High school baseball: Luverne knows winning
LUVERNE — Luverne has made a big mark recently in the saga of area prep sports, and if they haven’t done that already, this year’s Cardinals baseball team wants to make sure baseball continues to grow into a worthy part of that conversation too.
The Cardinals feel like they’re putting something special together with this year’s club, after they finished as Class AA’s state consolation champions last spring and won the Southwest Conference in runaway fashion ahead of Marshall.
With seven seniors back, including many key players at key positions, the legacy may just march on, head coach Mike Wenninger suggested as he prepares for his 18th season at the helm of Luverne’s baseball program.
“It’s been a few trips around but we’ve been to four tournaments in my tenure and have had a lot of good baseball players come through that I’m very proud of,” Wenninger said. “We’ve had a lot of kids who have put a lot of time and commitment into baseball and all of their other activities. That says a lot.”
Players like pitchers Gunnar Olson and Logan Norman are both seniors for the Cardinals this spring and have many things on their plates. They, too, were members of Luverne’s boys hockey team, a state tournament qualifier and the Class A state consolation runner-up recently. Josh Slieter, also a senior, played basketball for the Cardinals in the wintertime.
“Even if we may not be successful in one season or something else may not happen, those kids come in and are biting at the bit. For the kids who have been successful in other seasons, they’ve had a great state tournament run,” Wenninger said. “They’re ready to go for another. If you go to the state tournament and get your meals, a bus trip paid for, and get to do nothing with no worries and nothing to care about except the sport at hand, you don’t get to do that when you’re 28, 29 or 42 years old. We really appreciate that when it happens.”
Olson, a forward on the boys hockey team, will spend virtually all of his time this spring in the baseball infield, whether on the mound or elsewhere. He points to strong team chemistry last season and an attention to detail as reasons for that team’s achievements.
Luverne also reached the state tournament in 2009 and was consolation runner-up.
“We played each game well and gave our effort in practice. It paid off in the long run,” Olson said of last season. “When we were younger we didn’t like coming to practice, but now we really look forward to coming to practice.”
Slieter, a forward in basketball, will man third base when he’s not pitching for the baseball team. He and Olson will likely be a strong one-two punch for the Cardinals’ pitching staff, and filling out the group as a third or fourth option may be Kendall Meier or Zane Hiller — but time will tell.
“We could all hit last year, but mainly we did the little things well last year, like bunting and stealing,” Slieter said. “We had good pitching, too. They didn’t always throw the hardest, but they threw strikes. That was the main thing.”
As is the challenge for any spring sports season, distractions will mount throughout the springtime such as prom, graduation and the onset of summer. Keeping his kids focused will be one of the biggest hurdles for Wenninger and his staff to navigate this season.
“I try and get everybody some playing time early in the season and get them their opportunities to feel themselves out so we can see who can play what positions,” Wenninger said. “Last year, we knew a lineup, so that if Josh was pitching, everyone knew where they were playing, and so on. Everything was locked in and I didn’t move it around a lot. We have a lot of little pieces coming back and we hope they can give us the same opportunities.”