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Minnesota West baseball, softball: A season wrap-up

The Minnesota West baseball and softball seasons featured many fine athletes, but lack of depth was always an issue

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WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West baseball and softball coaches insist that a lot of good things happened to their teams this spring, but it’s certain that a lack of depth kept success at arm’s length.

Arms were a particular issue for the baseball team. Not only were the Bluejays lacking depth generally, but pitching was an especially thin commodity.

“The pitching was the most difficult for sure,” said first-year head coach Joe Kinley. “Lots of games we were in, or winning, in the fifth and sixth innings. It made it tough when you have to put in a position player in the game for relief.”

The baseballers finished with a 3-22 record, a mark that failed to adequately appraise their competitiveness. Two Bluejays were named to the MCAC South All-Division third team, shortstop Rodrigo Santa and outfielder Ben Leal. Both players hit in the mid-.300s, and Santa slugged four home runs.

“They were two of our three captains. They put in the work. They made significant progress throughout the season,” Kinley said.

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But problems loomed for the Jays from the start. One of the team’s outstanding all-around players, shortstop Gehrig Monday, had to leave the squad for personal reasons. Because of that, Santa moved from second base to shortstop.

“We could compete with any team in the conference, our nine against their nine. Once we had to move guys around, I knew it was going to be tough,” said Kinley, who was tasked in 2022 with reviving a struggling program.

The 2021 season was cut short because of Covid and further put in flux when the team’s head coach, after his first year at the school, decided not to return. When Kinley was hired, it was too late to do any serious recruiting.

But Kinley says he will return for next year, and he’s working at getting good talent and good numbers.

“I’m really going heavy on the pitching, for sure,” he said.

The Minnesota West women’s fast-pitch softball team enjoyed significant on-field success in 2022 even though it, too, lacked depth. The Lady Jays recently won one of three games in the region tournament, finally being eliminated last Saturday by Anoka-Ramsey 10-2 in a game they led 2-0 in the fourth inning.

They won 13 and lost 15 for the season, batted .376 as a team and belted 15 home runs.

“After the (Saturday) game, talking to the girls, we knew that nothing really went smoothly this year, with the scheduling, the weather and the problems it caused for practices,” said head coach Jeff Jager. “There was never a point in the year where we could say, ‘Now we’re rolling, things are coming together,’ mostly because of the bad weather.”

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But he is proud, he said, that the Jays were able to adapt. And after that final game, there was “a lot of emotion.”

“Which proves that this program meant something to them,” said Jager, who will now step down from the West coaching position.

Jager was hired in 2020, but Covid ended that season before it really began. A northwest Iowa resident who serves as liaison officer at Central Lyon schools, Jager originally meant to take over the West program for just two years. He stayed on another year, he explained, because he enjoyed working with his positive, energetic players.

Several of the Lady Jays returned to the team after 2021 when they didn’t have to, including Steph Kazemba, Grace Suttle, Emily Wilke, Mallory Thorson and Shelby Christensen.

“I wanted to finish it off with them,” Jager said.

Kazemba, Torrence Clelland and Julia Schmoker represented West on the MCAC South All-Division team. Schmoker was chosen All-MCAC.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA WEST
Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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