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Legion teams set for District Tournaments

MILROY -- After battling their way through the Minnesota Legion sub-district playoffs, the Luverne Post 123, Jackson Post 130 and Pipestone Post 6 baseball teams are the only area squads left standing heading into today's Division II, District 2 Baseball Tournament at Irish Field in Milroy.

Luverne will take the field against Wabasso at 10:30 a.m., while Pipestone faces off with Redwood Falls at 12:30 p.m. Jackson meets up with Blue Earth at 3 p.m. to round out the three matchups featuring area teams. At 5:30, Springfield and St. James duke it out in the final game of the day to fill the final slot in the semifinals.

Defense, pitching backbone of Luverne

Post 123 finished the regular season with a 7-2 record.

"We don't know much about Wabasso, but we do know that they do have solid pitching, but they are a bit lacking in the hitting department," Luverne coach Barry Shelton said. "They are very similar to us in that regard, but I still feel like our pitching and hitting is better than theirs as a whole."

The Luverne Post 123 baseball team came away with the sub-district title last weekend after taking down both Pipestone (3-2 win in 11 innings) and Jackson (8-5 win).

"We played some really good baseball last weekend and have been playing better as a whole since the beginning of the year," Shelton said. "Our sticks really came to life against Jackson, but the game against Pipestone was more like how we have played all year."

Post 123's only losses came against Edgerton and Wahpeton, N.D., early in the season. But since then, Luverne has gotten better as a team and will have a full roster for today's game.

"In the loss to Edgerton we were missing two of our core players and we only lost by one run," Shelton said. "We played well against Wahpeton, but they are a really good team. So, when you look at it, we have not been beaten by any slouch teams this year."

In its game against Wabasso, Post 123 will rely heavily on its defense and pitching to get it through the game, especially if the offense struggles.

"We are going to have to rely alot on our defense and pitching staff in order to get further into the playoffs," Shelton said. "If we throw strikes and play defense we will be fine."

On the mound, Luverne will rely on pitchers Zane Hiller and Josh Slieter to pitch deep into games. In the field and at the plate, Post 123 will look toward Skylar Wenninger to lead the way.

"Hiller and Slieter have pitched the most innings for us all year, so they will be a big part of this team making any kind of playoff run," Shelton said. "At the plate we are solid up and down the lineup, with Wenninger being one of our more consistent hitters. Our offense has started to click a little, so hopefully we can keep that up in this game."

"Defense will be one of the keys to our success today; We can't make errors and we have to make the routine plays in the field," Shelton said. "If we can do that and have solid starting pitching we will do just fine."

Jackson hopes to regain early season form in playoffs

The Jackson Post 130 baseball team got off to a fast start this summer, jumping out to a 10-2 record before the halfway point of the season.

However, Post 130 followed up its solid start with a four-game losing streak to drop to 10-6.

"We had a really good start to the summer, but we had a little hiccup in the middle of the season," coach Kevin Holm said. "But in the last few games of the season we were able to get back to form and won our last couple games to finish 12-6."

Jackson 10-run-ruled Edgerton to start the sub-district tournament, but lost to Luverne in the second game to take second in the tournament. With the second place finish, Jackson found itself squaring off with Blue Earth-Winnebago today in the opening round of the district tournament.

"We didn't get to see Blue Earth during the regular season, but we do know that they have one really good pitcher," Holm said. "Other than that one pitcher, they are a pretty average team, but we can't look past them."

Holm knows his team will have to continue playing strong defense and dictate the tempo of the game if they want to get past Blue Earth.

"We need to get out to an early lead against Blue Earth and then keep that lead," Holm said. "We have good team speed, so we will try to get guys on base and let them use their legs to cause them problems. Other than that, we will need to play tough defense to give ourselves a chance to win."

Post 130 will have pitcher Taylor Christopher on the mound for the opening round game, but should Holm need to go to his bullpen, he is confident his relievers can get the job done.

"Christopher is the most experienced player we have as far as being an ace goes," Holm said. "Scott Christopher is our No. 2 guy; you could call him our 'Mr. Consistency' because he is always solid for us," Holm said. "He might not blow you away with his speed, but he will give us a chance to win."

In the field, Jackson will need to rely on a strong team defense if they are going to keep Blue Earth from getting any free bases or runs.

"We will look at everyone in the field to play well as a team and not make any errors," Holm said. "That is when we are the most successful. When we make mistakes or commit errors we become an average team."

Jackson and Blue Earth are scheduled for a 3 p.m. start at Irish Field in Milroy.

Strong offense key to Pipestone playoff run

Despite finishing the regular season 3-7, Pipestone Post 6 coach Scott Sterud feels his team is finally starting to click and has hit its stride heading into the district tournament.

"I can see all the improvements we have made since the beginning of the year," Sterud said. "We are peaking at just the right time of year with the playoffs starting today. We played some of our best baseball last weekend in the sub-districts."

Pipestone fell to Luverne in the opening round of the sub-district playoffs but bounced back to take down Edgerton 4-3 to make it to the district tournament.

"We were a sporadic team all year, but a lot of that was because we never had a full team until now," Sterud said. "It was also a challenge for me to figure out what works for the kids since I am in my first season as head coach for the team. I've tried to keep things simple and that has seemed to have started to work."

Post 6 will meet up with Redwood Falls in the opening round of districts, a team that Sterud knows well from the games Pipestone played against them during the high school season this past spring.

"We played Redwood during the high school season, so we know a little about them as a team and know they play some good baseball," Sterud said. "They have a few college kids coming back and that is always nice for a team to have. We will have to play a solid seven innings to beat them."

Austin Evans gets the nod from Sterud to start the game for Post 6.

"If Evans is on his game, things will take care of themselves," Sterud said. "But we will still need to take the plays that come to us and not try to force anything. We'll try to play small ball on offense and hope we can do things like we did last weekend."

Pipestone will look to Gunnar Manderscheid and Damain Skyberg to lead by example and keep the team in the game.

"Manderscheid and Skyberg are good leaders for us and we will need that leadership in this game," Sterud said. "When those guys make big plays, they get really excited and that brings up everyone's spirits and keeps them engaged."

Even though Pipestone only has three healthy pitchers on its roster, Sterud has confidence his team will be able to power through and get the win even if they have to go deep into the bullpen.

"The kids really came around and started to play ball together over the last few weeks," Sterud said. "It has been really fun and exciting to see them finally having fun and playing as a team."