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State baseball: Rivals praise state-bound RRC/W-WG

Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove's Skyler Reddemann (29) hugs head coach Derrick Jenninges after the Falcons' victory over Wabasso in the Section 3A championship game in Milroy. (Adam Watts / The Globe)

JORDAN -- Sometimes the best way to judge a sports team’s talents is to talk to opposing coaches.

And if the Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove Falcons are really as good as rivals say they are, their chances at this week’s state Class A baseball tournament appear quite sound.

“They’re first and foremost a very well-coached team. Derrick (Jenniges) does a nice job. Obviously very good senior leadership,” said Murray County Central head coach Derek Lieser.

“I think that (Taylor) Bunting’s a stud. And Cole Pankonin, that kid can hit,” said Adrian skipper Joe Kruger.

The Falcons (22-3), winners of Section 3A, open state tournament competition Thursday at the Mini Met in Jordan, beginning at 12:30 p.m., against Fosston (22-2).

RRC/W-WG is seeded fourth in the tournament, while Fosston is fifth.

If the Falcons prevail in their opener, they play the winner of the first-round game between Parkers Prairie (the No. 1 seed) and Pillager on Friday at noon, again at the Mini Met. A first-round loss would place RRC/W-WG into the consolation bracket with a 10 a.m. game at Chaska Athletic Park.

The state championship game will be played at 10 a.m. Monday at Target Field in Minneapolis.

All season long, Red Rock Central/Westbrook-Walnut Grove has rolled through regular season competition armed with a veteran group of seniors, a solid one-two pitching punch, and balance all across the lineup. Jenniges’ outfit didn’t lose a game during the Section 3A tournament, beating Wabasso 5-2 in the title game. The team is riding a 15-game winning streak.

As balanced as the Falcons are in 2017, two players -- seniors Bunting and Pankonin -- have drawn the most raves this spring. Lieser also likes the Falcons’ No. 2 pitcher, Mitchell Willhite, who’s always around the strike zone.

Bunting struck out 17 Adrian hitters in a game this year. “He throws hard enough, and he mixes it up and keeps hitters off-balance,” said Kruger.

And Pankonin abuses opposing pitchers.

“Every time against us was a line drive,” Kruger recalled.

Bunting, Lieser says, is always attacking hitters. “If you don’t swing at the first two pitches, you’re probably down 0-2.”

Lieser sees Pankonin as the best hitter on a team of fine hitters.

“He hits the ball hard pretty much everywhere,” said the MCC coach.

“One through six are very solid hitting, and seven through nine are just a bunch of athletes who don’t strike out a lot, which plays to their advantage. If they don’t see strikes, they don’t swing at a lot of bad pitches,” said Lieser. “By far, top to bottom, the best team we’ve faced. As long as they do the things they do, they should have a pretty good chance up there.”

Said Kruger: “I think they’ve got a good shot (at a title).”

Of course, the Falcons will have no shot at all at a state championship unless they can overcome first-round rival Fosston.

Fosston won the Section 8A tournament with a 6-3 victory over Badger-Greenbush-Middle River in a game where righthander Jesse Sather overcame early jitters. B-G-MR scored three runs in the first three innings but managed just one hit, and no runs, over the final four frames. He retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced.

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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