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Luverne, Worthington VFW set for District 3 baseball tournament

LUVERNE -- Featuring a 20-player roster, filled with good athletes that display versatile baseball skills, the Luverne VFW team enters today's four-team, double-elimination, District 3 Tournament with a solid all-around ball club.

Having won the championship of the South Sub-District last weekend, Luverne opens district competition against Olivia, the runner-up of the North Sub-District. The game is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. start at Pipestone.

The tournament begins at 11:00 a.m. with Redwood Falls Blue, the north champions, playing Worthington, the south runner-ups.

"Our strengths would be our athleticism and our versatility," Luverne manager Mike Wenninger said. "We have many kids who can play several positions."

A good example of that is found in the fact that Luverne has had 11 players pitch this summer, while forging an overall record of 20-6.

Brent Dinger, Zach Olson and Philip Paquette have been the "Big Three" on the mound for Wenninger's team most of the summer and will likely do the bulk of the pitching this weekend.

Those three have also been solid with the bat for Luverne, especially Olson, who sports a batting average above .500 after hitting at a .560 clip in high school action last spring.

Paquette, who catches when he's not pitching, has smacked three home runs this summer.

Jon Fodness and Nick Meyer also catch for Luverne, while Tanner Skattum (first base), Trevor Stoffel (second base or shortstop), Olson (shortstop), Dinger (third base), Derek Van Santen (third base), Meyer (second base) and Landon Gacke (third base) are the team's top infielders.

Matt Christensen and Ryan Hoff share time in left field, while Zack Clark usually mans center field and Taylor Van Santen does the job in right field.

Luverne defeated Fulda, Adrian (4-0) and Pipestone (8-2) to win the sub-district championship and Wenninger is pleased with how the whole team is contibuting.

"Recently, the bottom of the batting order has been getting on base, and that really helps our strong hitters at the top," he said.

"All four teams are solid," Wenniger added. "Worthington is a good team, with two strong pitchers in Joe Ahrens and Matt King. Olivia has worked through a tragic death to one of their players and battled through 12 innings to defeat Marshall Blue -- the defending District 3 champion -- to get to this tournament."

If Luverne wins its first game, its next game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. If Olivia wins, Luverne will play again at 4:00 p.m.

The tournament continues on Sunday, with all games being played on the Pipestone A's field on the west side of Pipestone.

Worthington looks for big game from contact hitters

A solid group of contact hitters, with lots of VFW baseball experience, have paced Post 3958 to an exciting summer -- capped by last week's run to a second place finish in the South Sub-District Tournament, propelling the team to today's District 3 playoffs in Pipestone.

Worthington (18-15) tangles with Redwood Falls Blue at 11 a.m. in the opening game of the four-team double elimination tournament, which will send the champion to the State VFW Tournament in New Ulm, August 9-12.

Redwood Falls Blue sports a 19-5 record and won the North Sub-District title last week.

"One team will be eliminated Saturday and another will be finished by noon on Sunday," Worthington manager Ryan Weber explained. "If the team that wins twice on Saturday wins again Sunday afternoon, they will be the champions. But if the team that comes back through the loser's bracket beats them, another game will be needed to determine the champion."

That game, if necessary, would be played at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Pipestone.

It's possible that a team could play as many as five games in the tournament, two on Saturday, two on Sunday and one on Monday. State VFW rules do not allow a team to play three games in one day.

Worthington, which played five games at last week's sub-district tournament, has lots of team depth -- including plenty of pitching arms.

"We have five guys that pitched over 20 innings this summer, and our closer has yet to give up a hit in the 12 innings he has pitched," Weber said.

Travis Meinders, Matt King, Kyle Vaske, Mitchell Jensen and Justin Lewis each pitched more than 20 innings this summer.

King whirled a three-hitter in Worthington's 1-0 victory over Pipestone, which clinched Post 3958's advancement. Opponent's are batting less than .200 when facing King or Meinders -- an impressive statistic.

Worthington catcher Steven Kremer is the team's closer and has not given up a hit in his 12 innings on the mound. Joe Ahrens, Craig Soderholm and Adam Munkel have each pitched more than 15 innings, giving Weber eight pitchers with solid experience.

While pitching depth is an obvious strength, the team's fielding has been a bit inconsistent and has led to some frustrating losses this summer.

"We could easily be 25-8 rather than 18-15," Weber said. "We have been great in the field at times and have been shaky at other times. We believe that we are getting better and becoming more consistent in the field."

Worthington has been a force at the plate with its contact hitting, as six players -- Jensen, Ahrens, King, Lewis, Kremer and Cody Melendrez -- sport batting averages above .300. Jensen and Ahrens are each hitting close to .400.

Weber noted that the top of the order has good speed and Vaske and Ahrens each have drawn more than 20 walks this summer.

"Teams tend to pitch around those two guys," Weber said. "But we have so many boys that can hit the ball and run the bases."

Ahrens and Soderholm share first base duties for Post 3958, while Stuart Rogers mans second base. Vaske and Meinders split duties at shortstop with Derek Busswitz and Ahrens handle third base.

King, Jensen, Meinders, Melendrez, Lewis and Logan Neyens patrol the outfield, while both Ethan Duffy and Munkel can play either the infield or outfield.

Jensen or Ahrens handle the catching duties when Kremer is pitching.

"We have a lot of boys that can play good baseball," Weber concluded. "This should be a great tournament, and we hope that our depth pays off for us. Our goal is to still be playing on Sunday."