JACKSON -- At the Fourth of July break, when the corn crop is supposed to be knee-high, some area amateur baseball teams are measuring up while others are being put to the test.
There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, but in Jackson, head coach Scott Bahr has his own measuring dates. The Bulls divide each season into thirds -- the first third is complete, the second third begins this weekend, and the final piece is the playoff season.
In 2018, the Bulls qualified for the amateur state tournament. Will they get back again this summer?
“We’re not playing at a state-caliber level right now. We’re still going to try. We weren’t last year, either. We started out 2-10 and got hot later,” said Bahr this week.
Indeed. From watching the way Jackson played early last year, Bahr said that a lot of rivals were surprised at the Bulls’ excellence later. Fact is, he said, the Bulls surprised themselves, too.
At the moment, Jackson sports a 12-6 overall record, which includes a 9-5 record in the First Nite League. That’s a pretty good mark, but Bahr said inconsistency tied to some missing and injured players, and a lack of consistent scoring, has kept the team from breaking loose. The defense has been good, however, and players have stolen 33 bases in 18 games.
One of the team leaders in 2019 is second baseman/shortstop Andy Wolf, a 40-year-old who needed 29 hits to tie Kip Wachal for most hits by a Bulls player in a career. He is only four away from the record, and he’s hitting .403 with a .589 on-base percentage.
Blaise Jacobsen, another veteran, is 41 and still receives the ball well at catcher. He’s hitting .378.
Ryan Rasche has a .340 batting average while Shad Wacker and Chris Gumto are both at the .300 mark.
Starting pitchers Rasche and Ben Scheevel are solid. Rasche has a 3-2 win-loss record and a 0.53 ERA. Scheevel is at 2-1 and 1.54.
Pirates led by pitching
Like the Bulls, the Windom Pirates are hoping for a return trip to the state tourney. If they get there, pitching will have played a major part.
The Pirates have four outstanding pitchers, if not more.
“We’re led by Collin Lovell on the mound, pitching really well for us,” said player-coach Nick Kulseth. “And we’ve got Ross Ackerman, and he’s just been solid. And we’ve got Luke Gilbertson who pitched a hell of a game Friday night against Fairmont. And Kobe Lovell has been real good, too.”
Three of the four have experience at the collegiate level, and the other one will be a college pitcher next year.
The team is hitting the ball well, too, with Noah Kloss, Gilbertson and Danny Kneeland leading the way.
Currently, Windom is 11-3 in First Nite League play and 12-6 overall.
As far as earning another state tournament trip goes, Kulseth’s reaction is ‘Why not?’
“We’re solid enough where we can make a run in the playoffs. We’ve got good depth for pitching, and that’s going to be the key for us,” he said, adding that some of the younger players are playing like veterans.
“We’re just a bunch of young, scrappy, hard-playing guys,” Kulseth explained.
Talent abounds in area
Gilbertson, who completed his freshman season at St. Mary’s University last spring after graduating from Windom Area High School, twirled a complete-game six-hit 2-1 victory over Fairmont on Friday, with seven strikeouts. He retired the last eight batters he faced.
There’s little doubt, however, that the Marlins will continue to be in the mix all season. The First Nite League leaders dropped to 12-3 with that loss.
There are more good teams in the Gopher League, headlined by the Luverne Redbirds, Pipestone A’s and Hadley Buttermakers.
Hadley, known always as an excellent hitting team, also participated in the 2018 state tournament and is coming on this year after a slow start. Pipestone once again is led by ace pitcher Brandan Alfson, but there are other good throwers, too.
“Pipestone probably has the most pitching (in terms of depth) of any team in the area,” said Heron Lake veteran Chad Knutson, who also serves as the standings and records-keeper for southwest Minnesota teams.
One of Luverne’s leaders, Skyler Wenninger, successfully stole home plate this year in a game against Hadley.
The Redbirds have a good mix of young players and veterans, said player-coach Brooks Maurer. Wenninger, Phil Paquette and Tyler Reisdorfer lead the club in hitting. Andrew DeBoer is the ace pitcher, and Codie Zeutenhorst and Reisdorfer also throw well.
“When we have our best lineup together, we’re pretty solid one through nine,” said Mauer. “We’re pretty balanced. When we’re on, and especially when DeBoer’s pitching, we’re pretty tough to beat.”