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Senior Legion team played, and played well

Sr Legion Worthington vs Minneota S3.jpg
Damon Schutz of Worthington leaps to make an catch at a Senior Legion baseball game against Minneota. The local team has played outstanding baseball this summer. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- The summer of 2020 will be memorable for the Worthington Senior Legion baseball team when players look back at how well they played. But that’s probably not the best thing, said head coach Tim Gaul on Monday.

“The greatest part of the season is we got to have a season,” he said.

Six weeks ago, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to swamp teen-age baseball altogether. The season began in late June for the Worthingtonians, minus the American Legion umbrella, and for the Legion squad -- or the Worthington U18 team -- or whatever they were legally supposed to be called -- it has been a very good year.

If there are no more games to play (and it looks as if a potential Aug. 7-8 tournament might go by the wayside), the locals can boast of posting a 12-2-1 overall record. They were undefeated in league play.

“I was pleasantly surprised. We were better than I thought we’d be. I was expecting to have a good bunch of kids,” said Gaul.

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The team played “focused, fundamental baseball,” he said.

They hit well, they pitched well, and they played good defense. They carried themselves well, too, said their mentor, and they entered their games with confidence.

“The one thing that these guys are, they’re kind of slow starters. They’ve got this swag, probably from when they were younger. They know they’re good,” Gaul said. “They know that no game is out of reach for them.”

They’re also supportive of each other. They pick each other up when they make a mistake. They don’t complain, they don’t place blame. “They 100 percent have each other’s backs,” said Gaul.

Good players, when they play the game right, are fun to coach. Fans who came to watch the Senior Legionnaires in 2020 saw individual players who they might not have recognized from the uncertain, inconsistent versions of the past. They saw many players who appeared to grow before their eyes.

Some of the most impressive performances occurred on the pitcher’s mound. Early in the season Coach Gaul kept pitchers’ pitch counts down, but toward the end of the season it wasn’t uncommon to see starters go six innings. Gaul said the absence of a high school season might have helped keep arms fresh.

Michael Iverson, said Gaul, became a pitcher and not just a thrower. He always had a lot of talent, but, Gaul said, “He became really tactical about what he was doing.”

Brock Burns also had some games where he was completely in command. He missed about a third of the season while playing AAU basketball, but when he pitched he could be as tough in the sixth inning as he was in the first.

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Will Brandner, an outstanding all-around player and the possessor of the liveliest arm on the team, proved he’s talented enough to dominate at the Legion level.

The Worthingtonians batted .314 as a team, and the top four collectors of hits were Kent Lais, Danny Pavelko, Tommy Lais and Tate Gaul.

Kent Lais, who didn’t play a lot last season, came into his own with a team-best .514 average. His brother Tommy was the No. 2 hitter on the team with a .363 mark. A solid defensive catcher, he caught almost every inning throughout the summer.

Pavelko exhibited good control as a pitcher and he finished in the top third in hitting.

After the Legionnaires’ most recent game, a victory over Minneota on Thursday, Coach Gaul said he thanked his players for performing well, for playing the game the way it ought to be played, and for treating their teammates and their rivals right.

Optimism for next year is high. Nearly every Senior Legion player will be able to play on the team again in 2021, Coach Gaul said, and there are some excellent athletes moving up from the Junior Legion squad.

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