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Blast From the Past: In '64, WHS stole the diamond

FILE PHOTO Worthington Trojans’ pitcher Wayne Marcil follows through on a pitch during his team’s 3-1 win over Windom in the 1964 season opener. Worthington went on to take the District 8 title.

Les Knutson

Daily Globe sports columnist 

“Regnier Gang Pulls Off Big Diamond Robbery”

The above heading was the banner headline on the Daily Globe sports page on Thursday, May 28, 1964. The sub-heading was Worthington Wins District 8 Crown.

In the spring of 1964 — a half century ago — Mankato native Danny Regnier was in his 14th season as Worthington High School’s head baseball coach and would coach the Trojans for 12 more years. Multi-purpose Trojan coach Leon Schimbeno, who later was the WHS head girls’ golf coach, was Regnier’s valued baseball assistant.

Ironically, both Regnier and Schimbeno — also from Mankato — started their teaching and coaching careers at Storden High School, a decade apart (‘43-44 for Regnier and ‘51-54 for Schimbeno).

Regnier, who was inducted into the WHS Hall of Fame with the second group of honorees in 1990, also coached in both the Trojan football and basketball programs. Dan is remembered by many as the school’s athletic equipment manager for 33 years from 1951-1983, and as an area high school referee for both football and basketball.

As a high school baseball coach, Regnier was well-known for his “small ball” tactics, employing the bunt — including the suicide squeeze — as a strategy every chance he got.

“Dad was National League all the way,” says his son, Steve, who was a reserve catcher as a sophomore on the 1964 District 8 champions. “He was a good friend of Dick Siebert, the University of Minnesota baseball coach, and learned a lot from him.”

“When we had a runner on third, we knew — and so did our opponent — that the suicide squeeze was on,” remembers Don Craun, who was a left-handed pitching ace as a junior in ‘64. “We were always bunting and running.”

Here’s how Daily Globe sports editor Corky Brace described things in his lead four paragraphs to the district championship game story — which was played at Worthington’s legendary Buss Field on Wednesday, May 27, 1964:

“The same gang which has made a success of petty thievery 12 times this spring scored its biggest diamond robbery of the season Wednesday night in plain view of hundreds of spectators at Buss Field in Worthington.

Other victims of the gang claim the crimes are masterminded by a veteran of many seasons with graying black hair, blue eyes and a willingness to argue with the men in blue. He is known as Danny Regnier and his gangs are always typed by the same MO and are called the Worthington Trojans.

The loot Wednesday night included a large trophy, 15 gold baseballs, a 6-2 victory over the Luverne Cardinals, and a District 8 baseball championship.

Regnier’s gangs like to bunt and run and take advantage of every mistake the intended victim makes while on offense. On defense the group uses great pitching combined with some tight fielding.”

That was Brace’s lead to the game story, which was Worthington’s 13th victory of the season and third win over Luverne. The Cardinals, who had won the 1964 one-class state basketball championship, were loaded with premier all-around athletes.

Worthington’s team, by contrast, that spring was led by a group of seven seniors who — with one exception — played just baseball in the ’63-64 school year.

Centerfielder Dick Robertson was a key member of Don Basche’s Trojan basketball team the preceding winter, but none of the seven played football.

The other six, in alphabetical order, were second baseman Jeff Johnson, infielder Bernie Marsh, pitcher Wayne Marcil, leftfielder Bruce Meyer, shortstop Bob Thomas and right fielder Keith Winter.

“We all liked baseball,” recalls Marsh, who was the only one of the seven who was not in the regular starting line-up. “I goofed around more in practice than the other guys that year and ended up riding the pine quite a bit. But we all loved Coach Regnier, he was a great coach who was fair and gave everyone an equal chance.”

Johnson, Thompson and Marcil (when he was pitching) were the usual first three hitters in Regnier’s line-up, followed by junior Jerry Griffith (third base), Meyer, Winter, junior Dennis Dreeszen, Robertson and junior Dick Horak (catcher).

Griffith, who also excelled for the Trojans in both football and baseball, did some catching for the Trojans and was honored — along with Marcil — as one of 12 players selected as All-Conference among the eight teams in the Southwest Conference.

“I was playing behind two outstanding catchers in Horak and Griffith,” recalled Steve Regnier. “So my duty in ‘64 was catching the B-squad games and warming up the pitchers in the bullpen for the varsity.”

Steve Regnier had a B-squad highlight in a 15-0 victory over Jackson when he blasted a grand slam home run. Three other Trojans — Ron Dammer, Joe McCoy and Byron Bunge — also ripped homers in that game. Dammer, who later coached girls’ basketball at Butterfield, pitched a one-hit shutout for Worthington.

Trojans open with four straight wins Brace, who later defended and praised Regnier in a “Brace’s Bits” column, was not overly optimistic about the Trojans in his pre-season preview story.

“This is a rebuilding year for the Trojans,” wrote Brace. “Coach Danny Regnier’s club will be strongest at pitching and catching.”

With Marcil, Craun, junior Keith Calvin and junior Duane Petersen all capable of throwing well, Worthington had a deep and talented pitching staff that spring. Horak did most of the catching, but when an injury sidelined him for several games, the multi-talented Griffith did the job behind the plate.

“They were both good catchers,” recalled Craun, who earned the win in Worthington’s season-opening 3-1 victory over Windom at Buss Field on Friday, April 10, twirling three innings in relief of Marcil.

Thomas (two RBIs) and Marcil each had a pair of singles in the game, while Horak (two runs) hit a single and a double.

Calvin was exceptional for the Trojans the next day, pitching a no-hitter through six innings against defending Region 2 champion Fairmont in a make-up game at Buss Field. He struck out nine Cardinals and walked just three. Petersen pitched the seventh, keeping the no-hitter intact, while striking out two as WHS claimed a 5-0 win.

Worthington hosted Pipestone at Buss on Tuesday (April 14) and improved to 3-0 with a 4-3 triumph as Meyer ripped a bases-loaded, two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to change a 3-2 deficit into a walk-off win for the Trojans. Petersen went the distance on the mound.

Next came a 3-1 victory at Luverne (Thursday, April 16), highlighted by stellar catches by all three outfielders (Meyer in left, Robertson in center and Winter in right), along with a pair of hits from Griffith and a fine pitching performance by Calvin.

First of four games vs. Slayton Wildcats Up next for the undefeated Trojans was a trip to Slayton to tangle with the defending District 8 champions, who had ended Worthington’s 1963 season in the district semifinals. The Wildcats were good again in ‘64.

“We loved playing Slayton,” said Craun, who developed a curve ball under the tutelage of catcher Gene “Sunny” Oltmans two years earlier after being moved up to pitch for the varsity as a freshman in the spring of ‘62. “The games with Slayton were always close and well-played. Slayton’s guys were good players and good friends, too.”

In what ended up being the first of four contests between the two league rivals that spring, the Wildcats won that day (Monday, April 20) by a 6-1 final as Craun’s long-time nemesis Jim Johnson (also a junior left-handed pitcher) hammered a home run off Craun, who took the loss.

“Jim always seemed to hit a home run — a long blast — off of me,” Craun remembered. “He was a tough out for me.”

Tim Andrews stroked a double and a single for the Wildcats, who received a stellar three-hit, 10 strike-out pitching performance from senior Mike Kelley.

“Kelley could really throw hard,” recalled Marsh, who played a lot for the Trojans as a junior infielder in 1963. “He was one of the best pitchers we faced.”

A triple by Marcil and two singles by Winter were Worthington’s only hits in the game as the Trojans’ record fell to 4-1.

Three days later, Regnier’s gang tasted defeat again. This time at Jackson by a final score of 7-3. Bluejay junior Dennis Hale smacked a deep two-run homer over the centerfield fence in the first inning and struck out six Trojans as JHS led from start to finish.

Jackson catcher Glenn Lienbach had three hits, while Hale and John Pletz (RBI double) both had two as Jackson tagged 11 hits off Marcil. Griffith had two hits for the Trojans.

After three games on the road, the Trojans were glad to return to Buss Field and halted their two-game skid with a 9-0 win over Lakefield on Friday, the 24th.

Craun pitched a two-hit shutout (both Panther hits were Texas League singles by senior pitcher Steve Rubis), striking out 12 while walking just three.

Rubis pitched well for Lakefield, twirling four scoreless frames before yielding a single run in the fifth, while striking out six. But the Trojans plated eight runs in the bottom of the sixth to improve to 5-2 on the campaign.

Craun continued his fine pitching at Pipestone five days, tossing a no-hitter through four innings in a 6-4 win over the Arrows. “Don had a heck of a curve ball and was a good pitcher,” praised Marsh about Craun.

The Trojans erupted for four runs in the top of the first, starting with a leadoff double by Griffith. A two-out RBI single by Marcil was followed by Winter reaching on an error, a single by Meyer and Johnson being safe on an error. Horak capped the surge with an RBI single.

Classic pitcher’s duel at Buss Field May 4 Both Kelley and Marcil were sharp in a classic pitcher’s duel at Buss Field on Monday, May 4.

Marcil, who had been battling some illness during April, was at the top of his game. He faced just 23 batters and did not issue a walk, while striking out five. Jere Ohme’s infield single in the top of the second inning was Slayton’s only hit, as the Trojans won 2-0.

Kelley (eight strikeouts, one walk) was tagged for three hits (two by Dreeszen and one by Jeff Johnson) by the Trojans, who scored solo runs in both the third and fifth innings, playing Regnier’s style of small ball well.

“We practiced bunting and sliding every day,” recalled Marsh. “Those were two of the fundamentals we worked on over and over. We wore sliding pants every day because you had to know how to hook slide.”

Worthington improved to 8-2 with a 2-1 win over Lakefield there on Thursday, May 7. Both Marcil and Rubis pitched fine games, while Winter (three hits) and junior outfielder Dave Harens (third-inning RBI double) had good days at the plate. Griffith (single) advanced to second on Harens’ sacrifice bunt in the top of the fifth and then scored the go-ahead run on Winter’s RBI single.

Winter later became an optometrist in Slayton and his son Trevor played basketball for the University of Minnesota in the 1990s.

Two big conference games at Buss Field on May 14 After several days of postponed games due to pouring rains, the Trojans played a pair of key conference make-up contests on the same day — Thursday, May 14 —at Buss Field and won them both.

In 1964, the eight-team Southwest Conference was split into two divisions — north and south — for baseball. Pipestone, Marshall, Redwood Falls and Windom played in the north, while Luverne, Slayton, Worthington and Jackson made up the south.

May 14 was a memorable day for the Trojans as they moved into a tie with Slayton for the Southern Division lead. Luverne’s Bill Toms, the Cardinals’ version of a basketball power forward, pitched a six-hitter at Slayton as LHS edged the Wildcats, 2-1.

Meanwhile, at Buss, Worthington claimed a 2-0 victory over Jackson as Marcil (seven innings, six strikeouts, one hit, no walks) won a pitcher’s duel over Hale (six innings, five strikeouts, one hit, one walk).

Jackson’s Gary “Butch” Stough, an All-Conference slugger for the Bluejays, spoiled Marcil’s perfect game with a one-out single in the top of the seventh. A game-ending double play from Meyer to Jeff Johnson preserved the shutout victory for the Trojans, who had just one hit — a leadoff single by Griffith in the bottom of the first, who later scored after two Jackson errors. Two more Bluejay errors in the bottom of the second allowed Johnson to score the game’s final run.

Luverne and Worthington squared off in the nightcap and reserve third baseman Dick Wibbens, a junior, became the “Man of the Hour” when he plated Johnson (single, steals second) with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the seventh.

Wibbens had earlier scored Worthington’s first run when he reached on an error in the third inning and scored on Griffith’s RBI double.

Craun relieved Marcil with runners on the corners (Greg Thone, double; Curt Laudon, single) in the top of the fifth, escaping with just a single run and earned the pitching victory.

The twin wins improved Worthington to a sparkling 10-2 overall and 4-2 in the division, setting up a playoff against Slayton for the southern championship.

Three games in four days, two of them in District 8 action In what appears to be not so uncommon of an occurrence in those days, the Trojans played a District 8 quarterfinal game on Monday (May 18), a conference playoff game on Tuesday and a District 8 semifinal game on Thursday (May 21).

All three games were low scoring contests, with the losing team not scoring.

Playing at Buss Field, the Trojans defeated Fulda 3-0 in the district quarterfinals as Griffith stroked a trio of hits and Marcil and Petersen combined for the shutout. Johnson had a pair of hits, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI.

The next day, Worthington traveled to Slayton and the Wildcats won the Southern Division championship, claiming a 2-0 victory over the Trojans as Jim Johnson (seven innings, seven strikeouts, three hits, one walk) won the left-handed pitcher’s duel against Craun (six innings, seven strikeouts, five hits, one walk).

Slayton scored twice in the bottom of the fifth, as Kelley (single) and Bruce Fried (reached on an error) both scored after a sacrifice bunt by Tom Rice and a pinch-hit two-run single by Ohme. Tim Andrews (single, double) had the game’s only extra-base hit.

The Trojans, who had runners on base in the second, third and fifth innings, received a pair of singles from Meyer and one by Marcil, who had a long fly ball caught by Slayton’s Doug Busch next to the fence in the fourth inning.

Two days later, the same two teams tangled at Slayton again. This time in the District 8 semifinals.

Right-handers Marcil and Kelley hooked up again. The Trojans scored twice in the top of the fifth inning as Dreeszen smacked a one-out single and Horak drew a walk. Both advanced on a rare wild pitch by Kelley. Dreeszen scored on Regnier’s favorite play — a successful suicide squeeze by Wibbens — and Jeff Johnson’s two-out RBI single plated Horak.

Marcil (seven innings, two strikeouts, four hits, two walks) was aided by an errorless Trojan defensive performance which ended with a slick double play from Thomas to Johnson to Dreeszen. Slayton’s only threat came in the bottom of the fourth when the Wildcats advanced a runner to third base.

“We had Wayne Marcil pitching and he was good --- very good,” summed up Marsh about the side-arm throwing Trojan ace.

Finish season 13-4, 9-1 at Buss Field The victory over Slayton — the third 2-0 game — gave the Trojans and Wildcats a split on the season. But the Trojans advanced to the district championship game, against Luverne, a 13-2 winner over Edgerton in the semifinals.

Slayton played Redwood Falls for the overall Southwest Conference title at Slayton the following Monday (May 25) and dropped a 3-1 decision to the Cardinals, completing another fine season for the Wildcats, who won another district championship in 1967.

Playing at Buss Field, the Trojans won for the ninth consecutive time as Marcil worked out of some challenging early problems, allowing only solo runs in the fourth and seventh innings. Luverne, which received a booming leadoff double from Laudon and a single by Dave Gangestad to start the game, put runners on base in six of the seven innings. Marcil finished with eight strikeouts, including fanning both Toms and John Beyer with two on and nobody out in the first.

“Wayne was a very clutch pitcher,” summed up Steve Regnier. “He was at his best when he was challenged.”

Effectively utilizing their “small ball” tactics, the Trojans scored once in the bottom of the third, twice in the fourth and crossed the plate three times in the bottom of the fifth, opening up a 6-1 lead.

A walk to Dreeszen and Robertson’s single (both advancing on an error) were followed by Horak’s successful squeeze to “manufacture” Worthington’s first run. Later, Winter’s RBI double, along with singles from Meyer, Robertson, Horak and Dreeszen were key hits as Worthington won the championship and advanced to Region 2 competition.

Windom, on an RBI single by Rich Maras (plating Dave Sogge, who had doubled), claimed a 2-1 walk-off victory against Jackson to win the District 7 title.

That set the stage for the Region 2 tournament to be played at Buss Field on Tuesday June 2 and Thursday June 4.

District 6 champion St. James (8-5) scored twice in the fourth and twice in the seventh to defeat Windom (13-6), 4-1, in the first semifinal game at 6 p.m. Eagle pitcher Dick Nelson’s RBI single scored Sogge (walk, stole second) with Windom’s only run in the bottom of the second.

Marcil (eight innings, seven strikeouts) and Fairmont right-hander Mike Ettosvold hooked up in another classic pitcher’s duel in the 8:15 p.m. second semifinal. Neither team scored through seven innings.

Then with two outs and two strikes in the top of the eighth, Fairmont right fielder Keith Hartman drove a Marcil pitch over the left field fence, putting the Cardinals up 1-0 --- which is how the game finished.

As Brace put it his game write-up:

“The dreams of the Worthington Trojans for the school’s first baseball state tournament entry flew over the left field fence in the eighth inning with Hartman’s game-winning home run.”

The Trojans only struck out twice the whole game, but were only able to muster two hits (singles each by Meyer and Dreeszen). Several stellar scoops at first base by Dreeszen, along with great throws each by Robertson (center field) and Horak (catcher) to Griffith at third base for outs highlighted another sparkling defensive performance by Worthington, which finished its season at 13-4 overall (9-1 at home).

Fairmont (16-5-1) advanced to the state tournament with a 4-3 victory over St. James in the finals and then won two of three games at the state tournament (2-1 win over Ely, 6-4 loss to Austin in the semifinals, 6-2 win over Benson in the third-place game), Austin won the 1964 state championship with a 3-0 victory over Minneapolis West.

But what a year it was for those Trojans in the spring of 1964, effectively utilizing Coach Regnier’s tactics of “small ball” baseball to win 13 games, including the coveted District 8 championship.