WHS BASEBALLL: Trojans sweep Cards 9-3, 12-2 to clinch conferenceWORTHINGTON — The Worthington Trojan baseball team needed a pair of wins to claim the outright Southwest Conference championship Monday afternoon in a doubleheader with the Redwood Valley Cardinals at the Middle School field.
By: Lance Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The Worthington Trojan baseball team needed a pair of wins to claim the outright Southwest Conference championship Monday afternoon in a doubleheader with the Redwood Valley Cardinals at the Middle School field.
The Trojans got just what they needed, as the bats produced runs and the newly-anointed SWC champions received a pair of complimentary starting pitching performances by Lucas Henning and Jon Reller, respectively, in a 9-3 win in the opener and a 12-2 victory in five innings in the nightcap.
“It feels great,” Henning said. “It’s been an awful long time for Worthington baseball. And now we are back on top of the conference and it feels great.”
The SWC title marks the first time since 1999 that the trophy case at WHS will make room for another from the baseball program.
“I just picked up on a program that Coach (Pat) Shaughnessy left,” a humble Trojan head coach Stacy Sauerbrei said. “We’ve been close many times under him.
“The kids coming through the program are well skilled and they’ve been taught how to play the game from a young age. At this level, we just try to continue with it.
“It’s thrilling. The kids are excited and I am excited about it. It’s good. It’s good to be conference champions. The Southwest Conference is not a shabby conference. If you’re going to win the conference, you’re going to have to earn it, as there are a lot of tough teams. I’m proud of my guys.”
Heading into Monday’s contests, the local nine knew that one win would be enough to share the conference with the MHS and JCC, but two victories would securely place the trophy in sole possession of the Trojans.
“Well, we knew that Jackson and Marshall split their doubleheader, so we knew what we had to do [to win the Southwest Conference],” WHS senior outfielder Tyler Verdoorn said. “We came in to the doubleheader and took care of business [Monday].”
The victories capped off a 13-3 overall regular season for the Trojans and a 10-2 conference campaign, which was good enough to finish one game ahead of Jackson County Central and Marshall in second place at 9-3 and Luverne in fourth place at 7-5.
The bottom half of the league was rounded out by Pipestone Area in fifth at 4-8, Redwood Valley in sixth and 2-10 and Windom in last at 1-11.
Henning appeared to be a man on a mission for the Trojans Monday afternoon, as he got the nod from Sauerbrei to start Game 1.
The senior left hander struck out 14 batters in the contest, including recording the first eight outs via the punch-out.
“Game 1, Lucas was tremendous,” Sauerbrei said. “He had total command of his pitches with good velocity. He’s a real leader on the mound and he was sharp at the plate again.”
Henning paced the Trojans at the plate during the day by clubbing a two-run home run in the second inning of the opener, while finishing 2-for-3 with four RBIs in the first game and going 2-for-3 with a triple and three runs scored in Game 2.
“It was pretty good, I guess,” Henning said in an understatement. “I just wanted to throw strikes and I got them to swing at a lot of pitches.
“On the home run, I hit it good. He gave me a pitch down the middle and I hit it hard.”
The second-inning blast put WHS ahead 5-0 after the Trojans had capitalized on three walks and four Cardinal errors in the first inning to take an initial 3-0 lead.
The Cardinals gained a run on Henning in the third when Austin Kretsch (1-for-3 with two RBIs) tripled in Devon Sandgren to cut the lead to 5-1, but the Trojans got that run back in the home half of the third and tacked on another in the fourth before RV scored a pair of unearned runs in the fifth, which was answered again by the hosts in the bottom half of the frame.
Reller reached on an error to lead off the third and scored on an RBI single from Henning to make it 6-1, and Verdoorn scored in the fourth when he singled and came around to score following a pair of errors to make it 7-1.
After the Cardinals scored their two runs in the top of the fifth, Henning drove home Tanner Rogers (hit by pitch) with an RBI groundout and Tommy Hayenga plated Tristan Sorenson (running for Reller, who was hit by a pitch) with an RBI single to complete Game 1’s scoring at 9-3.
Henning used all of his pitches effectively to fan the 14 batters, while scattering three hits and two walks in the contest. He struck out the side in first two innings and had at least one strikeout in each frame, including two in the third, fourth and seventh innings.
“A lot of curveballs,” Henning said of repertoire. “The changeup was working, too. I wasn’t throwing as hard, but I was hitting my spots.”
Blake Rogers banged a double out to the left-center field fence in the second inning, while Deron Soderholm and Reller each had seventh-inning singles for other WHS contributions at the dish in the first game.
In Game 2, with the outright conference title in sight, Sauerbrei sent his senior right hander, Reller, out to the hill.
“I can’t think of anybody that I would rather have on the mound going into a doubleheader than Lucas Henning and Jon Reller,” Sauerbrei said. “They were both dynamite [Monday] and I knew they would be. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in them to come out and compete. They’ve done it all season long and it was good performances by both of them.”
Reller bookended Henning’s performance perfectly, as the right hander struck out eight (including the side in the second), while allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks.
The only time RV got to Reller was in the bottom of the second inning when Jordan Lunde doubled home Braydin Kvistero and Dane Olsen.
Fortunately, the Trojans had already built a 10-0 lead prior to those two runs, as they scored two in the first and brought 12 batters to the plate in an eight-run second.
Rylan Scholtes plated Henning (single) for the first run of Game 2 for the opening score and Verdoorn made it 2-0 when he singled home Hayenga.
The Trojans exploded for eight runs to break the game open by getting five hits and taking advantage of four RV errors.
Reller reached on an error and his courtesy runner, Sorenson, moved around to score on errors, while Nate Jensen singled and stole two bases before scoring on a wild pitch for the inning’s first two runs.
Henning walked and scored when Hayenga drove him in on a misplayed ball. Hayenga then stole second and scored on a Blake Rogers’ single prior to Tanner Rogers (courtesy running for Blake) scoring on a passed ball.
Aaron Pavelko doubled home Verdoorn (fielder’s choice) and Tyler Hatterman (walk) to extend the lead and Reller finished the inning’s scoring when his RBI single up the middle plated Pavelko.
The Cardinals then got their two runs, but the Trojans would finish it with two runs in the fifth for the 12-2 final as Henning tripled and scored on Hayenga’s sacrifice fly, before Scholtes reached on a fielder’s choice following a Blake Rogers’ single and scored on an error after Verdoorn’s third single of the game.
“We got up 10-0 and let them hang around a little bit and they scored a couple of runs,” Verdoorn, who was 3-for-4 in the nightcap, said. “But then we took advantage at the end and got two more runs across.”
The scoring production helped each game’s starting pitcher settle into a groove.
“One of things that we’ve stressed all year is that you only hurt yourself when you don’t throw strikes,” WHS pitching coach Brian Iverson said. “When you throw strikes, good things happen and both pitchers did a great job of throwing strikes.
“Both pitchers were around the plate the whole game and they didn’t get themselves in trouble by walking players. They both throw hard enough to throw it by somebody and they both have off-speed pitches to keep them off balance.”
The 22 strikeouts compared to four walks issued by Henning and Reller combined was a testament to just how good the two hurlers were on the day.
“I can’t say enough about our pitching this year. They throw strikes and go after hitters,” Verdoorn said.
With the conference championship back in Worthington for the first time in 13 years, the Trojans have accomplished one of their goals for the season.
“This was one of our goals this year — to win the conference — but now we’ve bigger goals to accomplish,” Verdoorn said.
The next step in the Trojans’ path to attain their goals starts Saturday with the Section 3AA South playoffs and WHS has plenty of players capable of helping them in the playoff push.
“We feel that we put anyone on the roster in any spot and they can come in and do a solid job for us,” Sauerbrei said. “I try to work as many guys as possible. All season long, guys have gotten opportunities off the bench and have done well for us.”
WHS will need each and every player to continue to impact the game positively as the postseason gets underway.
The Trojans have the third-seed in playoffs and they play the sixth-seeded Pipestone Area Arrows. WHS defeated PA in both conference games this as the Trojans claimed the first game at home in a 7-6 decision in 10 innings on May 1 and by 15-5 on May 17 on the road.
“We’ve played Pipestone twice already and they’re a good team,” Sauerbrei said. “They are well coached and they fight hard. We have to go into Saturday and be ready to play against Pipestone and then go from there.”
First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Johnson Park in New Ulm.
Game 1 R H E
RV 001 020 0 — 3 3 8
WHS 321 120 X — 9 7 3
Game 2 R H E
WHS 280 02 — 12 11 3
RV 020 00 — 2 2 6