Arrows face Knights in Class AA baseball opener
PIPESTONE -- The Pipestone Area Arrows baseball team hopes the third time's the charm.
For the third consecutive year, the Arrows will have a shot at the Class AA state championship -- something they have been unable to capture in the two previous trips.
However, they will face a tough opening-round opponent in the Kenyon-Wanamingo Knights at 10 a.m. today at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud.
"We've been there the last two years," Pipestone Area head coach Rick Zollner said. "This year our idea is to go down there and play one game at a time."
"We've had a real good section tournament and we're all healthy," Kenyon-Wanamingo head coach Randy Hockinson said. "We're anxious to go up there and show what we can do."
The Arrows bring a 20-5 overall record and a nine-game winning streak into the contest.
The Knights carry an 18-5 record overall and an eight-game winning streak, and have won 12 of the last 13 contests. This is the first time that the Knights have qualified for the state tournament since the two schools combined.
"It's kind of a dream season," Hockinson said. "Over the years we haven't had a lot of winning seasons, so this has been real special."
Pipestone is undefeated when playing non-conference opponents this season, and is a perfect 4-0 at neutral sites.
With two previous trips, Zollner hopes the experience will pay off.
"All the kids are familiar with St. Cloud and the hotel we'll stay at and the field," Zollner said. "It probably makes us a little more comfortable than most teams."
Zollner also said that his team is ready and doesn't feel a lot of pressure.
"For me, personally, the pressure was to get out of the section," Zollner said. "I think for the kids, they expected to be here ... I would say they have been a lot more relaxed than I have."
As for the Knights, Hockinson said his team is ready to play.
"I know we're the smallest school in the AA tournament and probably the least favored," Hockinson said. "But we're going to go up there and hang loose -- anything goes."
Neither of the coaches know a lot about the opposition.
"I know they've scored a lot of runs and haven't given up very many," Hockinson said of the Pipestone Area team. "They look like they've had an awesome year."
"I heard they are a very good defensive team and have good pitching," Zollner said of the Kenyon-Wanamingo team. "They will probably play a little bit of small ball. We'll have to make plays to stay in it."
Senior left-hander Noah Grove is one Knights' top pitchers. He threw in Kenyon-Wanamingo's last game, allowing just three hits in 6 1/3 innings. He is 9-2 on the season and carries an ERA of .99 into the state tournament.
Zollner said that his team is a little different than the Knights.
"For us, we have to hit the ball. We are not a team that likes to bunt or do things like that," Zollner said.
Catcher Nathan Alfson anchors the offense for the Arrows. He leads the team with eight home runs and 30 RBI, while hitting .418 on the season.
Seth Garrett is hitting .430 on the season and has driven in 21.
Greg Quist is second on the team with five home runs and has driven in 24. He is also one of the Arrows' top pitchers, compiling a 4-1 record with a 2.51 ERA on the season while leading the team in strikeouts with 50. Colin Taubert leads the team with most wins on the hill with six in 44 innings of work.
For the Knights, Adam Langer and Nate Steenblock are two other pitchers who may get some innings at the state tournament. Langer is 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 50 innings, while Steenblock is 4-2 with a 3.53 ERA.
Grove is also one of the top offensive players, as he is hitting .377 with two homers and 22 RBI. Wade Yunker, who holds the top batting average for the Knights, has 33 hits on the season for a .500 average with two home runs.
Pipestone Area has scored 219 runs on the season while allowing just 99 and has a .383 average as a team, including 21 homers. The Arrows also have a 2.80 team ERA and have struck out 163 opponents while allowing just 70 walks.
In comparison, the Knights have scored 133 runs on the season while allowing 84. They are hitting .322 on the season and have hit just six long balls. K-W carries a 2.20 team ERA and has striking out 159 batters as a team.
For the Arrows, they are playing for more than just themselves.
"That's the pride thing, to let other people in Minnesota know that we play good baseball down here in Southwestern Minnesota," Zollner said. "It could have easily been Lac qui Parle or Luverne representing our section, but it's us, and we want to do a good job."
K-W hopes to ride a winning streak all the way to the title.
"We're looking forward to going up there and hopefully continue to do well," Hockinson said.