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Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, June 19, 2000

Bulldogs second at state baseball tournament

By Chris Schultz

It was a storybook season.

School and town history were made.

A senior-laden Lester Prairie High School baseball team, along with unexpected performances from young and upcoming players, advanced through the sub-section, section, and eventually, the state tournament, to earn and deserve a second place finish in the 2000 Minnesota State High School Class 1A Boys Baseball Tournament.

For Lester Prairie, the event will not long be forgotten by a town, school, hundreds of cheering and screaming fans, four coaches, three student managers, one bat boy, and 18 baseball players.

The storybook season started back in March and ended Friday night at Chaska Athletic Park in Chaska with a 4-0 loss to Sleepy Eye in the championship game of the state class 1A baseball tournament.

Lester Prairie ended the season with a 21-6 record; the school's first-ever section championship and state tournament appearance in baseball, a state tournament sportsmanship award, three players on the all tournament team, a Lion's all star player and first team all-metro selection, and probably, a host of all-conference selections and other individual awards.

In the tournament, the Bulldogs defeated a good Badger/Greenbush-Middle River (BGMR) team 7-5 in the quarter finals Thursday. They shut down Dover-Eyota 2-0 Friday afternoon in the semi finals to advance to the championship game Friday night against Sleepy Eye.

Sleepy Eye rated number two in the state, right behind the Bulldogs in the state coaches poll, cruised through their first two games of the tournament, defeating Bertha-Hewit 11-1, and Ely 11-0.

The championship game played in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Chaska Athletic Park found Lester riding the right arm of senior right-hander Josh Eckstein.

Eckstein had already pitched a seven-inning gem that day in the Bulldogs 2-0 win over Dover-Eyota. But, Eckstein was asked to do more because of an injury to Lester ace, senior left-hander and first team all-metro player, Cullen Schultz.

Stress from pitching victories in the sub-section and section tournament caused Schultz's rotator cuff to become inflamed. The injury forced him off the mound with one out in the first inning of Lester's quarter final win over BGMR. Schultz took over designated hitting duties for the rest of the tournament.

Eckstein and other players, like short stop David Rehmann, first basemen Joel Gueningsman, catcher Adam Birkholz, and young pitchers sophomore lefty Andy Ross and freshmen Tony Kley, more than picked up the slack and played some of their best baseball of the season.

Eckstein shut down a heavy hitting Sleepy Eye offense for four innings, stretching his streak of shut innings to 11. In the top of the fifth, Eckstein finally started to run out of gas, and Sleepy Eye broke the 0-0 tie with two runs on two hits and three walks.

Ross, making his second tournament appearance for the Bulldogs, relieved Eckstein in the fifth. Ross got Lester out of the jam in the fifth, pitched a scoreless sixth inning, but was touched in the top of the seventh by a two-run homer off the bat of Sleepy Eye catcher Mike Nachreiner. The home run put the score at it's final outcome, 4-0 Sleepy Eye.

On the offensive side, Lester had a few chances to score early in the game, but never got their bats rolling against Sleepy Eye ace Cole Deibele. Deibele allowed only three hits, struck out seven, and finished the game strong, striking out all three Lester hitters in the bottom of the seventh. Collecting hits for the Bulldogs were second basemen Bobby Parpart, Gueningsman, and Eckstein.

Lester Prairie Head Coach Bob Kuehl, also making his first appearance in a state tournament, was gleaming with pride and completely impressed by his players.

"We earned it. With Cully going down in the first inning of the first game to an injury, our players really stepped up. The kids really deserve what they achieved this season," said Kuehl.

The path to the championship game started on Thursday, in Chaska against Badger/Greenbush - Middle River with Lester as the visiting team. The story of the game was a five-run first inning by the Bulldogs along with the hitting of Gueningsman and the outstanding pitching of two young Bulldog hurlers, right-hander Kley and lefty Ross.

With Schultz leaving the mound early due to the injury, Kley took the helm. Kley threw three innings, struck out three and allowed only two earned runs. Ross entered the game in the fifth, allowed no runs, stuck out five and pitched his team out of a big jam in the bottom of the seventh.

With Lester up by two and the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Ross came up with the big out of the game, striking out BGMR senior Justin Swanson for the final out.

Ross and Kley were Lester's top junior varsity pitchers all season and had not thrown a varsity inning until the section tournament.

The batter's box belonged to Gueningsman. The big first baseman was 2-for-3 at the plate with two RBI and one base on balls.

The stand out on the defensive side of the ball for Lester was shortstop Rehmann, who played heads up baseball making several fine plays and turning an unassisted double play.

The semi-final game belonged mostly to Eckstein. The senior hurled a complete game shutout, striking out four, walking three, and allowing only three hits. Help came from sophomore center fielder Gregg Kohler, senior third basemen Ryan Shermann, and junior left fielder Eric Mochinski.

In the bottom of the second, Kohler led of with a hit, advanced to second and scored from second on a bunt by Rehmann. David Paulson, in the game pinch-running, advanced to third on a double off the left center-field fence by Mochinski and later scored on a ground ball by Shermann.

They were the only two runs Lester scored, and all they needed in the win over Dover-Eyota. Lester collected five hits total for the game.

Bulldog players selected to the all tournament team included Eckstein, Gueningsman, and Kohler.

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