Prep baseball: Windom Area, Luverne positioned for success
WINDOM — The great New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra, once remarked: “It’s deja-vu all over again.”
It may feel like deja-vu to the Windom Area and Luverne high school baseball teams. The Eagles and the Cardinals appear to be in similar positions to where they were last year at this time when the section tournament season was about to begin.
Windom Area struggled in the middle part of 2013, then caught fire in the second stage en route to a state Class A tournament berth. The Cards, on the other hand, were consistent winners on the way to the state Class AA tourney — where they won a consolation championship, finishing with a 22-5 record.
Luverne, expected to be one of the area’s top teams again in 2014, has done nothing to diminish those expectations. Heading into Tuesday’s game with Murray County Central, the Cards were 15-4.
Before Monday’s tight 5-4 loss to Luverne, Windom Area had gotten on another late-season roll, winning six straight. Today the Eagles are 10-9.
The first round of the 2014 Section 3A tournament begins on Saturday. Windom Area plays the winner of tonight’s play-in game between Russell-Tyler-Ruthton and Edgerton/Southwest Christian at 11 a.m. in Windom. In Section 3AA, Luverne is scheduled to open at 1 p.m. Saturday in New Ulm against Blue Earth Area.
Windom Area head coach Brad Schlomann hopes to lead the Eagles to a second straight state berth.
“I feel we have good senior leadership. We’re playing at an even keel. They take control of the things they’re able to control,” Schlomann said of his players Tuesday.
Windom Area had a clearcut No. 1 pitcher last year, Collin Lovell, and an outstanding shortstop, Brandon Thongvivong. Both have graduated, so Schlomann feels comparisons with 2013 are only slightly justified.
“We really leaned on Collin last year. We played flawless defense. But we didn’t hit like we’ve done this year,” Schlomann said.
This spring, Sam Huska, Jack Mellstrom, Andrew Larson, Jacob Gotto and Bryton Syverson are all batting over .300. Huska owns a 4-1 record as a pitcher, with 34 innings thrown, but four others — Mellstrom, Taylor Quiring, Wyatt Stevens and Joe Wieneke — have all pitched 20-plus innings with good results. As a team, the Eagles have issued just 49 walks over 122 innings.
Clearly, the goal is to return to state.
“I don’t want to step out too much and put a target on our backs,” Schlomann admitted. But he pronounced himself pleased with his team’s hitting, its pitching depth and its ability to run bases.
As for Luverne, head coach Mike Wenninger remains unsatisfied despite his team’s outstanding record.
“We’re playing just good enough,” he said Tuesday morning. “We’re just getting by in some of the games. I think if our defense was playing better, I’d feel a lot better.”
There’s no reason to worry just yet. “This is a very athletic group,” Wenninger pointed out, and all the physical tools to play top-flite defense exist.
Josh Slieter and Kendall Meyer have led the Cardinals with the bats, and the Cardinals — blessed with loads of talent from both the right and left sides of the plate — don’t have an easy out anywhere in the lineup.
“In my 18 years, this is the top two or three (hitting teams),” he said. “We’re at about .405 for a team batting average.”
Slieter, Meyer and Gunnar Olson are the pitching mainstays.
It’s pitching and defense that wins championships, Wenninger believes. It’s defense that he’s hoping to see more of in the coming days.
“Once we get that, this could be a very dangerous team. They hopefully have that bug — that itch — to get there,” said the coach.