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VFW playoffs: Worthington to get second chance with Luverne

WILMONT — The Worthington VFW Post 3958 baseball team hasn’t faced off against Luverne since the second game of the season, but coach T.D. Hostikka won’t let his team forget getting 10-run ruled by their southwest Minnesota rivals heading into tonight’s second round VFW baseball playoff matchup against Luverne.

“We didn’t throw strikes in that game and that is what killed us,” Hostikka said. “We were able to score every inning, so we know we can score against them. But when you are not throwing strikes your defense falls asleep and that leads to errors.”

This time around, Worthington will have a new pitcher starting the game.

“We have a different pitcher on the mound for this game and he has a strong desire to get a win against Luverne,” Hostikka said. “I am looking forward to seeing him throw strikes and keep the defense in the game, which will help us get outs.”

Post 3958 received the No. 4 seed in the VFW playoffs, which was good enough to earn the team a bye in the first round. Luverne, which is the No. 5 seed, opened the playoffs with a 17-0 win over Redwood Falls earlier this week, setting up tonight’s 6 p.m. rematch in Wilmont.

“Luverne is a very solid team as they usually are,” Hostikka said. “They might not be as strong this year, which is something (coach) Mike Wenniger will tell you, but any team Mike coaches is going to be solid and compete.”

Having watched Wenninger coach his teams in Luverne for many years, Hostikka knows what to expect from Luverne heading into tonight’s game.

“Mike will do whatever it takes to get runs across the plate any way he can,” Hostikka said. “He will have his team playing small ball when needed. He might even try to entice a balk from our pitcher with runners at third and first in order to plate a run. He is a savvy coach and will do what is needed to get a win.”

For Worthington to come away with a win, it will need to stay focused at all times and not allow one small mental lapse to snowball into a disastrous inning.

“We have to be able to maintain our composure and not let one mistake get compounded into something worse,” Hostikka said. “We also need our pitcher to throw strikes and change up his pitches to keep Luverne guessing.

“Along with that, our defense cannot make our pitcher have to pitch more than he needs to, which means getting the outs we should get. Giving them extra outs will just make it that much harder on our pitchers.”

When it comes to offense, Hostikka knows his team can score, but they will need to stay focused and execute in key situations.

“We’ll try to play some small ball ourselves, which means if we need a sacrifice bunt, we need to be able to lay down a sacrifice bunt,” Hostikka said.

Hostikka feels that Worthington can take down Luverne if it can play like it has most of the season and play well defensively.

“Luverne is beatable and I know we have the ability to beat them,” Hostikka said. “We will have to have that in mind as we head into the game. I know our guys know what to do both at the plate and in the field.”

The game will be plalyed at Butts Probst Field in Wilmont, with the winner advancing to the third round of the VFW playoffs.