 and drove in 29 runs. Kieffer batted .403 with 15 stolen bases. On the mound, Whitlock was 9-2 with a 1.27 ERA, Shogren was 5-0, Weiland 4-1 and Barrett 5-0.


Another Brainerd baseball title

Five years later the Warriors were on top of the prep baseball scene again as this time they captured the Class 3A state title. Brainerd won 11 of its final 12 games.

At state, the Warriors nipped Elk River 5-4 in the quarterfinals as Rob Lien singled in the winning run in the fifth.

In the semifinals, right-hander Matt Yde blanked top-ranked Mounds View 4-0 with a 4-hit masterpiece. Mounds View, which was the defending American Legion national champion, had bumped off C-DH in the quarterfinals.

Right-hander Eric Bolt twirled a masterful 1-hitter in a 4-1 win over Lakeville in the championship game. Kyle Berg’s third-inning triple provided the Warriors’ winning margin.

Outfielder Chris Macy became the only Warrior to hit .500 in a season with 47 hits in 94 at bats and 25 RBIs. Berg hit .433 with 23 RBIs and nine home runs. Yde finished 9-0 with a 1.81 ERA and Kevin Ericson 6-0 with a 1.36 ERA.


Pierzinski, Pequot state champs

Reid Pierzinski of Pequot Lakes was in a class by himself in 2018.

At the Class 1A state track and field meet, the Patriots’ senior won three events and amassed 39 points, capturing the state team championship for Pequot Lakes all by himself since he was the only Pequot boy competing.

Pierzinski became the first boys track competitor in state history to win a team title single-handedly. Girls teams had accomplished the feat twice before.

It was probably the most dominant individual performance by a lakes area athlete that I ever witnessed. Pierzinski earned 12 team points in each of his three first-place finishes and added three points in a seventh-place showing in triple jump for 39 team points, seven more than runners-up Mora and Southwest Christian.

Pierzinski, who now competes for South Dakota State University, won the 110- and 300-meter hurdles and concluded his prep career with a victory in the 200 dash.


In a Lane of her own

The Pequot Lakes standout was one of the best female athletes I ever covered. She was a 5-time state participant/medalist in track and field and a three-time state participant in basketball.

But she made her mark in track by winning four state titles.

Lane was all-conference in track six times, three times in basketball and once in volleyball. She helped Patriot track and basketball teams capture subsection team championships. Lane won five section track individual titles and was academic all-state in track and basketball.

She was the 2014 Dispatch All-Area girls basketball player of the year and a 1,000-point career scorer.

Lane held six school records in track. She was MVP of the track team five times and also was voted the basketball team's MVP and best defensive player. She went on to a standout track career at South Dakota State.

Warrior softball’s flamethrower

Players like Megan Arns, Abby Rehberger, Hilary Smith, Sara Wennerstrand and Clare Ceynowa come to mind among many Warrior standouts I covered through the years. Arns and Rehberger wound up playing at Minnesota. Ceynowa is headed to the Gophers next year.


But the most dominant softball individual I covered was probably Nikki Anderson who went on to pitch four years for the Gophers.

As a senior, the flamethrowing 2012 graduate was named Minnesota's Ms. Softball and Minnesota's Gatorade Softball Player of the Year as she posted a 20-3 record and 0.80 ERA with 227 strikeouts.

Anderson led the Warriors to Class 3A state tournaments her sophomore and junior seasons. She was a 2-time all-state pitcher and four-time all-conference and all-section honoree.

At Minnesota, she compiled a career 3.38 ERA and 25-11 record in 91 games (27 starts) with six saves.

During her collegiate career, the Gophers compiled a 172-56 record (.754). Minnesota played in three regional tournaments and in its first Super Regional.

The 2015 team tied for most wins in a Gopher season (49) and finished with the best win percentage in team history (.817).

What To Read Next
Get Local