HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
September 10, 2007

It’s been a season I won’t soon forget

By Aaron Schultz

Plastered all over this week’s paper are the Winsted Wildcats.

You can’t help but notice that we (Wildcats) finished fourth in the Class C state tournament over Labor Day weekend.

Reflecting back on the state tournament, and the season overall, less than week after it is all over, it’s all still sinking in.

It was such a fun season, and looking back, it is a season I won’t soon forget.

The 2007 season started, and went pretty much as most seasons go for us Wildcats – up and down.

We’d win a few games we shouldn’t have won, then lose a few that we probably shouldn’t have lost.

That was until June 23, the Saturday of the Good Neighbor Day’s Tournament in Howard Lake.

Playing for third-place against Holdingford, a team that also qualified for the state tourney, we beat them 2-1.

Alright, Holdingford only had 10 players at the game, but we did beat their ace, Joel Swenson in the game.

From that point on, through the end of August, the Wildcats were 14-3, not too bad of a run.

Winsted went 5-0 in their final five regular season Crow River Valley League games, ending the regular season with a 11-5 record, which was good enough to tie Watertown for the North Division championship.

However, since the Wildcats held the tiebreaker, we were awarded the top seed heading into the playoffs.

Before I jump into the league playoffs, one other interesting note I’d like to mention is the fact that after the July 11 game at Norwood, the Wildcats didn’t play a game away from Denis M. Campbell Field in Winsted until the opening round of state Aug. 24.

Yes, I doubled check that, and it seems pretty odd to me, but that made the run all the more fun.

After getting an opening round bye, the Wildcats beat St. Boni 6-2 and 20-4 with both games being played in Winsted.

With the series sweep of the Saints, the Wildcats punched their ticket to the Region 7C tournament, which we hosted right in Winsted.

Of course, before regions we played a seeding game against the Glencoe Brewers, in Winsted, for seeding and drafting rights.

The Wildcats won that game, which turned out to be pretty big. Not so much for seeding, but for drafting.

With the win we received the opportunity to draft first, and took Mayer’s Josh Anthony. Then with the third pick we selected another Blazer, catcher Nick Haller.

Both were great teammates all the way through the region and state tournaments, with Josh coming up huge for us in a couple of games, but we’ll get to that later.

In regions, we fell to Young America 10-6 in the opening game, which set up an elimination game with Glencoe the following day.

The brother combination of Tony and Joe Kley threw very well, and helped us top Glencoe 8-6, keeping our hopes of a state tournament bid alive.

This brings us to the rematch with Young America in regions, with the winner of the game moving on to the state tourney.

In a thriller, we won the game 4-3 on Gregg Kohler’s walk off, RBI double in the bottom of the ninth.

A few moments from that win that will stick with me as long as my memory holds up are the pitching performance of Dan LaMott, and the solo home run by Joe (Kley).

Danny came up big, holding Young America’s powerful offense in check through seven innings.

Then there was Joe’s solo home run in the bottom of the eighth, which tied the game up at three, after the Cardinals’ Jeff Arnold had hit a two-run home run in the top of the inning to put them up 3-2.

After falling to Plato in the state seeding game the next day, the Blue Jays drafted Young America’s Nik Franck for state, while we took Watertown’s Jared Duske.

This brings us to the state tournament, where we had a match-up we liked, playing East Grand Forks in the opening round.

However, mother nature put a damper on the opening weekend, washing out pretty much every first round game.

Moved back a weekend, we opened up against East Grand Forks Aug. 24 in Hamburg, and jumped out front early on, thanks to one of my personal highlights of state.

In the top of the second inning with two outs and runners on second and third, I doubled to deep left field.

I really thought the ball was going out, and even got a high five from first base coach Steve (Flew) Bisping as I rounded first, only to watch the ball hit low off the fence.

East Grand Forks (EGF) slowly battled back, and before we knew it, the game was tied, and headed into extra innings.

In the bottom of the 10th, EGF had the winning run on second with one out.

That is when Jake Prehn made a diving stop of the potential game winning hit at third base, stepped on third, and threw to first to complete the double play, getting us out of the jam, and keeping our season alive.

If that ball gets past Jake and down the line, the game is over, and our season would have been as well.

The next inning we scored two runs to take a 7-5 lead, but things got interesting again in the bottom half of the inning.

With one out, there was a walk, then a double by EGF, and before anyone knew it, they had the tying run on second with one out.

EGF did score one run, but when it looked like they had tied the game in the next at-bat, the good old umpires came to our rescue.

On a weak ground ball in front of home plate, draftee catch Haller picked up the ball and fired to first, for what would be the second out, all while keeping the runner at third close.

But Haller’s throw hit the baserunner in the back and bounced to the fence.

There it was, the game was tied, and now they had the winning run on base with one out – not so fast.

The umpire called the runner out for being inside the baseline, made the tying run go back to third, and we kept our one-run lead.

The next batter was retired on a ground ball, and we had our first win at state in over 50 years

Being polite, EGF was not very happy. Tough break for them, but we’ll take it.

This brought us to game number two, playing Spring Hill in Norwood Aug. 26.

Greggy (Kohler) had a couple of big hits in this game, helping us get the win, but the story of this game was the pitching of Josh (Anthony).

He threw a gem, giving up just a pair of earned runs, while striking out 13. Josh just got stronger as the game went on. It was a fun one-run win.

Next up was St. Stephen, the team that knocked out Howard Lake in the opening round by a score of 5-3.

Moving off point for a minute, there were only two things that could have made this a better state tournament for me.

The first thing would have been winning the state championship. Secondly, it would have been getting to play Howard Lake instead of St. Stephen in our third game.

But, oh well, I’m not going to complain, this was too good of a tournament for any of that here.

Moving on to the St. Stephen game, which is where the two most memorable moments of the tournament occurred, at least for me.

The first one came courtesy of Joe Kley, again.

St. Stephen jumped on top of us early 2-0, while their drafted pitcher from Pierz struck out the side against us in the first inning.

Things couldn’t have gotten off to a much worse start.

But after Daryl Hoof walked, Joe connected on a high fastball, crushing it over the fence for a two-run home run, which tied the game at two.

From that point on I had a very good feeling like we were going to win that game.

We built the lead up to 5-3 heading into the top of the fifth inning, when St. Stephen loaded the bases with no outs in the inning.

Alright, I was worried, as we made a pitching change, bringing in Josh.

All Josh did was strike out the side, not allowing a single run.

After Josh struck out the side, St. Stephen was pretty dejected, as we added a few insurance runs, and cruised to the 8-3 win.

That win over St. Stephen was one of the most fun games I have ever been a part of – I just had a blast.

This brings us to Saturday, and a not-so-fun game against Sauk Rapids.

They just had our number, beating us down 11-0.

The only good part of this game was that I got to get back on the mound.

Okay, so we were down 11-0 in the sixth inning when I came in, it was still fun to toe the rubber in a state tournament game again.

If you’re curious, I didn’t allow a run, or a hit in my inning and two/thirds of work, and I struck out two.

This cagey right-hander had it going on.

Next up was St. Francis, with the loser of the game going home.

The game was tight all the way, and we ended up losing 3-2, when St. Francis scored a run in the top of the ninth.

The game could have gone either way, but it was St. Francis that found a way to get the win.

It sucked that the run had to be over, but it was such a fun couple of weeks, that I won’t complain.

Besides all the great memories that will stick with me from the games, there were also a few great items from after the games that will stay with me as well.

First off, after we beat St. Stephen that Friday night, the first person I saw was Ken “Fossil” Norman, sitting in his wheel chair right by the fence.

The Fossil just gave me a thumbs up and a smile as I walked over to him and patted him on the shoulder. It was pretty cool!

I then made my way to the old man (Chuck Schultz). After he shook my hand, we just kind of looked at each other and smiled, and we both agreed, there wasn’t much to say.

Chuck is a big reason the Wildcats made it this far this year. Although it has been a couple of years since he last managed, he got the ship going in the right direction, and we are all thankful he did.

Alright, that is enough. As you might be able to tell I could talk, and write, about the state tournament until I’m blue in the face.

In closing, I would like to thank Soup Campbell, Fran Kappel, and the rest of the Wildcat family that kept Wildcat baseball going throughout the years, and have supported the team win or lose.

And also to all the fans that came out and supported us, it was a great feeling having you all at our games, and I know that every member of the Wildcat team appreciated it.

Now, I hope to see you all at the 2008 state tournament in Chaska and Shakopee.