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They still got it: Old-timers square off in baseball game Saturday in Hadley

FILE PHOTO The Slayton Rockets won the 1975 Gopher League championship, winning a playoff game over nearby rival Lake Wilson, 4-1, at Buss Field in Worthington. Members of the '75 Rockets were (front row, left to right) Mike Denker, Brad Engebretson, Scott Mansch, Dan Ohme and Dan McClintock. Back row: Manager Preston Mattke, Mark Grieme, Mark Vande Velde, Lynn McClintock, Brian Lucker, Terry Sandmann, Darwin Johnson and Ron Cote.

HADLEY -- Over the years, many amateur or "town team" baseball games have been played at the storied ballfield in downtown Hadley, situated less than a mile north of Highway 30 -- about halfway between Slayton and Lake Wilson.

Saturday, several "legends" of the banner years -- the 1970s and 1980s -- of the Lake Wilson Bison and Slayton Rockets will take the field at Hadley once again in the second edition of an old-timers game between the two rivals.

"We played each other last summer (July 3)," recalled former Rocket Scott Mansch, who is one of the organizers of this year's event. "Saturday will be the promised rematch, as last year's game ended with some controversy and it was decided (by the Board of Directors and the Commissioner) that we should play again to settle the issue."

Saturday's five-inning game will begin at the Laurie Mahon Memorial Field, located just a block east of Hadley's mainstreet, after the completion of a home-run hitting contest, which starts at 3 p.m.

"We have invited lots of former amateur players from all-around the area to come for the contest or home run derby," said Mansch, a former sports reporter for the Worthington Daily Globe (1980-1983), who is now the sports editor of the Great Falls (Montana) Tribune.

"Tom Suby (Worthington Cubs), Ty Wacker and his son Wade (Jackson Bulls), Kevin "Beard" Rogers (Heron Lake Lakers) are some of the former players we've contacted, in addition to the many Slayton and Lake Wilson guys who will be playing in the game."

"Each hitter will get five swings and the top four will get more chances in the semifinals, leading up to a final round between the two winners.

"It should be a lot of fun," said Mansch about the home-run hitting contest. "Greg Helmke and Craig O'Hearn will both be in uniform Saturday -- those guys hit their share when they played for Lake Wilson."

Helmke, O'Hearn among returning Bison players

Helmke, a 1968 Lake Wilson High School graduate and the Raiders' homecoming king in the fall of '67, was a powerful home-run hitter for the Bison in their perennial high finishes in the Gopher League during the '70s and '80s.

O'Hearn, a 1974 Pipestone High School graduate, played college baseball at South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. and played several seasons of Gopher League ball at Woodstock before joining Lake Wilson after his home town no longer fielded a team.

"Craig wasn't so much of a home-run hitter," remembered Mansch. "But, he was one of the better all-around players in the league for many years. He was a pitcher, an infielder and a superb competitor with a lot of speed."

Among the former Bison figured to be playing in Saturday's game, in addition to O'Hearn and Helmke, are Brad Johnson, Keith Doeden, Mark "Pee Wee" Buldhaupt, Brent Johnson, Dale Mahon, Terry Boese, Bud Schelhaas, Rick Vos, Brent Ford, Kraig Boese, Drew Schelhaas and Al Clauson.

Managing the Bison will be Edward O'Hearn (Craig's older brother) and Voyle Beers, who was Lake Wilson's manager during several of the club's best years.

A frequent entrant in the regional tournament, the Bison qualified for five state tournaments, including back-to-back trips in 1977 and 1978.

Lake Wilson also advanced to the state amateur tournament in 1983, 1986 and 1989.

Greg Johnson was Lake Wilson's shortstop during several of those years and sported a .439 batting average during the 1981 season when the Bison took a 17-6 record into the Region 18 playoffs, before losing high-scoring games to Worthington (11-9) and Fairmont (9-7) and being denied a trip to the state tourney.

Johnson, who hit a long ninth-inning home run --to account for Lake Wilson's only score -- in a 4-1 regional championship loss to Slayton on Wednesday evening, Aug. 13, 1975 at Worthington's Buss Field, will not be able to make it back Saturday.

"Greg Johnson has a wedding to go to and won't make it to this year's game," exclaimed Mansch, who as a 17-year old blasted a 360-foot homer -- off of Vos -- over the left-center field fence in the first inning of that '75 championship game.

"I remember that home run like it was yesterday," recalled Mansch, who said that he didn't hit many during his career with the Rockets. "But, I sure look forward to the chance to hit one against Rick again."

Mansch will manage the Rockets Saturday and will have to divvy up playing time between several former Slayton stars.

Brian Lucker, Jim Gerber, Brad Engebretson, Dan Ohme, Terry Sandmann, Jack Lewis, Jim Johnson, Brad Stafne, Larry Mansch, John Mansch, Ron Cote, Jeff Grieme, Marty Schreier, Larry Prahm, Mark Vande Velde, Brad Jensen, Randy Beers and Tarry Boelter are among the ex-Rockets who may be on the field Saturday.

Boelter played for Sleepy Eye against Slayton in 1975 state amateur tournament

Boelter -- who has been the town's head high school baseball coach (Slayton, 1984-92 and Murray County Central, since '93) for nearly three decades -- was playing shortstop for his home town of Sleepy Eye in 1975 and drove in the only run in a 1-0 victory over Slayton in the state tournament that September.

"Tarry came to town after I left," Scott Mansch said. "He played shortstop for the Minnesota Gophers, filling the shoes of Paul Molitor after Molitor graduated, so obviously Tarry was quite a player in his day."

Slayton played in four state tournaments, including three times during a six-year span, qualifying as the Rockets in 1970, 1973 and 1975.

Slayton also had an earlier trip to the state amateur tournament in 1935.

"The tradition of both Lake Wilson and Slayton was strong and we always had a friendly rivralry with many great games," summed up Mansch about the long-lasting town team baseball competition between the two Murray County communities.

Two of the head-to-head playoff games that Mansch remembers well were both played at Buss Field in Worthington.

Slayton's 4-1 regional championship victory in '75 stands out, as does Lake Wilson's 6-5 victory on Aug. 17, 1978.

"Greg Helmke hit one of the longest home runs I ever saw to put Lake Wilson ahead in the top of the ninth," recalled Mansch. "He then put us down in the bottom of the inning and earned the pitching victory, too."

Brad Johnson, a top-notch high school football player for Chandler-Lake Wilson during the Mustangs' undefeated 1972 campaign, had two key hits for the Bison in that '78 game.

Lynn McClintock was Slayton's winning pitcher in the '75 game, recording nine strikeouts in a complete-game performance.

Vos went the distance for Lake Wilson and struck out eight Rockets, while walking just two and giving up only seven hits.

In that game Lake Wilson out-hit Slayton, 8-7, but the Rockets pushed across three more runs as Mansch, McClintock, manager Preston Mattke and Vande Velde all crossed the plate.

Sandmann was 2-for-3 to lead Slayton's hitters, while Myron Erstad was 3-for-4 for Lake Wilson.

Played two games at the Metrodome in the mid-80s

Twice during the mid-1980s, the two rivals played each other at the Metrodome, as part of a Minnesota Twins' promotion of amateur baseball.

In 1985, Lake Wilson was leading 9-8 when the game was called after seven innings due to the time limit.

The Bison won another one-run game the next year, claiming a complete-game (nine innings) 8-7 victory over the Rockets in 1986.

For most of the past two decades, neither Lake Wilson nor Slayton has fielded a team.

So, games like Saturday's "old-timers" rematch are a highlight to the long-time rivalry.

"We had a lot of fun last year, but the game ended with a bit of controversy," emphasized Scott Mansch. "Slayton had earned a big lead and then Lake Wilson came back with a bunch of runs in the last inning and ended up tying the score. But there were some questions as to whether or not they (the Bison) batted out of order -- so we need this rematch to get things ironed out."

All the proceeds from Saturday's fun in Hadley will go to the Luke Beers Scholarship Fund.