BLAST FROM THE PAST: 50 years ago, 'Junior' Severson pitches Wildcats to the Region 2 finals
WESTBROOK -- "Cathy's Clown" by the Everly Brothers was the nation's top song and "Alley-Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles was climbing the charts.
A trio of U.S. Senators -- John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts, Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas and Hubert H. Humphrey from Minnesota -- were still battling to earn the Democrat's presidential nomination.
The Minnesota Twins did not yet exist -- although the Washington Senators, owned by Calvin Griffith, were preparing to leave town and move to the Midwest when the season ended.
Showing at the State Theatre in Windom was "Who Was That Lady," starring Tony Curtis, Dean Martin and Janet Leigh.
"White Wilderness" and "Spare Time Fun" were among the other movies that were being viewed in the area -- during an era when nearly every town had its own theater and its own high school.
Tracy had the "Hollywood," Storden residents went to the Park Theatre, and six miles west -- the Westbrook Theatre was expanding to two shows on Saturday nights and was adding a Sunday matinee.
It was a "boom" time in the area and the nation -- and during the first week of June 1960, the Westbrook Wildcats were riding the durable pitching arm of Stanley "Junior" Severson to the Region 2 championship game.
"We really caught fire," recalled Luverne's Keith Erickson, who was the starting shortstop for that Westbrook High School team, which won five consecutive tournament games -- after winning only one regular-season game.
"It was kind of a surprise, but we just kept winning and 'Junior' was unreal -- he was just unbelievable during that run of wins."
Severson, who had shared pitching duties with legendary WHS athlete Gary Kleven the previous spring, became Westbrook's ace as a senior in 1960.
Junior was a good pitcher," confirmed Comfrey's Bob Meyer, who was rival Storden's ace in both '59 and '60. "We always had good, low-scoring games against Westbrook."
Meyer, who led the Tigers to the District 7 championship as a junior in 1959, was hoping for a Westbrook vs. Storden district title clash in 1960. But it didn't happen, as an athletic squad from Mountain Lake dethroned the Tigers in the semifinals.
Severson strikes out 51 in Westbrook's 4-game District 7 run
Meanwhile, Westbrook -- which had managed only one victory during the regular season -- was pitted against Jackson in its opening round game of the District 7 tournament.
"It was a cold, wet spring," remembered the right-handed Severson, who had grown to about 6-2 and weighed about 165 pounds by his senior baseball season. "We got rained out a bunch of times and ended up playing just eight games. We lost six of them, but were tied with Tracy before the rain ended that one. Our only win was against Round Lake."
Despite its 1-6-1 record, the Wildcats played a solid game against the bigger school Bluejays.
Severson was amazing.
Playing at Lakefield on Saturday evening, May 28, Westbrook advanced with a 2-0 victory, as Severson tossed a no-hitter, while striking out 17 Bluejays and walking just three.
Westbrook scored a run in the first inning when senior third baseman Tom Patterson drove in senior right fielder Ron Lien, and in the fifth it was Lien's RBI single that plated senior center fielder Kent Musegades for the second run.
Three days later on Memorial Day (always May 31 in those days), the Wildcats blanked Okabena 8-0 in the quarterfinals as Severson struck out a dozen Bluehawks.
Erickson (fifth-inning home run over the left center field fence) and Severson each had two hits in the game for Westbrook, while senior second baseman Jim Johnson and junior catcher Bob Sondergaard both had one hit.
Westbrook scored six runs -- on just one hit (a bunt single by Johnson) -- in the second inning.
Up next for the Wildcats was a game against Windom in the semifinals.
But first, six of the Westbrook starters headed north to Lutsen Resort, near Duluth for the WHS Senior Class Trip.
"We took a school bus all the way up there and back," said Severson, who recalls the nice swimming pool at the resort. "I remember diving into the deep end and Erickson dove in and pulled me out -- which was a good thing because I couldn't swim."
But he could pitch.
Hours after getting home from the class trip, the Wildcats managed a 5-4 semifinal win over the Eagles on Friday afternoon June 3, as Severson allowed four hits, but struck out 10, increasing his tournament total to 39 in 21 innings.
Musegades, who was Westbrook's leadoff batter and was selected as the school's "Athlete of the Year" in 1960, belted a two-run homer in the second inning to spark the Wildcats.
Patterson and the Sondergaard brothers -- Bob and Dennis (sophomore first baseman) -- also had hits for Westbrook in its semifinal win.
Mountain Lake, which had made it all the way to the 1960 Region 2 finals in basketball (losing to eventual state champion Edgerton by a narrow 61-55 score), avenged its loss 1959 district baseball championship game loss to Storden by claiming a 3-2 victory over the Tigers.
Westbrook, behind the stellar play of the 6-5 Kleven, had advanced to the '59 regional finals in basketball and had won the District 7 title in baseball in 1958.
The Wildcats were no strangers to championship games.
Playing at Lakefield on Saturday evening June 4, Westbrook defeated Mountain Lake, 3-1, claiming its third district crown in three seasons.
Severson was brilliant on the mound, despite pitching on back-on-back days.
He whiffed 12 Lakers and gave up just two hits. His 28-inning totals over the the four district games were 51 strikeouts -- nearly two per inning -- while scattering just eight hits.
"We came up with some key hits and scored some runs," said Erickson. "But, it was really Severson's pitching that pulled us through the district tournament."
Severson remembers a big play by his catcher Bob Sondergaard in that title game.
"I remember they (Mountain Lake) had a fast kid on first and Bob gunned him out stealing with a perfect throw," Severson said. "That was a key play that night."
All three of Westbrook's runs came in the fifth inning. Johnson walked, stole second and stole third. Bob Sondergaard was hit by a pitch before junior left fielder Steve Kall put down a perfect squeeze bunt to plate Johnson.
An error on that play allowed Sondergaard to score and Kall to advance all the way to third where he scored on Lien's RBI single to right.
Coaching the Wildcats in both football and baseball during those years was Warren Olson, a graduate of Hamline University, who left Westbrook a few years later and became the head football coach at the brand new suburban high school in Brooklyn Center.
"Coach Olson left for a bigger school and later earned induction into the State Football Coaches Hall of Fame," said Severson. "One of the years (1982 or 1985) that Westbrook won the Prep Bowl, Brooklyn Center was playing there, too."
Olson's usual starting line-up and batting order during the '60 tournament run had the six seniors Musegades (CF), Lien (RF), Erickson (SS), Patterson (3B), Severson (P) and Johnson (2B), followed by the two juniors Kall (LF) and Bob Sondergaard (C) and then the lone sophomore Dennis Sondergaard (1B).
"They had quite a few good athletes," recalled Meyer. "That team sure gelled at the right time and played great baseball in the tournament."
"It's a good thing that we didn't have to play Storden," admitted Erickson. "We never could beat them. That lefty (Meyer) they had was so tough. He could throw hard and had a terrific drop ball."
Another shutout in the Region 2 tournament
On Tuesday afternoon, June 7, 1960, the Region 2 tournament opened at Martin Park in Fairmont.
St. James defeated District 8 champion Pipestone, 6-3, and Westbrook shut out District 5 champion Sherburn, 2-0, setting up a title-game clash between the Saints and Wildcats.
Patterson -- who was Westbrook's valedictorian in 1960 and later earned a 4.00 GPA at South Dakota St. -- smacked a two-run homer (driving in Musegades, who had singled) in the first inning for the game's only runs.
"He was allegedly our best hitter," joked Erickson about Patterson, who in now a professor of political science at Harvard. "Tom teaches at a 'little college' somewhere in the East. I know he remembers that tournament run and the fun that we had."
Severson worked his third shutout of the tournament trail, being touched for five hits, while striking out seven.
The Wildcats were now one game from the state baseball tournament -- where they had not played since making trips in both 1947 and 1949 (a "Blast" from July 15, 2006 recalled some of those players and games).
A preview story in the June 9, 1960 issue of the Westbrook Sentinel had the following lead:
"Westbrook High School's baseball Wildcats, winning only one game during the regular season, have burst forth as leading contenders for the Region II championship.
"Guided by the brilliant pitching of Junior Severson, the 'Cats have downed all comers to date in District 7 and Region II play."
Twice getting two-run singles, the Wildcats opened up a 4-2 lead on the powerful Saints, champions of District 6.
Severson drove in a pair in the first and Lien did the same in the second.
"We scored in bunches of two," recalled Erickson. "We poked a pair of bloopers over second base -- seeing eye singles -- and we had an early lead."
The lead held until the top of the seventh when the Saints had two runners on with two outs and athletic shortstop Steve Strommen at the plate.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," recalls Severson. "Two on, two out and the count was 3-2. I threw a fastball, high and outside -- and Strommen took it the other way for a three-run homer."
"He really slammed it," said Erickson of Strommen's blast. "It seemed like it maybe landed in the next county."
"I thought he'd miss or maybe let it go -- it was a ball," said Severson. "I ended up striking the next guy out -- for the fourth time. I guess I should have walked Strommen."
Trailing 5-4, the Wildcats loaded the bases -- with nobody out -- in the bottom of the seventh.
Enter Strommen again.
"They had a left-handed pitcher that had three pitches -- slow, slower and slowest," recalled Erickson. "Then they brought Strommen in to pitch -- and was he fast. He was just blew it right by three of us."
Strommen struck out the side, as Severson watched the third out from the on-deck circle.
"I was hoping for a chance to bat and make up for giving up that homer," Severson concluded. "But it didn't happen."
Severson, Erickson, Patterson, Musegades, Lien and Johnson were all seniors and will likely rehash some of the memorable 1960 baseball moments when they get together later this month for their 50-year class reunion.
"We will play some golf, listen to some good music and talk about baseball -- among other things," summed up Severson, who pitched another shutout (a 9-0 victory over Storden in "Town Team" ball) two days after the regional loss to St. James, which was his fourth no-run game in 15 days.
Quite a remarkable -- and durable pitching performance by Severson over a string of Westbrook Wildcat victories from 50 years ago this month.