Wilmont gears up for state tournament

WILMONT -- In the summer of 1969, four Baumgartner brothers -- Virgil, Bob, Pat and Don -- helped lead the Wilmont Cardinals to the Minnesota state amateur baseball tournament for the first time in team history.

Wilmont's Justin Saufley
Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Wilmont's Justin Saufley delivers a pitch during the Cardinals' amateur baseball playoff series in Jackson. Wilmont begins state tournament play Saturday afternoon.

WILMONT -- In the summer of 1969, four Baumgartner brothers -- Virgil, Bob, Pat and Don -- helped lead the Wilmont Cardinals to the Minnesota state amateur baseball tournament for the first time in team history.

Now, 40 years later, Wilmont will be making its fifth state amateur baseball tournament appearance. And this time it's Sam Baumgartner (Bob's son) who is a key member for the Cardinals, serving as the team's manager and shortstop.

Runners-up of both the Gopher League Tournament and of Region 13C, the Cardinals will tangle with the Moorhead Brewers (Region 12C champions) Saturday in the opening round of the Class C State Amateur Baseball Tournament. First pitch is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Arlington Baseball Park in Arlington.

"We are certainly excited about the opportunity to play at the state tournament, as our postseason run has been a highlight for us," said Baumgartner, who has decided to retire from the Cardinals after 24 seasons with the team. "This will be my last year playing with Wilmont, so it's definitely special for me. I've been a part of Wilmont baseball for a long time, and I can't think of a better way to go out than this."

Baumgartner, who was Wilmont's manager in the mid-1990s and is now back at the helm this summer, also played on the Cardinals' state-qualifying teams in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Baumgartner and left-fielder Jesse Teerink are the only members of those powerhouse teams still playing for the Cardinals.


Saturday's Wilmont-Moorhead Brewers game will follow the 11 a.m. matchup between the Windom Pirates (Region 13C champions) -- who also advanced to the state tournament in 1969 -- and the Moorhead Miners (Region 12C runners-up), which kicks off the 32-team tournament.

The winners of those two games will continue play Aug. 28 in Gaylord (6 and 8:30 p.m.), while the losers are finished for the season. The first two rounds of the tourney are single elimination.

Regional tournament additions provide spark

Ending the regular season with a record of 13-8 against league opponents, Wilmont earned the No. 3 seed for the Gopher League Tournament.

Victories over sixth-seeded Tracy (5-2, July 22) and second-seeded Adrian (5-3, July 24) started Wilmont's postseason run before top-seeded Hadley handed the Cardinals a 5-0 loss on July 30.

Wilmont (20-13) bounced back two nights later with a 9-0 victory over Adrian, earning advancement to the region playoffs. The Cardinals then split a pair of games with Hadley -- winning 16-13 before losing 6-3 -- in the Gopher League Tournament championship round on Aug. 2.

As the runner-up out of its league, Wilmont was pitted against the First Nite League Tournament champion Jackson Bulls in the best-of-five region series. And with their two draft picks, the Cardinals selected Bryan Nikkel from the Tracy Express, and Jordon Kontz of the Adrian A's.

Nikkel and Kontz combined to throw a two-hit shutout in Wilmont's 4-0, Game 5 victory, which clinched the team a berth in the state tournament. Kontz started and pitched seven innings in Game 2, while Nikkel was the Cardinals' catcher in each of the first four games against Jackson.


"Our draftees came up big for us and were great additions to our team," said Baumgartner, who noted that Nikkel brought a lot of experience and leadership to a relatively young team. "Bryan was really remarkable for us as a two-way threat (catcher and pitcher). He really gave us a boost with his tools as a catcher, plus he was outstanding on the mound in Game 5."

While the draftees certainly played a key role for the Cardinals, the addition of center-fielder Jay Scheidt -- after Game 1 -- also paid dividends. Scheidt, who stayed in Las Vegas for most of the summer, flew back before Game 2 and helped Wilmont win the series.

Scheidt, who played in a handful of regular-season games and stole five bases --including home plate -- in a 7-4 Cardinals' win at Windom June 21, went 4-for-6 with a trio of extra-base hits (two doubles and a triple) and four RBI in Wilmont's 12-2 victory in Game 4 at Butts Probst Field.

"Jay is such a good player who impacts the game in so many ways," Baumgartner said. "He is an outstanding hitter, a smart baserunner with great speed and a tremendous center fielder who flags down all kinds of flyballs. Having him back with us was definitely big."

However, perhaps the biggest key to Wilmont's series victory was the dominance of right-handed pitcher Justin Saufley, who will be on the mound Saturday against the Brewers.

Saufley, who has struck out 100 batters and issued just 15 walks in 73 innings pitched this year, twirled a pair of complete-game gems to give Wilmont victories in Game 1 and Game 4.

Saufley (1.85 earned run average, .191 batting average against) tossed a three-hit, no-walk shutout in the first game at Wacker Field -- striking out 13 batters as the Cardinals won 4-0.

Then, with Wilmont trailing 2-1 in the series after Jackson claimed 9-3 (Game 2) and 7-4 (Game 3) victories, Saufley fanned 15 batters and pitched the Cardinals to a 10-run home victory in Game 4.


"We have an outstanding chance to win whenever Justin is on the mound," Baumgartner said. "He has carried on his back with the way he has pitched, and he has also been one of our best hitters the entire season. Justin has been huge for us."

Saufley, who plays third base when he doesn't pitch, has 34 hits (team-leading 12 doubles) in 92 at-bats for a .370 batting average. He has drove in 24 runs, second only to first baseman Josh Wasmund's team-best 25 RBI.

Baumgartner, Teerink, Joe Ahrens (pitcher/right field), Brian Harberts (second base), Steven Kremer (catcher/designated hitter), Nick Ahrens (pitcher/right field) and Ryan Swanson (pitcher/third base) have also been consistent contributors as regulars throughout the playoffs, while Kyle Vaske, Mitchell Jensen and Tony Janssen have been key players coming off the bench.

"We have a lot of good players on this team," said Baumgartner, who shares the team lead of six sacrifices with Teerink and Harberts. "Joe and Steven have really been hitting the ball well, Nick has given us some great outings on the mound, and Brian and Ryan have also done a great job.

"Jesse and Josh are also tremendous players and are a little bit older and more experienced," Baumgartner continued. "We are a pretty young team, so it's nice to have a few veterans around to provide some leadership."

The Moorhead Brewers' roster is comprised mostly of veterans, according to Baumgartner. Wilmont played the Brewers in a regular-season tournament in Brookings, S.D., a couple of years ago.

"I'm sure they have a good team, and we will have our hands full," said Baumgartner. "We may be a young team that has exceeded some expectations a little bit, but we have the potential and the ability to play solid baseball. Anything can happen, and we will give it our best shot."

Wilmont picked up Minnesota right-handed pitcher Pat O'Brien with its extra draft pick for the state tournament.

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