Class 1A Baseball: Unheralded Huskies hope to make noise at state
It's been a spring for the ages for the Pillager Huskies. Coach Greg Bennett's softball team kicked off a memorable spring sports season for Pillager, playing in the first state tournament in program history and finishing sixth. The day the softb...
It's been a spring for the ages for the Pillager Huskies.
Coach Greg Bennett's softball team kicked off a memorable spring sports season for Pillager, playing in the first state tournament in program history and finishing sixth.
The day the softball tournament ended, the Huskies' Julia Johnson and Dylan Loftis competed in the Class 1A state track and field meet.
Next, senior golfer Brady Enneking qualified for the Class 1A tournament where he tied for 32nd place.
Coach Jacob Mehr's baseball team has provided the frosting on the Huskies' cake by qualifying for the first 1A state tournament in that program's history. The unheralded Huskies (15-10) take on the top-seeded and top-ranked Parkers Prairie Panthers (23-2) in the quarterfinals at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Mini Met in Jordan.
Mehr's Huskies are barking, having won seven straight games on their way to the Section 5-1A championship. He loves the fact almost no one gives Pillager a shot to make any noise at the state baseball tournament.
"We're in a great position," he said. "We get to go down and play a team we know very well, a team we know we can play with. Parkers Prairie is a terrific ballclub-they were the state runner-up last year. They play clean baseball, they don't make mistakes. Top to bottom in their order they can hit. They've got three very good pitchers.
"But we know we can play with them. The last two seasons they've beaten us four times but they haven't blown us out. We're definitely a different team going into Thursday's game than we were playing them early in the year.
"We haven't considered ourselves underdogs. We won't consider ourselves underdogs going into this game, and that's a good thing. We're fine with other people looking at us as being overmatched."
Mehr said the community is excited about the success of its spring sports teams.
"A lot of people have cheered us on," he said. "There's been a lot of support. It's been a blast. A school the size of Pillager it's not just about the baseball team, it's about the community. Softball, baseball, track and golf have had great springs. I think the town is loving it."
During the regular season, the Huskies lost 8-3 and 5-0 to Parkers Prairie in Park Region Conference games. The PRC title was the Panthers' second straight.
Pillager followed a most difficult road to its section title. The fifth-seeded Huskies were the visiting team in all five section tournament games and throttled the West's top-seeded Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Wolves 13-3 in five innings in the final. Pillager trampled W-H-A 14-1 in the second game of the section and beat East No. 1 Hinckley-Finlayson 12-11 in eight innings in Game Four.
Pillager outscored its five section tournament victims by a combined 77-28. During its seven-game win streak, Pillager scored three or more runs in the first inning of six of those games.
Ridge Hunstad leads Pillager at bat with a .456 mark and has collected 16 RBIs and hit nine doubles. Josh Doss is hitting .440 with 28 RBIs, 13 doubles and three home runs. Braeden Wangsness is batting .317 with 18 RBIs, nine doubles and two homers. Tyler Wilcox is hitting .295 with 22 RBIs, four home runs and four doubles.
"It's not just about those four hitters," Mehr said. "This is an entire team. We've talked a lot about being one, taking things not even one game at a time, but one inning at a time, one at bat at a time, one moment at a time, being one team all together. This is definitely a group accomplishment."
On the mound, Doss is 2-2 with a 4.10 ERA, Hunstad is 4-0 with a 5.58 ERA and Sam Jensen 3-2 with a 4.97 ERA. Mehr said Doss will start Thursday.
"The guys have done a good job on the mound keeping us in games," Mehr said. "They throw strikes, don't give up many free passes. I'm proud of our efficiency on the mound throwing strikes and making the other team put the ball in play."
The Huskies have won with just two seniors in the lineup-Hunstad and Jake Murray-who are complemented by a host of juniors.
"They've had success," Mehr said of Pillager players. "They went to state in football as well so they got a taste of winning. It's been a remarkable stretch we've gone on because at the beginning of the year we talked about who our team is, what our identity is, how we will evaluate ourselves.
"We had our full team back from last year. We didn't graduate anybody. We went 3-19 and lost a lot of close games. We knew we were better than a 3-19 team. Going into the playoffs 10-10 just reminded us that this has been a two-year process."
Parkers Prairie split its first two games of the season, then won the next 17. Their only losses were 4-3 to Wadena-Deer Creek in April and 5-4 to Brandon-Evansville in the Section 6-1A playoffs.
The Panthers are led at the plate by Levi Arnold and his .486 average with 13 RBIs. Andrew Johnson, who will play in the state's all-star series, is batting .476 with 25 RBIs. Casey Peterson has three home runs and 36 RBIs with a .354 mark. Travis Yohnke is batting .368 with 26 RBIs.
Arnold is their ace with a 10-0 mark 0.728 ERA in 57.2 innings with 56 strikeouts. Johnson is 6-1 with a 3.142 ERA in 42.1 innings with 48 whiffs. Matt Ferley is 5-1 with a 1.302 ERA in 43 innings with 41 strikeouts. Harry Samuelson is 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 14 innings.
No. 5 Fosston (22-2) vs. No. 4 Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove (22-3): Fosston is at state for the first time since 2010. Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove, making its first appearance as this co-op, is on a 15-game win streak.
Ely (20-8) vs. No. 2 Legacy Christian Academy (19-4): Ely is in the tournament for the second consecutive season. Legacy Christian won the consolation title in 2016.
Wabasha-Kellogg (16-8) vs. No. 3 Martin Luther/GHEC-Truman (21-4): Wabasha-Kellogg was the 1A runner-up in 2009. The Falcons are on a seven-game win streak. ML/GHEC-Truman is making its first state appearance.