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REGION 12C PREVIEW: Anything can happen in Region 12C Tournament with deep field

Over the years, the North Star League and Region 12C have only gotten better and better. That was the case in 2022 as fans were treated to a thrilling regular season all year long as the NSL was loaded with talent from top to bottom.

An exciting season will continue as eight teams remain searching for a spot in the Class C State Tournament. With one of the deepest fields in years, the Region 12C Tournament hosted by the Litchfield Blues looks to be as exciting as ever.

The following is a preview of the first-round matchups for the Region 12C Tournament.

(1) Delano vs. (8) Loretto

Both these teams were playing in the Class C State Tournament a year ago. Now they meet in the first round of the Region 12C Tournament in the opening game. The A’s have been the top team in the North Star League all season long while the Loretto Larks have had a season filled with ups and downs. The Larks are coming into the region tournament after beating Rockford and Maple Plain in the league play-in games to secure the final spot.

When it comes to the A’s, it starts with their offense. One of the top-scoring teams in the state, Delano will be a tough out once again this postseason. The A’s are in their prime right now and will be looking to not only get back to the state tournament but also make a deep run as well.

Trevor Jaunich and Toby Hanson power the dangerous lineup for the A’s. Both have an average of over .400 to go along with some impressive power numbers. Jaunich led the team in home runs with six while Hanson finished with four.

Jack Paulson is another big bat to watch for Delano. He led the team with an average of .457 to go along with four home runs and 48 RBI.

Pitching has also taken a big step forward this season for the A’s. Delano has four players with three or more wins this season on the mound. Matt Arens led the way with five wins while Mike Weber and Jake Gleason each finished with four wins. Jake Nelson also racked up three wins.

For the Larks, it’s been a season filled with highs and lows. Loretto could never quite get things rolling with a hiccup at some point but found a way to get back to the Region 12C Tournament once again.

The offense has come alive lately with double-digit runs in their wins over Rockford and Maple Plain. Despite a record of just 10-14, the Larks have played well at times this season. Of their 14 losses, six of them have come by two runs or less. A play here or there goes their way and the Larks move up a handful of seeds but they enter the tournament as a dangerous No. 8 seed.

Keenan Hodgkin is the bat to watch for the Larks. Heading into the final stretch of the regular season, he led the league in hitting with an average of .585. He also led the league in doubles with 11. Ben Leuthner, Tyler Maher, Kent Koch, and Nathan Maher are other players to watch offensively for the Larks. Of course, Loretto also has former Twin Corey Koskie they can turn to in big spots like he did last season.

On the mound, the Larks will need to step up their game. That’s where the struggles have been this season but they’ve shown glimpses of being able to hold teams in check.

(4) Litchfield vs. (5) Buffalo 

One of the more interesting matchups in the first round is the Litchfield Blues taking on the Buffalo Bulldogs. The Blues are one of the most improved teams in the state while the Bulldogs are one of those teams who are talented yet just had a tough regular season.

Avery Liestman is worth the price of admission for fans alone. Becoming one of the premier talents in the NSL, Liestman and the Blues will be looking to keep their stellar season rolling on their home field under the bright lights of the Region 12C Tournament. For the season, Liestman had an average of .493 to go along with 10 doubles, two home runs, and 19 RBI. If that’s not enough, he also posted a 1.73 ERA in 62 innings with a record of 4-2 while racking up 69 strikeouts. Jack Ramthun and Joey Hyde are two other pitchers to watch for the Blues as they both picked up three wins this year.

Other players to watch offensively for Litchfield are Andrew Loch and Jake Jones. Loch posted an average of .326 to go along with 10 RBI while Jones hit .395 with six doubles and 19 RBI.

For Buffalo, they still have one of the top offenses in the league. It just hasn’t resulted in wins this year. The bats are still a huge problem to deal with for opposing teams as Buffalo had a team batting average of .305 this year.

Colton Haight, Justin Johnson, Brett Renshaw, and Cole LaPlante highlight the offense for the Bulldogs. All four have an average over .300. Johnson and Renshaw each had three home runs while Tommy Eckstein adds even more power to the lineup with four home runs himself.

Like the Loretto Larks, pitching will need to improve for the Bulldogs if they want to make some noise at the Region 12C Tournament. As a team, they posted an ERA of 5.66, a number that will need to improve.

John Weber and Jon Euerle come in as the top two pitchers for Buffalo. Euerle posted an ERA of 3.92 while Weber finished with an ERA of 3.99. Both finished with three wins along with Michael Weber and Carter Vogt. The Bulldogs don’t have a true ace and will rely on their entire pitching staff to make a run at the Region 12C Tournament.

(3) Maple Lake vs. (6) Howard Lake

Another interesting matchup in the first round features the Maple Lake Lakers and Howard Lake Orphans. These are two good teams that can beat anybody and will be on the top matchups in the first round. The Lakers and Orphans split their two regular-season matchups with both games decided by two runs or less. Howard Lake won a 3-2 matchup while Maple Lake won the second meeting by a score of 2-0.

The Orphans are a team that is starting to see their young talent pay off. It has them back at the region tournament and looking to get back to state after missing out in 2021.

Cole Macziewski is one of the top hitters to watch for the Orphans. He finished the year with an average of .375. Other key bats for Howard Lake to watch are Jared Koch, Brad Bickmann, and Matt Streich.

Koch has also been one of their top pitchers this season. Combine him with veteran and manager Mike Dockendorf and Howard Lake has a nice one-two punch to lead the way on the mound. Bickmann also has given the Orphans some big innings this year and is an arm to watch.

For Maple Lake, they’ve had another strong season and are looking to capitalize on it by reaching the state tournament. They’ve been consistent all season long and are a team to watch not only at the Region 12C Tournament but at the state tournament as well if they’re able to make it.

Maple Lake has five terrific hitters who have been putting together a strong season. Ben Clapp leads the way with a .436 average while Riley Decker, Hunter Malachek, Logan Orazem, and Donnie Mavencamp all have an average of .333 or better. Malachek leads the team in RBI with 31 while also showing some power with a team-best four home runs. Clapp leads the Lakers in doubles with 13 and is second in home runs with three while Brock Goelz has two home runs himself.

On the mound, Malachek has been just as good. In nine starts, he’s earned seven wins while posting an ERA of 1.75. Ben Reilley (0.64 ERA) and Luke Fobbe (0.93) are also two legit arms for the Lakers to lean on.

(2) Hutchinson vs. (7) Cokato

The Hutchinson Huskies come into the Region 12C Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the state. After getting off to a tough start, the Huskies have been lighting up the scoreboard and racking up the wins. The Huskies opened the season with a 1-5 record. Since then they have won 23-straight games, 16 of which have come by 10 or more runs.

For the Cokato Kernels, they’re looking to try and slow down the red-hot Huskies. Another strong year for them has the Kernels back in the region tournament and looking to steal a state tournament bid away from the top four seeds.

Leading the way for Hutchinson at the plate have been Jayden Fleck, Lane Glaser, Zach Kueseske, and Jake Wendland. All four have an average of over .400 on the season. Fleck has been on a tear all season long with nine home runs and 31 RBI. As a team, the Huskies have hit 30 home runs this year as the power of their lineup is something to watch.

The pitching has been very good for the Huskies as well this season. With a team ERA of 2.79, Hutchinson has shown they can win low-scoring games or pile up the runs with their powerful offense.

John DeRock is one of the top arms for the Huskies. He has an ERA of 1.74 in 46 innings of work. Kueseske has also been nearly unhittable with an ERA of 1.03 in 61 innings of work.

For the Kernels, they bring a mix of experience and young talent. They’ll be looking for that to gel and make a run this year. They’ve shown they can play with some of the best teams in the NSL and will try and do that once again and make a run as one of the two bottom seeds in the Region 12C Tournament.

PREP SOFTBALL: Stuckmayer has career day as Delano rolls past Mound Westonka

MOUND – There were a few nerves inside Delano’s Carly Stuckmayer heading into their matchup with Mound Westonka. They didn’t show. The sophomore had a career day at the plate and in the circle helping lead the Delano softball team to a 13-5 win over Mound Westonka Monday night.

“I was kind of scared at first,” Stuckmayer said “It went well though. It was nice hitting my first home run ever.”

Stuckmayer’s first career home run was just one part of the offense that helped lead the Tigers to their seventh win of the season. Delano scored double-digit runs for the fourth time this season showing their offense still has some power in the lineup.

“We’ve got a pretty young group,” Tigers coach Megan Vargo said. “Every day is just another step in the right direction. We’ve had our struggles though. The wins are coming and we’ve had our big wins but in that, we still need to grow. We’re not satisfied where we are.”

Delano had some big holes to fill in the lineup after losing several key players. The Tigers then lost their best player in Louisa Stowman before the season began to injury, but they’ve been up to the challenge. The key returning players are becoming leaders and the young talent is filling in nicely as the Tigers haven’t missed a beat so far this season.

“I think that seniors have been key,” Vargo said. “Then Louisa really hasn’t left. She’s been at every practice. She had surgery less than a week before the season started and still was at the first practice. She’s been huge in helping our outfielders and helping girls when they come in from at-bats. She just talks to them about the pitchers and what the defense is doing. Along with those other seniors, they’re an experienced group. We’ve got a lot of young and inexperienced kids with that and they’ve been fearless.”

Delano’s high-powered offense has also helped out the pitching staff in a big way. Making just her second start of the season, Stuckmayer had all the confidence she needed knowing her offense would back her up.

“That gives me a lot of confidence,” Stuckmayer said. “I know I’ll be backed up every time that I mess up or throw a bad pitch. It just makes me feel really good.”

“The scores have shown it,” Vargo added. “We have given up some runs. We’re working to tidy some of those things up. It allows (our pitchers) to go out free. If we get down after an inning, they know the offense is going to come up to the plate and we could plate six or seven runs. It gives them a little extra boost of confidence. If they miss one, it’s onto the next.”

While Vargo knew what the offense was capable of coming into this season, they surprise her at times in her first year as head coach.

“It’s kind of crazy,” Vargo said. “I watch a lot of college softball and see how they do things. We’re kind of doing the same. Any kid can hit the ball out of the park or hit a double in the blink of an eye. Especially at the high school level, it’s crazy that you can have that from one through nine. I enjoy it. These kids are showing how the hard work over the offseason is paying off.”

Delano is off to a strong start to the season with wins in seven of their first eight games. While things have started nicely, the Tigers know they got a long way to go to be where they want to be.

“It’s grind time,” Vargo said. “We only have three weeks until the postseason. It’s insane to say that. This is where we decide if we want to be good or do we want to be great. That’s really where we’re at. We’ve been putting up the runs and getting the wins, but it’s grind time. We got some good opponents coming up. It’s going to be a grind. It’s go time. They know that.”

“We just need to keep on hitting really well and keep on getting runs,” Stuckmayer added. “Offensively, we just need to be us.”

For the complete story and more Delano Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the May 6 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.  Subscribers have full access to this article and more by clicking here. Subscriptions start as low as $1.50 for a two-day subscription, the same price as a newspaper on a newsstand.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports


PREP BASEBALL: SW Christian escapes with a win over Delano

DELANO – It was only fitting for the first nice day of the spring sports season to have the feeling of a playoff game. That was the case for the Delano baseball team as they hosted Southwest Christian in a Wright County Conference East matchup.

Both the Tigers and Stars got great starting pitching and made key plays throughout but it was Southwest Christian who escaped with an exciting 3-2 win over the Tigers Thursday night.

“It’s just about staying positive,” Delano coach Jeff Olson said about the message for his team after a tough loss. “It was a good competitive game between good teams with some good pitching. We just need to keep doing our thing and keep grinding and getting better every day. If we keep improving, we’ll be OK.”

Southwest Christian struck first in the top of the second thanks to a pair of Delano errors. The Stars pushed across two runs despite not collecting a hit as they took the first lead of the game.

It didn’t take long for the Tigers to answer. Cade Bruett got the rally started in the bottom of the second with an infield single. With two outs, Colin Lommel kept the inning alive with a single and advanced to second on the throw-in to put runners on second and third with two outs. Needing a clutch hit, Will Ricke delivered for the Tigers with an RBI single to left to tie the game at two.

“Something we talk about is responding to whatever it may be,” Olson said. “That was nice to see. That was huge for our team and our momentum. We’re showing early that we can battle back. It’s great to see.”

Southwest Christian would retake the lead in the top of the fourth on an RBI single from Melvin Maldonado. The Stars would have a great chance to extend their lead in the fifth, but AJ Rasmussen and his defense worked out of a bases-loaded jam with one out. Needing a big day, Delano delivered as Oran Hinkle and Drew Dorsey turned a huge double play up the middle to keep the deficit at one.

Over the final three innings, Delano had plenty of chances to tie the game or even take the lead. In their final three innings of hitting, the Tigers left three runners on base including having a runner thrown out at home in the bottom of the seventh as the Stars held on for the win.

Rasmussen was tagged with the loss despite a strong performance on the mound. He went all seven innings allowing just one earned run off of eight hits while striking out 10. Rasmussen gave the Tigers a chance in the seventh. After giving up a leadoff double, he struck out three-straight batters to keep the deficit at one.

“AJ is our No. 1,” Olson said. “Then we’ve got other pitchers who can do the same thing for us. He gives us a great chance to win every time he goes out there. He’s going to compete and be a leader.”

Offensively, Delano had five players record at least one hit in the win. They got production from all over the lineup in big spots which is something Olson hopes his team can continue as the season progresses.

“Any good team is going to have that and you can’t just rely on the top of the lineup,” Olson said. “Other guys will have to step up and they did. We’ll try to keep building.”

For the complete story and more Delano Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the April 29 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.  Subscribers have full access to this article and more by clicking here. Subscriptions start as low as $1.50 for a two-day subscription, the same price as a newspaper on a newsstand.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports


KOVAR: Women’s sports have come a long way and so have I

It’s the 50th anniversary of one of the most important moments in sports history. No, I’m not talking about the anniversary of Jack Nicklaus winning The Masters and the US Open back to back for his 10th and 11 majors. No, I’m not talking about the Dallas Cowboys winning their first Super Bowl with a 24-3 win over the Miami Dolphins. I’m talking about the passing of Title IX.

It wasn’t very long ago that I was one of those stereotypical males who thought female sports were boring. I fell into the trap of the idea that men’s sports are superior and women’s sports are a waste of time. Boy was I wrong and have I changed.

Attending a Final Four was always a dream of mine ever since I started playing the game of basketball and fell in love with it. That dream became a reality when Minneapolis hosted the Men’s Final Four in 2019. I not only got to attend the Final Four, but also the championship game, a moment I’ll never forget.

March Madness has been my favorite sporting event ever since I got into sports. I still remember how cool it was that my 7th-grade teacher Mr. Shipler would let us watch some of the games on the first day in class. I still remember being forced to go to bed before the games ended on a school night only to sneak out of bed and go downstairs to catch the final moments. I’m sure my parents fully knew what was going on.

March Madness and sports have always been a huge part of my life. From playing them or just simply being a fan and watching, sports hold a special place in my heart. They’ve helped me get through some tough times. They’ve presented experiences and opportunities that I’ve never thought would be possible.

Growing up, it was always men’s sports though. I hardly ever turned on the WNBA or even attended high school sports other than volleyball. My high school basketball coach even made us attend a few girls basketball games throughout the season as a team, but in reality, none of us really wanted to be there.

I admit that I was one of the cliché guys who thought women’s sports were boring. I’ll also admit I was wrong.
Over the years, not only have I matured and changed that narrow-minded thinking, but female sports as a whole have taken off in popularity and most of them are now getting the coverage they deserve. There’s still some work to do though.

This past weekend I attended the Final Four once again but this time on the women’s side. It was never a dream or a goal to attend one years ago, but I’m so glad I got to go this year. More than 18,000 women’s college basketball fans packed the Target Center as UCONN and South Carolina played for the National title. As I was walking around the arena before the game started, I counted more than a dozen females walking around wearing Minnesota high school apparel. Maybe some of them were there just to see Paige Bueckers. Maybe some of them wanted to be a part of something special.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Women’s sports have come a long way. I have come a long way. For those of you who are still stuck in the idea that men’s sports are far superior to women’s sports, give it a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

PREP SOFTBALL: Delano’s Stowman signs with Wayne State University

DELANO – There was a time in Louisa Stowman’s life when she dreamed of being able to play at the collegiate level. Flash forward to the present, and that dream is now a reality for the Delano senior as she officially signed with Wayne State University Tuesday afternoon to continue her softball career and achieve a lifelong dream.

“I remember telling my dad that I wanted to play at the highest level possible and that I was ready for the challenge,” Stowman said. “I knew it was something I wanted and it is a huge achievement for me to be able to actually have it play out.”

Stowman had a decision to make on where she wanted to play following high school. She could have either played Division II or III, but opted for the challenge by picking Wayne State.

“My decision was left to choose between a Division II school and a Division III school,” Stowman said. “I really fell in love with the coaches at Wayne State and their honesty. Along with the team and the smaller community similar to home.”

Throughout Stowman’s career, hard work has been at the center of it. Often playing and working on her game throughout the season and the off-season, she’s seen all her hard work pay off in a big way.

“I feel like it is so many young girls’ dream to be able to play at that next level,” Stowman said. “To me, every minute that goes into getting better at softball counts. I’m very proud of the achievements I’ve made and how it has paid off, but I know that it doesn’t stop there.”

Like every athlete, Stowman has a great support system along the way helping her develop as a player and her love for the game.

“Every single teammate and coach I’ve been on a team with has helped push me to the player I am today,” Stowman said. “It is truly a team sport and we can all feed off of each other. I have met some of my best friends and learned so much from the coaches. I know that those relationships and the memories that were made will never be forgotten. I love that I can channel my emotions into the game and into getting better.”

Stowman making it official has come at the perfect time. After realizing she would have to miss her senior season due to having surgery, it helped ease the pain of not getting to play in her final season in a Delano uniform.

“It means a lot to me,” Stowman said. “Especially right now because I am missing out on my senior year.”
Just because Stowman won’t be on the field for the Tigers this season doesn’t mean she won’t be around the diamond. Her presence on the field will be missed greatly, but you can count on her being around the park each and every day to support her teammates.

“Although I can’t play this year, I will still be the best teammate for my team and a leader for the younger girls,” she said. “Injuries are a part of playing sports, but what matters the most is how you come back from them.”
Stowman is more than ready to come back from her injury. Already working hard to get back to where she was a year ago, the standout high school player is focused on the physical and mental parts of the game in order to get back on track to accomplish her goals.

“I’m doing everything I can to regain my physical strength back, but In the meantime really working on the mental factor,” Stowman said. “Both the physical and mental factors are a huge part of how I play the game. I’m working hard to be able to start swinging a bat and getting back to the basics, but also keeping in mind I can’t rush my recovery because I have huge goals for my future at Wayne State.”