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Legion baseball: Worthington has something to prove

WORTHINGTON —Worthington American Legion Post 5 baseball coach Jeff Nelson sent a text message to his players Wednesday night after the Division I, District II meeting to seed the tournament.

“I told them, ‘We’re better than a 9-seed. We need to go out there and show them what we can do,’” Nelson said. “This is a talented group of guys. They’ve worked hard and I’m proud of what everyone’s done.”

In what was a tight decision for where everyone was seeded, Post 5 took the ninth seed in the nine-team field after sporting a 6-10 overall record this season. That means they will have to win a play-in game at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Sleepy Eye against No. 8 Woodbury for the right to advance and play top-seeded New Ulm Gold. That game would be at 7 p.m. Thursday in Sleepy Eye.

Nelson doesn’t think the bottom spot is a true indication of how his team has performed this year.

“(In our district) there are some really good teams but there are a lot of teams like us that have been really streaky,” he said. “Sleepy Eye, Woodbury, Mankato American, New Ulm Blue; they’ve all been streaky. At the meeting, it was hard because a lot of teams were competitive in their records and runs scored and all that. But I don’t think we deserved the nine-seed. So, if we do get past Woodbury, hopefully we can play well against New Ulm Gold and whether it’s in the championship or consolation bracket, maybe we can surprise some people.”

Post 5 is certainly capable of that. Their last win was a 15-1 blowout over Luverne, which is tied for the No. 1 ranking in Division II. On Tuesday, Worthington was tied with New Ulm Gold throughout the contest before giving up a seven-run sixth en route to a 9-2 loss.

“We were in that game with (New Ulm Gold),” Nelson said. “We just couldn’t close the deal. We’ve had a lot of games like that this year, where one bad inning really cost us. I feel confident in these kids. They’ve shown dramatic improvement throughout the summer. They just need to put it all together.”

Division II had its sub-district tournaments last week, with Luverne and Jackson both earning a trip to the District II tournament by going 2-0 and 2-1, respectively.

Luverne, which is tied with BOLD at No. 1 in the season-ending Minnesota American Legion Baseball poll, is the top seed in the district and will begin play against fourth-seeded Welcome-Sherburn at 10 a.m. today in Redwood Falls. Jackson is No. 3 on the same side of the bracket and will play second-seeded Wells at 1 p.m. today, also in Redwood Falls. The winner of each game will play at 4 p.m. Saturday with the losers squaring off at 10 a.m. Saturday.

On the other side of the bracket, the first round will feature matchups between St. James and Springfield at 4 p.m. Saturday and Redwood Falls and Blue Earth at 7 p.m. with both games happening in Redwood Falls.

“You have to be confident no matter where you’re at,” Luverne Post 123 coach Barry Shelton said. “If you’re not confident, the team’s not going to be confident. But, I think we got a good draw on our side of the bracket.”

As the tournament host, Luverne already has an automatic bid to the Division II state tournament, so how it does at districts doesn’t mean a great deal in the grand scheme of things. Still, Shelton said he expects his team to work hard and play to win.

“I just tell them to stay sharp, be confident and do what they have always been doing this year,” he said.

Zach Hacker

Zach is the Daily Globe sports reporter. He has previously been a sports editor at both the Waseca County News in Waseca, Minn., and The Emporia Gazette in Emporia, Kansas. He is originally from New Richland, Minn., and now lives in Worthington with his dog; a beagle-corgi mix named Homer. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with family and friends, pontooning on St. Olaf Lake and watching professional and collegiate sports.

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