Archive for HJ Sports

PREP SOFTBALL: Decker’s walk-off lifts HLWW past Lester Prairie

HOWARD LAKE – Maddie Decker wasn’t expecting to have the game-winning hit when she woke up today. She wasn’t even expecting to play.

Decker, a member of the junior varsity team for the first game of the season for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted softball team, found herself in the biggest spot of her career in the first varsity game of her career. With the JV game getting done early, Decke was called upon for the Lakers late in their matchup with Lester Prairie.

After getting a hit in her first plate appearance, Decker came up to the plate once again with the game on the line in the bottom of the seventh. Tied at four, HLWW loaded the bases with nobody out. By the time Decker came up, there were two outs and it looked as if the Lakers were going to let a golden scoring chance slip away. That was until Decker had other plans.

“That’s so awesome for her,” HLWW coach Carol Meyerson said. “She’s been working super hard. We told her she might be able to step in and we might need her. That’s a huge moment for her. The smile on her face says everything.”

A base hit to right field scored the winning run for the Lakers in a 5-4 walk-off win over the Bulldogs in their season opener Monday night.

“I was playing with junior varsity, and I didn’t know if I was going to even play today,” Decker said. “Carol said that there’s a chance that I might get pulled up. I never thought that I was going to get in the game or get the game-winning hit.”

Decker was thrown into the fire right away in the win. After the JV game ended, she stepped right into the action as she was called upon to pinch-hit as the second batter of the inning.

“I just came in from the outfield in our JV game,” Decker said. “I grabbed all my stuff and was running over and got on deck. I didn’t know where the game was or what the score was. I didn’t know what was happening. I just got up and hit.”

Decker’s day finished with two hits in two plate appearances, the second being the game-winner. Her heroics wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Breanna Decker in the circle. After walking her first four batters of the game, she calmed down in a hurry to keep her team in the game.

“She just needed to get back into that routine that she knows,” Meyerson said. “She’s a great pitcher. She has a lot of experience. She had a year off, but it was nice to see her be able to get back into the game.”

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the April16 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 

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CHAMPION AT LAST: W-M’s Austin Gabbert reaches ultimate goal with state title

ST. MICHAEL – After signing with the Unversity of Augsburg to continue his wrestling career in college, there was just one thing missing for Watertown-Mayer’s Austin Gabbert in his high school career – a state title.

Not anymore.

Wrestling at 132 in Class AA, Gabbert finished his magical season with a state title after beating Hancock’s Davin Rose via a 4-3 decision in the state title match, securing that elusive state title he’s been looking for.

“Ever since high school started, all I dreamed about was getting a state title,” Gabbert said. “As you can imagine, that long desire to win felt good.”

Gabbert found himself in a battle as he was just one win away from his ultimate goal. Trailing 2-1 after one period, Gabbert found himself down 3-1 after an escape from Rose. With just under a minute left in the second period, Gabbertt delivered with a takedown to tie the match.

An early escape in period three was the difference as Gabbert’s state title dream became true.

“The feeling felt so unreal and still does now,” Gabbert said. “Seeing the people supporting me was the most immaculate part about it all.”

It’s been an impressive past two seasons for Gabbert in a Royals uniform. After taking second place at state his junior year ago, he refused to come up short of his goal this time around.

“For Austin to win a state championship was awesome,” Royals coach Kurt Becker said. “He has worked so hard and put in so much time to get to the level he is at. It was great to see it pay off. He is so deserving.  He is always trying to improve and asking questions and working to get better. We saw that in his finals match again when he reversed the outcome of his match from a week prior.”

As Gabbert moves on, he’ll leave an impressive legacy at Watertown-Mayer behind. Not only did he reach state all four years, but placed as well.

“Austin is, without question, one of the most talented wrestlers to come through Watertown Mayer’s wrestling history,” coach Bill McDonald said. “For someone to qualify for the state tournament four times and place all four times speaks to how good he really is. His improvements over the years were dramatic and that was due to the time he put in the off-season doing camps and clubs and working out on his own.”

With his state title, Gabbert joins an elusive club at Watertown-Mayer which was a fitting way to cap off his impressive career.

“He deserves to be one of only five in Watertown‘s history to win a state championship,” McDonald said. “When he came off the mat in the finals after winning a state title, I smiled and looked at him and all I could say was welcome to the club and you deserve it.”

 Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

WORTH THE WAIT: Royals claim Class A state title with strong finish

CHAMPLIN – It was the longest seven hours of their lives for the Watertown-Mayer/Mound Westonka gymnastics team. It was worth every minute.

After competing in the first session of the Class A State Gymnastics Meet, the No. 1-ranked Royals were forced to sit and wait to see if their score was enough to capture the first state title in program history. That wait proved to be worth it as the W-M/MW saw all their hard work pay off as they won the Class A state title with a team score of 146.350.

“It was definitely worth the wait,” senior Rosie Unglaub said. “All of the building up and once we got the news, it was great.  I couldn’t believe it. It was just shocking. I’m just so proud of everyone because we worked so hard for this.”

As the final team standings were announced virtually more than seven hours after the W-M/MW finished competing, there was a heartstopping moment for many of the Royals. Although everyone else in the room knew what they accomplished, the members of the team refused to check the scores as they came in. When the second-place finisher was announced with a score of 146, all eyes began to look at each other as they held on for the next number which proved to be the difference.

“It was a moment of wow,” Anna Mielke said. “I thought second would be cool, but also first would be really cool. We knew Pine Island definitely could get that 146.  We were watching and we knew it was going to come down to tenths by the way we saw them competing. When I heard that zero, it was like the world kind of stopped for a second. I kind of just froze. I wasn’t sure. I just stared at my sister and smiled. We all just jumped up and it was a really amazing feeling. It’s a feeling that I’ve dreamt about since I first started gymnastics.”

The score of 146.025 was announced for Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa, meaning the Royals were the state champions.

“A lot of us were getting really nervous,” Reagan Kelley said. “It took so long but it was so worth it in the end.  We were just trying to hold it together. Then once we heard our name, we could celebrate. It was so fun.”

The Royals came into the state meet as the No. 1-ranked team in Class A. Although the final score was much closer than they wanted it to be, all of their hard work paid off on the state’s biggest stage delivering the program their first state title.

“They’re such a hardworking group,” W-M/MW coach Steve Hangartner said. “You never see them sitting down. I was trying to cut them back a bit on practice leading up to this. We stayed longer. I told them we’re going to be done at 5:30. We were there until 6:30 every night. They even asked after the meet today if they could go back and work out.”

While the hard work paid off in the end, it didn’t come easy for the Royals. After a disappointing performance on beam for their standards, W-M/MW was forced to turn things up a notch in their final two rotations which just happened to be their best two events.

“After beam, we were a little shaken up,” Kelley said. “We were doing so good in warmups and then had two falls. Stuff happens. We can’t fix it now, but we just put our heads together and did our best on the last two events.”

Needing to get something going in a hurry, freshman Maggie McCabe stepped up in a big way on beam. After injuring her toe during practice earlier this week, McCabe fought through the pain and delivered a big-time performance on beam to keep W-M/MW’s state title hopes alive.

“Maggie had a terrible warm-up,” Hangartner said. “I was just thinking that she was all over the place. She thought she jammed her toe and she didn’t even work out last night. We weren’t even sure if she was going to go. She comes in today and says she’s fine. For her to come up there and step up was big.”

Along with McCabe, Unglaub, the lone senior gave the Royals a spark. A score of 9.55 on floor in the next rotation gave W-M/WM the boost they needed, and a second-place finish for Unglaub as an individual, as well.

“Right before vault, we had a great pep talk with our coaches,” Unglaub said. “Now was our time to shine. Floor and vault are some of our stronger events and it’s the energy on those that made the difference.”

W-M/MW’s momentum carried over into their final rotation. A score of 9.65 from Mielke was the finishing touch the Royals needed to overcome their slow start.

After getting off to a start not up to their standards, the Royals could have thrown in the towel. That’s not how they do things. A team that’s built on relationships and pushing each other, W-M/MW once again rallied together in their final two rotations.

“It’s super important to have such a close bond as a team,” Unglaub said. “We have so many people tell us that it looks like we have so much fun. It’s a huge compliment. We have built such a close bond.”

Kelley, a sophomore who joined the team this season, was a welcomed addition for the Royals who accepted her with open arms as she fit right into their family.

“I’m new this year and came from a team that was also really close,” Kelley said. “I was kind of scared that I wouldn’t be as close with these girls. I’m so glad that I walked into an environment where we’re all best friends inside and outside of the gym. It’s nice to always have each other’s back. The friendships are so strong between all of us.”

A team filled with friendly competition and the drive to push each other, Kelley only added that to the Royals this season.

“She had enough of club,” Hangartner said. “She just needed a change. For her to make that adjustment was big. I don’t think she wanted to give up on gymnastics. This gave her another avenue. I think she really enjoyed it. She saw what a team is. When you’re in Team USA gymnastics, it’s all about the individual. When you come here, you want to do well for the team and you get that connection. She just fit right in.”

While Kelley was a key addition for the Royals, it was Unglaub that held this team together. Being the lone senior isn’t easy, but she did it with a smile every day.

“Rosie just has so much fun,” Hangartner said. “I have my iPad filled up with videos. It wasn’t working so I decided to delete some of them. I came upon a video that I couldn’t delete because Rosie was dancing around on the floor after sticking a landing. That’s too good to delete. I take these videos and send them to them like three years later so they can remember these moments.”

“Rosie is the best,” Kelley added. “She’s like the mom of the group. She keeps everyone in check. She makes sure everyone is in a good mood. She is the person that is the highlight. She’s amazing.”

Unglaub will end her gymnastics career on top alongside her best friends. It was a year that brought many challenges but also brought the biggest rewards as her and her teammates’ hard work paid off.

“It’s the best thing I could ask for,” Unglaub said. “It’s just such a great way to end the year and my whole gymnastics career. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

Chmielewski, Mayer Lutheran capture elusive Section 4A title with rout of Heritage Christian

MAYER – There’s one poster hanging on the wall in the Mayer Lutheran gymnasium. It’s of senior Morgan Chmielewski. A senior who has seen it all and endured all the heartbreak the Crusaders have had the past few seasons. There was no heartbreak this time.

As the lone senior on the roster this season for the Mayer Lutheran girls basketball team, Chmielewski and her squad broke through in a big way capturing the Section 4A title on their home floor with an 80-55 win over Heritage Christian Academy Thursday night.

“It’s really special,” Chmielewski said. “This is the last time I will play on this court. It’s a pretty great way to end it. It’s just a really special moment.”

It wasn’t always pretty for the Crusaders early on. Down 9-2 with shots not falling, there was no panic in Mayer Lutheran this time after getting off to a slow start once again against the Eagles.

“We spent a lot of time talking about that it’s just another game,” Mayer Lutheran coach Kris Gustin said. “Sure, everybody is nervous about the past four years, but here’s the reality. They are different this year. We are different this year. While there is that piece in the back of your mind, I feel like we really worked on the mental aspect of understanding what happened last year, what happened the year before that, none of that matters. The only thing that matters is the play in front of us. That’s the mindset we’ve worked really hard at. I think that came through tonight. What I saw from the girls today was excitement and not nervousness. They just wanted to go get it.”

“We have grit,” Emma Lade added. “Being down six doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is. I feel like our defense really improved and when we came back, it showed how hard we can play.”
The Crusaders shook off the sluggish start in a big way. After getting their high-low game going between Julia Carns, Lilly Wachholz, and Madeline Guetzkow, Mayer Lutheran tied the game at 21.

“If we can’t get points in transition, where are we going to get them from,” Gustin said. “We’ve spent a lot of time answering that question with our offense. The girls have bought into the high and low. We look for that so much more than we ever have.”

“I knew the history in the back of my head, but I knew this team was different,” Waccholz said. “We knew we needed to come out strong and play how we do.”

After finding some rhythm, Mayer Lutheran did what they do best. A 17-5 run to close the half gave them a 12-point lead at the break but they didn’t stop there. A 15-2 run to open the second half (a 30-7 run overall), put Mayer Lutheran in the driver’s seat the rest of the way as they took over the game.

“We know our transition game is going to click at some point and we’re going to get runs,” Gustin said. “It’s hard to stop this team from getting runs. We kind of just wear teams out. I think you see that in every team we play. Their point guard gets exhausted. First, it’s Stella. Then it’s Rylee. Then it’s Madeline. Then it’s Morgan. It’s just constant.”

The up-tempo style has been the bread and butter for Mayer Lutheran leading them to their first state tournament appearance since 2001. While the Crusaders will look to make some noise at the Class A State Tournament, continuing to play an up-tempo style will be the key for them.

“We’re impossible to beat when we run like that,” Gustin said. “A 30-7 run, that’s a huge deficit. This team is special. They’ve got size. They’ve got athleticism. They’ve got talent. They also love each other. They’re a family and they play together. It’s just a real treat to watch them play.”

Chmielewski will also be a key for the Crusaders going forward. The lone senior on the roster, she’s been challenged by her coach to become the leader she is today.

“I challenged her at the end of her sophomore year,” Gustin said. “She has all the leadership attributes. She works incredibly hard. She’s resilient. People like her. People follow her. I challenged her to be this team’s leader for her last two years and she’s really grown into that. This year for sure she has really done that. You’re not going to find a girl who works harder in practice. It’s been a real treasure to watch her play. She does everything.”

It’s a role Chmielewski has taken on in a huge way this season that’s been the key to the success for Mayer Lutheran on both ends of the floor.

“I knew they have a lot of strong seniors and our side it’s just me,” Chmielewski said. “I feel leadership was a part of my role tonight. Just making sure everyone is staying calm. Just making sure we were all on the same page on offense and defense.”

Mayer Lutheran awaits to see who they will play in the first round of the Class A State Tournament. The seedings and pairings will be announced Saturday. Stay connected to the Herald Journal to find out who, where, and when Mayer Lutheran will take on in their first state tournament appearance since 2001.

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports

HEARTBREAK AT HERITAGE: Lester Prairie’s run comes to an end in Section 4A semifinals

PLYMOUTH – The gym at Heritage Christian Academy High School has not been a kind place for the Lester Prairie girls basketball team. For the second-straight season, the Bulldogs came up short in an attempt to keep their season alive as it all came to an end with a tough 70-57 loss to the Eagles in the Section 4A semifinals Tuesday night.

“I’m proud of the effort they gave tonight,” Bulldogs coach Mike Lee said.

Lester Prairie got off to a nice start thanks to a balanced effort on both ends. Leading 15-9 midway through the first half, mental mistakes on both ends of the floor gave the Eagles some momentum.

“We came out and made some mental mistakes. We threw the ball away a couple of times. We looked a little tired. I think we were a little stunned by them.”

Heritage Christian took a six-point lead into halftime. That was a bit deflating for the Bulldogs who thought they played well enough to have the lead.

“I felt we probably outplayed them 90 percent of the first half,” Lee said. “In the last few minutes, they took the lead a little bit. It was more mental errors than physical errors for us. That’s what happened.”

After letting Heritage Christian back in the game, Lee was expecting a better start from his team in the second half. A quick five points from Heritage Christian’s Taylor Schuck sparked a 7-0 run for the Eagles, extending their lead to 13 right out of the gate.

“I got on them a little bit at halftime and I thought they would come out a little stronger than they did,” Lee said. “If I could take any two minutes back this season it would be the first two minutes of the second half.”

Despite trailing by as many as 14 in the second half, Lester Prairie battled back. A 3-pointer from Kara Lee helped spark a 10-0 run for the Bulldogs, and just like that they were right back in it.

“We got back within three,” Lee said. “We had our chances to chip away and we did. We just missed a couple more shots and then a few more mistakes and that was it. The girls saw the score and it’s tough to come back at that point.”

As soon as Lester Prairie got it back to a one-possession game, the Eagles answered with another run of their own. A 3-pointer from Taylor Schuck put the Eagles back up 11 with six minutes to go and that was just too much to overcome for Lester Prairie.

Marissa Radtke led the way with a team-high 24 points. Lizzy Anderson added 17 points while eighth-grader Addison Hoof showed the Bulldogs have a player to watch going forward. Hoof played all 36 minutes for the Bulldogs and was a driving force on both ends of the floor for Lester Prairie.

“She’s going to be a nice player,” Lee said. “She’s young and has that motor that doesn’t quit. By doing cross country and that training she does year-round, that gives her the ability to go and go. She’s only an eighth-grader yet, but she likes the competition and challenges herself.”

As Lester Prairie’s season ends, so do the careers of four seniors (Radtke, Anderson, Taylor Ebert, and Paige Heimerl). All four have been integral parts of the program throughout their careers and will leave big holes to fill next season.

“They’re going to be a huge loss for us,” Lee said. “Their leadership has been very well appreciated. They were great leaders during their time here.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports