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Amateur baseball: Wilmont hopes to stay sharp at state

WILMONT -- It's been working so far. Why change it?

Justin Saufley will be on the pitcher's mound Friday when the Wilmont Cardinals play their first state amateur baseball tournament game against Clear Lake.

Saufley's appearance on center stage is one reason for Cardinal fans to be confident. He's 7-2 for a team that's 21-7 on the season. But there are other reasons to be hopeful.

Wilmont is hot. After losing an earlier Region 13C series against Luverne that forced them into a best-of-three series with Hadley for a final berth in the state tournament, the Cards are coming off 12-2 and 7-0 victories over the Buttermakers that highlight a prolific offense and a stingy pitching staff.

Saufley is sporting a 1.16 earned run average in 69 and two-thirds innings -- more than twice as many innings pitched as any teammate. Amazingly, he has walked only five batters and struck out 87. But it's not just his personal numbers that makes Saufley feel confident going into the tournament.

"Ever since I've played at Wilmont we've always been successful. So we've always experienced (confidence) this time of year ... The experience we've accumulated over the years has definitely helped us."

Wilmont, however, which has made previous state tourney appearances in 1969, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, wasn't successful at the state level last year. The Cards lost a first-round game to the Loretto Larks and was eliminated from further play.

Now in mid-August of 2013, the Cardinals are probably in is as good a position as they can be in. They opened the Hadley series by rapping 15 hits, and Saufley turned in a typically sterling pitching performance. In Sunday's 7-0 victory, Wilmont's Lucas Henning struck out 13 batters and allowed just two hits to register a complete game.

Henning is 2-1 with a 0.26 ERA in 34 innings this season. Joe Ahrens is 4-0 with a 0.71 ERA in 25 and a third innings. Nick Ahrens is 4-0 with a 2.63 ERA in 27 and a third innings. And Adam Diekmann is 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA in 22 and two-thirds innings.

Wilmont sports some impressive hitting statistics, too. Joe Krivarchka has a .405 batting average while Blake Rogers is at .373, Mitchell Baumhoefner .357, Henning .356, Saufley .324 and Steven Kremer .320. Kremer has hit six home runs.

"We've been playing real good ball the last few games, and we feel really good about that," said Wilmont's manager, Todd Rogers. "If the pitching stays like it is, and our offense, I think we should have a pretty good chance up there."

The Cardinals are certainly not lacking pitching. Besides their own hurlers, they've got Jackson Bulls draftee Ryan Rasche on staff now. Their most recent draftees include the Worthington Cubs' Adam Munkel and Milroy's Isaac Dolan.

Saufley said he and the Cardinals were bothered by their less-than-outstanding playoff performance against Luverne. "We knew it was do-or-die against Hadley," he said.

And now that Wilmont has made it back to state, Saufley will bring a repertoire of three excellent pitches with him to show off to Clear Lake. His fastball, curve and changeup have been consistent all season.

"I think I'll try to do what I've been able to do all year. Throw strikes. I've got confidence in all three of my pitches, basically," he said Tuesday.

Clear Lake is the No. 2 seed from Region 1C (Sartell is seeded No. 1). Friday's game begins at 5 p.m. Friday at Irish Stadium in Maple Lake.

On Saturday, Fairmont will open against the New Ulm Brewers at 1 p.m. at Municipal Stadium in Delano. Luverne, the top-seeded team in Region 13C, has a first-round bye and on Aug. 23 will play the winner of Saturday's 4 p.m. game between the Midway Snurdbirds and the Upsala Blue Jays.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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