April 30, 2007

Orphans baseball looks forward to another winning season

By Jenni Sebora

Almost parallel to the 2006 Twins’ season was the Howard Lake Orphans’ 2006 baseball season.

Starting out slow, with a record of 2-4 in the early season, the Orphans ended the 2006 season as Region 11C champs, which earned the club a trip to the state tournament.

Although the Orphans’ season started out on the slow side, it didn’t stay that way. As the season rolled along, so did the Orphans.

June 11 was the start of an outstanding winning streak that lasted until the end of August. During that time span, the team won 22 of 23 games played.

“That’s hard to duplicate,” 13-year veteran manager Mike Gagnon said.

And Gagnon said a number of factors helped ignite that streak. The return of Adam Koch into the pitching rotation, the move of Andy Gagnon behind the plate in the catcher position, and just plain playing ball well.

“We just played well,” Gagnon said.

Played well, they did. In the first round of the Class C state tournament, the Orphans beat Bagley, 5-0. This victory was the first-ever state tournament victory in Orphan history.

The Orphans didn’t stop there. In the second round, they came from behind and beat St. Martin, 5-4, which put the Orphans into the final eight at state.

“It was a very exciting win,” Gagnon said of the victory over St. Martin.

And in this victory, Jake Streich got the win on the mound as the relief pitcher. In the first game against Bagley, Shane Heber picked up the win on the hill, throwing eight shut-out innings. These earned wins were “very fitting,” as Streich and Heber are two of the top pitchers for the Orphans, Gagnon noted.

The next game saw the Orphans fall to the 2004 state champions from Blue Earth by a score of 3-0.

The Orphans had a hard time getting much going offensively as the team faced the best pitcher it had seen all season, Lee Hodges, who earned state tournament MVP (Most Valuable Player) honors, Gagnon said.

In the elimination game, the Orphans lost to Union Hill, 2-1.

“Looking back, that was a game we should’ve maybe won,” Gagnon said.

The 2007 Orphans season looks to be promising, as well. The Orphans will lose only one player, Chad Burau – to retirement. And Burau won’t be going far because he will still be working with the Orphan’s team in some kind of capacity, Gagnon noted.

Two new players, who are Steve Bobrowske and Perry Thineson, will be joining the roster. Steve Bobrowske, brother of Orphan Tom, will be helping out Andy Gagnon with behind-the-plate duties. Bobrowske was a member of the HLWW state championship team.

Lefty veteran pitcher Perry Thinesen will be joining the already strong Orphans pitching staff. Thinesen, a former league MVP, is returning to amateur ball after playing in a 35 and over league.

With 20 players on the roster, Gagnon says there will be competition for playing time, with the best players playing at the end of the season.

The Orphans will see a similar approach to last year – to be at the top of their game when it counts the most, at playoff time.

“There will be less emphasis in May, more emphasis on how we are playing in July,” Gagnon said.

“We may sacrifice some wins in the early season for player development,” Gagnon added.

Pitching is a key to winning and continues to be a strength for the Orphans. Leading the way for the Orphans in the pitching department are Koch, Heber, and Streich, who are all former league MVP pitchers, as well.

Offensively, John Stueven, Ben Borrell, Aaron DeMarais, Luke Gagnon, and Andy Gagnon are top hitters for the Orphans, with other players contributing also, manager Mike Gagnon noted.

Gagnon sees the team’s defense, experience, and desire to compete as strengths for the 2007 Orphans team.

“We can say that we have an experienced team that likes to compete,” Gagnon said.

“Confidence, experience, and that desire to compete are key factors to the Orphans baseball team,” Gagnon added.

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