Class 2A Baseball: Pioneers need to bring 'A' game
State tournament Who: No. 3 seed Pierz vs. Paynesville What: Class 2A state quarterfinals Where: Dick Putz Field, St. Cloud When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday. During the regular season, the Pierz Pioneers dismantled the Paynesville Bulldogs 10-1 and 14-5 ...
Who: No. 3 seed Pierz vs. Paynesville
What: Class 2A state quarterfinals
Where: Dick Putz Field, St. Cloud
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
During the regular season, the Pierz Pioneers dismantled the Paynesville Bulldogs 10-1 and 14-5 in Central Minnesota Conference games.
But Pierz head coach Danny Saehr those wins mean little or nothing this week as the Pioneers prepare to open the state tournament Thursday against Paynesville in the quarterfinals at St. Cloud.
"When we beat them the first time it was the first game of the year for them," Saehr said. "They were kind of young and inexperienced coming back. The second game we beat them they were actually short a couple players and it was I think 9-5 going into the seventh then we scored five to bust it open.
"I have a ton of respect for their head coach Brad Skoglund (a 400-game winner). It's a very good baseball community over there. They play the game the right way. We could care less about those scores. That's done and over with. This is a state tournament game. We need to bring our 'A' game if we want to win."
The Pioneers, who received the No. 3 seed in 3A, have won a school-record 21 games (21-4) and are riding an 11-game win streak.
Offensively, eight Pierz starters are batting at least .300 led by Lane Girtz's .427 mark. He leads the team in home runs (4) and RBIs (24). Aaron Weber is behind Girtz at .388 with 23 RBIs.
Pierz's pitching staff goes six deep led by Matt Tautges' 6-1 mark and 0.93 ERA.
He has struck out 65 batters in 48.2 innings.
Matt Kummet is 3-1, Aaron Weber 4-0, Girtz 3-2, David Skiba 3-0 and Kolton Eischens 2-0. Tautges and Kummet combined for a no-hitter May 13 against Foley and Eischens no-hit Holdingford the next week.
Saehr said Eischens is an example of Pierz's pitching depth.
"Kolton threw about five innings going into the final two weeks of the regular season," Saehr said. "He threw a no-hitter against Holdingford and pitched really good against Little Falls (10-9 win May 23). He started our third playoff game against Melrose (8-2 win), pitched five innings and didn't give up any earned runs..
"The bottom line is I don't want kids pitching under pressure but if they can't there's a kid right behind them that can. A good example was last Thursday against Cathedral (6-4 win) and Aaron did what he did, then Lane came in and Kummet came in. We were confident in all of them."
Kummet has developed into the Pioneers' closer. He entered the section championship game against Cathedral with no outs in the bottom of the fifth. He pitched out of it and allowed two hits and no runs the rest of the way with three strikeouts and a walk.
"Since his freshman year, he's been our so-called closer," Saehr said. "Not often is there a closer in high school. He's a really good catcher. We catch him as much as we can. If he's not catching, then Teddy (Dehler) catches.
"Matt has thrived in that role. If we can we get a lead with two or three innings left and he's fresh and our starters are maybe getting in a little trouble, it's his game. Tautges has pitched three complete games and we haven't needed a closer much. If there's a game to close, often times the ball is (Kummet's)."
Many of the Pioneers were members of Pierz's Class 3A state championship football and section champion wrestling teams.
"I know this sounds crazy because it's almost unfair at times, but you expect them to come through," Saehr said. "As players, as fans, as coaches, you just expect these kids to come through because they've done it so many times."
The Pioneers are making their first state baseball appearance since 1986.
"I'm very proud of this group of kids," Saehr said. "Pierz baseball there's a lot of excitement right now around here. We have great kids, great parents, a supportive community. That's probably one of the biggest reasons we are where we're at. It's a complete community effort."
Unseeded and unranked Paynesville is led at bat by Brent Burg's .430 average and 22 RBIs. Grant Thompson has 16 RBIs and a .338 average. Matt Haines is batting .362. Grant Ludwig is 6-1 on the mound with a 1.85 ERA in 41 innings.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark .