WHS BASEBALL: First SWC championship since 1999 highlights Trojans’ seasonWORTHINGTON — A week ago, the Worthington Trojan baseball team was preparing for its opening-round playoff game.
By: Lance Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — A week ago, the Worthington Trojan baseball team was preparing for its opening-round playoff game.
Heading into the Section 3AA postseason, the local nine was sporting a 13-3 regular-season record and riding the tide of becoming the newly-crowned Southwest Conference champions.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, the Pipestone Area Arrows overcame two regular-season losses to WHS (7-6 in 10 innings in Worthington May 1 and 15-5 at Pipestone May 17) to claim a 2-1 victory and ending the Trojans’ season.
“It’s difficult any time you lose, especially in the playoffs,” WHS head coach Stacy Sauerbrei said. “Most teams don’t get to end the season with a win, but it’s always hard to see it come to an end.”
While a great campaign ended and the loss may stick with the players for a long time, the memories of a successful season will also not be forgotten by the Trojans.
“It’s not the end, it never is,” Sauerbrei added. “The great thing about having a spring sports season is that the kids get to move on.
“They had a season to be proud of. Finishing with a 13-4 (10-2 SWC) record and winning the Southwest Conference championship is something that they can hold onto and look back on for a long time.”
The conference crown by the 2012 Trojan squad was the first by WHS since 1999 and will continue to be a reminder of just how well the team competed.
As a team, the Trojans batted .355 at the plate, while the pitchers compiled a 2.92 ERA. The WHS roster was filled with players that all contributed to the success of the program.
Senior pitcher Lucas Henning paced the team in both pitching and batting categories.
Henning, who will play for Minnesota State University-Mankato next year, had a whopping batting average of .611 (33-for-54), while scoring 25 runs and driving in 13. He drilled a home run in the regular season-ending doubleheader with Redwood Valley that clinched the league title.
“I’ve never coached a kid who had as good of a season at the plate as Lucas had.” Sauerbrei said. “He had numerous multiple-hit games. He was a real leader for us on and off the field.
“His pitching was outstanding.”
Henning finished with a 4-2 record, while striking out 58 batters in 43 1/3 innings with a 2.26 ERA. The left hander recorded back-to-back no-hitters during wins over conference rivals Jackson County Central and Luverne early in the year.
Senior Jon Reller logged 26 1/3 innings on the hill for Sauerbrei’s squad. The right hander finished with a record of 3-1 with 30 punch outs and a 2.66 ERA. Reller batted at a .311 clip (14-for-45).
“Jon Reller was an absolute bulldog on the mound,” Sauerbrei said. “He gave us a lot of great innings and I can’t think of anyone better to give the ball to in a big game.”
Senior Nate Jensen struck out 17 batters in 16 2/3 innings and had a 1-0 record from the bump.
“Nate worked really hard to make himself into a good pitcher,” Sauerbrei said. “He’s going on to compete at Dakota Wesleyan University (Mitchell S.D.) next year and I’m excited to see him play at the next level.”
Senior Tommy Hayenga, who played outfield, was second on the team in batting average with a .423 average (22-for-52) and 11 RBIs.
“Tommy absolutely crushed the ball and had many multi-hit games,” Sauerbrei said. “He had a great senior season and was a real catalyst at the top of order for us.”
Henning and Hayenga seemed to always be on base for the middle of the Trojan lineup and junior catcher Blake Rogers was a batter that took advantage of the top two batters getting on base.
Rogers drove in 14 runs and recorded a .389 average (21-for-54) from the three-hole in the Trojan lineup.
Tyler Verdoorn, a senior outfielder, also had a nice season at the dish as he batted .333 (13-for-39).
“Tyler had two years of hitting over .300 to end his Trojan career.” Sauerbrei said. “He was always a hard worker and was a real pleasure to coach.”
Turner Hagen, a junior outfielder, was another Trojan batter to bat over .300 as he went 11-for-29 for a .379 average.
Tanner Rogers (who provided a huge two-run single to force extra innings in an eventual 7-6 Trojan eight-inning win over the Marshall Tigers April 24) and Eric Koob, both seniors, provided solid defense for WHS in the middle of the infield.
“Eric Koob was a tremendous kid and provided a lot of senior leadership,” Sauerbrei said. “He was always the first one to practice and was willing to do whatever was asked of him.
“Tanner Rogers gave the team a great work ethic and leadership. He was the team’s funny bone as he could always lighten the mood and make us laugh.
“Both Tanner and Eric were a key to our success with their play up the middle.”
While Hayenga, Henning, Jensen, Koob, Reller, Tanner Rogers and Verdoorn all donned a WHS uniform for the final time, their contributions to the program will remain.
“A very mature and unselfish group,” Sauerbrei said. “I enjoyed every one of them in different ways. They were a phenomenal group of kids and I’ll miss them as a group, but senior leadership tends to carry over.
“The underclassmen learned a lot from them.”
Expected returning players for next year include Robbie Barrie, Aaron Pavelko, Tyler Hatterman, Soderholm, Tristan Sorenson, Nathan Ray, Rylan Scholtes, Blake Rogers, Hagen and Ryan Lee.
“The young guys came into the season ready to play,” Sauerbrei said. “A lot of them didn’t have any varsity experience entering the season. They came in, worked hard and did what was asked of them.
“Rylan Scholtes was a kid who worked hard, earned himself a starting spot and really gave us some power in the middle of the lineup at season’s end.
“Hatterman, Hagen, Pavelko – they all got big hits for us. Tristan Sorenson ran the bases well and was always ready to go when called upon.
“Nathan Ray and Deron Soderholm gave us solid innings on the mound.”
Deron Soderholm was another Trojan pitcher to pitch over 10 innings, as the junior was 1-0 with a 1.66 ERA and struck out seven in 12 2/3 innings.
With the next year’s returning class and Sauerbrei at the helm, the future of Trojan baseball looks bright.
Many of these athletes will continue playing ball over the summer and can be seen on a Legion, VFW or amateur diamond near you.