Archive for HJ Sports

PREP SOFTBALL: Otterness hits season-high in strikeouts in shutout of HLWW

WATERTOWN – It was safe to say Abby Otterness had things working for the Watertown-Mayer softball team. The junior ace pitcher for the Royals tallied a new season-high 14 strikeouts as part of her impressive 2-0 shutout of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Monday.

“When she’s on, she’s on,” Royals coach Bethany Loether said. “I’d argue she’s one of the best pitchers in our conference. She’s just getting better and better as the season goes on.”

After striking out the side in order to start the game, Otterness got some support from her teammates in their first at-bat of the game. Jada Kostmatka led off the inning with a single. With two outs, Otterness helped herself out with an RBI single to put the Royals up 1-0.

W-M would add on an insurance run in the bottom of the third thanks to an RBI single from Payton Hecksel. That two-run cushion was more than enough with Otterness in control in the circle.

“We have a good team,” Loether said. “It’s just a matter of finding that confidence in ourselves. I think that’s starting to come out a little bit in the last few games. We know we can do it and win games.”

Otterness finished the game allowing just two hits and one walk. Her season-high 14 strikeouts marked the fourth time this season she’s struck out 10 or more in a game. For the year, Otterness has an ERA of 1.78 in 70 innings of work.

It was the second dominant game for Otterness against HLWW. Earlier in the year, she completed a five-inning no-hitter in a 10-0 win for the Royals.

With the win, W-M improved to 10-7 on the year and has won three straight. With just two games left in the regular season, the Royals are looking to keep their momentum rolling heading into the postseason.

“Right now, our focus is on sections,” Loether said. “Our goal is to play clean ball and get some momentum heading into the playoffs.”

The Royals close out the regular season with a doubleheader against Litchfield. Following that, W-M will have three days of practice to gear up for what they hope will be a deep postseason run.

“We have three days of practice coming up and we haven’t had practice in like two weeks,” Loether said. “ I’m looking forward to just being able to revamp and refocus before heading into the postseason. Our goal is to win every inning right now. That’s our focus and mentality. We want to keep that pressure on. Even though we didn’t quite get them across today, we had people in scoring position pretty much every inning. I’m OK with that because we’re progressing.”

For HLWW, they dropped to 4-14 on the season. The Lakers will close out the season with three home games against Dassel-Cokato, Rockford, and Norwood Young America.

For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the May 20 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: Royals issue statement with a sweep of the top-ranked team in Class AA

WATERTOWN – Coming into the day, the Watertown-Mayer baseball had a chance to show just how good they are. Mission accomplished.

After holding off Glencoe-Silver Lake in the first of two games, the Royals rode that momentum to a sweep of the top-ranked team in Class AA to stay perfect on the season with a 7-5 and 8-1 win over the Panthers Tuesday night.

“The first game was ugly and we survived,” Royals coach Ryan Trucke said. “I think the big thing was after surviving the first one and getting the win, we came out and played really well in the second game. It was a good day. They’ve dominated this conference for years. To win two against them is huge.”

“It feels great,” senior Albert Rundell added. “They’re a pretty good team. We knew we had to bring the energy and played pretty well today and that’s what we did. We got two wins against a top 10 ranked team.”

After being forced to hold onto the win in the first game, W-M set the tone early that there would be no letting down. Instead of being content with one win, the Royals took control of the game early and never looked back to pick up the sweep in the process.

“This group is really good about refocusing and resetting,” Trucke said. “Whether it’s an at-bat or when they’re pitching, they are really good at that. Good teams split. If you want to be great you win both. That’s all I said between games. Great teams sweep and we did.”

Game one came down to doing all the little things for the Royals. W-M turned three double plays and got out of a big jam in the sixth inning to keep their lead intact. G-SL had runners on second and third with nobody out in a one-run game, Ben Trucke was able to pick off the runner at second for the first out of the inning. A groundball to first turned into a double play for W-M as they escaped the inning without allowing a run on just two pitches.

“What made the difference was the pick-off at second base,” Trucke said. “When Ben came in and picked him off, we got a little momentum going and had some energy. Then we turned the double play to get out of that inning and rolled from there. I think that one play was huge. We always talk about the little things. You got to do the little things to win. There’s a million of them and you’re never sure which one is going to come up big in a game.”

After watching the Panthers let a scoring chance slip away in the top half of the inning, W-M responded in their half of the inning. The Royals tagged on three big insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth to seal the win and hand the Panthers just their second loss of the season.

“Our coach has always preached doing the little things,” Rundell said. “If we do the little things, big things will come. If we do that, everything will fall into place.”

W-M had six different players record at least one hit in the first win of the night. That included the eighth (Connor Donovan) and ninth (Ashton Hecksel) hitters to start a two-out rally in the bottom of the fourth to extend their lead to two after G-SL tied the game in the third.

“We’ve gotten contributions from all over our lineup,” Trucke said. “They’ve done a good job from one to 13. If one guy has a bad day, somebody else is picking them up. It’s huge when everybody can do a job. Those eight and nine guys have been getting pinched hit for lately. They did a good job of getting on base and staying with it. When you get hit for every time, you can just quit. They did a really good job today.”

The Royals rolled in game two to complete the sweep thanks to a gem on the mound from Rundell. He allowed just one run in six innings of work while allowing just three hits.

The win for W-M moves them to 8-0 on the season. Although the pair of wins is nice, the Royals know they have a big stretch ahead with another conference game with Rockford coming up along with a road trip north to take on two of the state’s best.

“We have 12 games in 10 days,” Trucke said. “This is the test. Rockford is always tough. Then Saturday we’re going to see two of the best teams in the state by design. We knew we were going to be a pretty good team this year so that’s a good test for us to see where we measure up.”

“10 games in 12 days (is a lot),” Rundell added. “We’re trying to come out of that 10-0. That means every game is a big game. We’re trying to win big games.”

For the complete story and more 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

 

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.

CLASS A STATE QUARTERFINALS ROUNDUP: Minneota upsets Mt. Iron-Buhl; Mayer Lutheran and Hancock cruise to semifinals

The first round of games for the Class A state girls basketball quarterfinals are in the book. The day got started with a bang as the Minneota Vikings upset the top-seeded Mt. Iron-Buhl Rangers. Hayfield, the No. 5 seed kept things rolling with a win over No. 4 Cass Lake-Bena. In the final two games, No. 2 Mayer Lutheran and No. 3 Hancock took care of business to reach the semifinals.

Below is a recap of the first day’s action at the Class A state tournament.

Minneota 51, Mt. Iron-Buhl 48 (OT)

MINNEAPOLIS – The magic that is Minneota in March continues. Coming into the Class A state tournament, the Vikings continued their dominance in March knocking off top-seeded Mt. Iron-Buhl 51-48 in overtime to start off the Class A quarterfinals Thursday.

The Rangers led by as many as 12 in the first half but Minneota rallied back. Down by 10 with just over five minutes left to play, the Vikings used a 13-3 run to tie the game at 45. Natalee Rolbiecki had the clutch shot for Minneota, knocking down a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left to tie the game.

The Vikings would complete the comeback in overtime, outsourcing the Rangers 6-3 in the extra frame to advance to the Class A semifinals. It’s the second year in a row Minneota has knocked off Mt. Iron-Buhl in the state tournament.

Leading the way for the Vikings in the win was McKenna Yost with a game-high 24 points. She was 7-for-12 from the field including going 4-for-9 from 3-point range.

Hayfield 67, Class Lake-Bena 57

MINNEAPOLIS – After watching Minneota rally late, it looked as if there was going to be another furious comeback in the second Class A quarterfinal matchup of the day. Down 13 at half to the Hayfield Vikings, Cass Lake-Bena came out swinging with a 10-0 run to get back into the game. In the end, Hayfield showed why they are undefeated on the season, holding on for a 67-57 victory.

The Vikings will take unseeded Minneota in the Class A semifinals Friday at noon at Williams Arena.

Mayer Lutheran 56, United Christian Academy 33

MINNEAPOLIS – The Mayer Lutheran Crusaders were in cruise control in their opening game of the Class A state tournament. Taking on United Christian Academy, the Crusaders jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in a 56-33 victory Thursday.

Mayer Lutheran shot better than 60 percent from the floor in the win. A 26-5 run to open the game had the Thunder playing catchup throughout.

Madeline Guetzkow led all scorers with 17 points. Emma Lade was also in double figures for Mayer Lutheran with 11 points.

Hancock 73, Nevis 38

MINNEAPOLIS – The Hancock Owls came to play in their state tournament opener. A hot start from the field put them in control early and that was too much for the Nevis Tigers to overcome in a 73-38 loss.

Carlee Hanson had a big game for the Owls to help lead her team to the win. She finished with a game-high 29 points including going 5-for-10 from 3-point range. Hancock had three other players score in double figures as they had their offense firing on all cylinders.

Nevis was led by Ava Isaacson with a team-high 14 points in the loss.

 Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports 

CLASS A STATE GIRLS BASKETBALL: Mayer Lutheran blows by United Christian Academy

MINNEAPOLIS – Despite missing one of their key players, the Mayer Lutheran girls basketball team took care of business in their opening game of the Class A state tournament. Led by some hot shooting from the floor, the Crusaders cruised to a 56-33 win over United Christian Academy Thursday night.

“We talked about having a big start,” Mayer Lutheran coach Kris Gustin said. “Seeds don’t matter this time of the year. They just had to beat us one time. It was about coming out and focusing so that we start the game out strong.”

The win for Mayer Lutheran was the first win by a high seed in the state tournament thus far. After top-seeded Mt. Iron-Buhl was upset in the opening game of the day, Mayer Lutheran knew they needed to come ready to play.

“Clearly anything can happen on any given night,” senior Emma Lade said. “We weren’t so worried about the No. 1 seed being out. An unseeded team can easily upset a seeded team and that could have happened to us today. We just came out and worked hard.”

“We heard about it and talked about it for a minute or two,” Julia Carns added. “Then we started focusing on this game and how we can get  through this game first.”

Mayer Lutheran came out ready to play. A 26-5 run to open the game for the Crusaders put them in control throughout. United Christian Academy was forced to play catch up all game long as Mayer Lutheran advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 1977.

“We knew we had to come out and take it one game at a time,” Madeline Guetzkow said. “Just keep ourselves composed and play as ourselves.”

Mayer Lutheran’s experience was on full display in the win. With many of the girls experienced on the state’s biggest stage in both basketball and volleyball, the Crusaders felt at home in their first game of the tournament. That’s also helped their team chemistry as they’ve been playing together for a number of years.

“It helps a lot with chemistry,” Lade said. “We’ve been playing with each other for so long. A lot of the girls on the team have gotten to state. I just felt like it helped calm down the nerves a little bit.”

Mayer Lutheran shot 62 percent from the field in the win. Guetzkow led the charge with 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting while Lade was also in double figures with 11 points. The Crusaders did have 27 turnovers, a stat they’ll need to improve on going forward.

“It was certainly sloppy at times,” Gustin said. “Some of that was nerves and some of it was just understanding and valuing the ball. What I love about this team is that even when we do turn the ball over, we come back and play hard to try and get it back. We don’t seem to dwell on turnovers which is a real positive.”

Mayer Lutheran will face third-seed Hancock in the Class A semifinals Friday. With one more win, the Crusaders will be looking to play for a state championship for the second time in program history.

“These girls are gamers,” Gustin said. “The bright lights don’t bother them. It’s a big stage. They’ve been there before. They’re just good enough to do it wherever they have to.”

After Wachholz missed the quarterfinal game with an injury, Mayer Lutheran is hoping to have her back in some form in their semifinal game Friday.

“We’ll see,” Gustin said about having Wachholz available. “Her ankle has responded well to treatment. We’re pleased with where she’s at and that we didn’t have to use her tonight. We’ll see if she can give us some time tomorrow. She brings a lot to our team with her size and rebounding. Hopefully, we’ll get a few minutes out of her and see how it goes.”

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PREP FOOTBALL: Legendary Delano football coach Merrill Pavlovich retires after four decades of coaching

DELANO – For 46 years, there’s been only one man pacing the sidelines as head coach of the Delano football team. Come this fall, there will be a new face.

Over the span of four decades, Merrill Pavlovich has been the leader for the Tigers on the sidelines. After winning more than 300 games, the legendary high school football coach is hanging it up.

“There are several reasons,” Pavlovich said about stepping down. “Age is one of them. I’m going to be 75 in April. It’s been a long time that I’ve been doing this. I’ve always had the rule of thumb that when I get up in the morning, if I look forward to going out to the field and enjoying it, then I’ll stay. That’s been my rule of thumb. The last couple of years has taken a toll on me. That made me think that it might be time and I think it is time.”

The last two years of coaching have been anything but easy for Pavlovich. After playing just four games in 2020 as teams across the state battled COVID-19, 2021 was a tough year as well for Delano competing in one of the toughest districts in the state.

When the Minnesota State High School made the switch to districts in 2015 instead of playing a conference schedule, that was a move that didn’t sit well with Pavlovich. Delano has often been put in districts that requires more travel than most teams in the state while also playing schools much bigger than them as well.

“I think district football has been nothing but a nightmare,” Pavlovich said. “Three years ago, we played Moorhead. There wasn’t a team in the state of Minnesota that traveled farther than we did to play them. We passed many school districts that we could have played on the way up there. Then the school we played was two and a half times bigger than we were. The matchups were absolutely terrible.”

The move to districts hasn’t always been bad for Delano. Often in the same district as the Becker Bulldogs, a friendship and rivalry has developed over the years between two of the top coaches in high school football history in Minnesota.

“​​Pav and I have been competing against each other on the gridiron for 40 plus years,” Becker coach Dwight Lundeen said. “District changes have separated Becker and Delano at times, but we have always stayed connected with scrimmages and lower level games.”

Pavlovich and Lundeen rank among the best when it comes to wins in high school football in Minnesota.
As his coaching career comes to an end, Pavlovich is ranked fifth in state history with 315 career wins. Lundeen, still an active coach, is ranked third with 382 wins. Between the two friends and rivals, they’ve combined for nearly 700 total wins.

“Our lives have somewhat paralleled each other as coaches, activities directors, and executive secretaries of our conference,” Lundeen said. “He has been very successful as a football coach, leading Delano to over 300 wins in his 40 years of coaching. Only good coaches win that many games.”

“I can’t recall all of those 40 years of coaching,” Pavlovich added. “I don’t know where all the wins came from. They went by in a hurry. When I look at a list like that, there are some great names. We won a lot of games that we shouldn’t have and we lost a lot of games that we shouldn’t have either.”

While Pavlovich and Lundeen certainly had their rivalries over the years, their friendship remains the most important thing.

“I am blessed to call Pav my friend,” Lundeen said. “At times when I needed help with our football program, Pav was often my first call. He would always listen and help me work things out. I appreciate his willingness to work for the good of Minnesota high school football. I wish him nothing but the best in his retirement. and I look forward to joining him on Lake Vermillion. I know he can find a 28-inch walleye for me.”

Pavlovich’s presence won’t only be missed by other coaches he competed against, but also by his players. In his four decades of coaching at Delano High School, the number of kids and their names that he’s molded and shaped goes on and on.

“I’ve got a pretty good memory yet,” Pavlovich said. “It’s surprising how many kids I can still see their numbers in my head. They’ll come up and talk to me and I’ll say ‘Hey, 83. It’s just kind of funny that way. One year of our football camp, I put a list of kids that have been in our program in the paper. It covered the whole page. To do that today, it would be even more difficult because there are so many more names.”

To be a coach for 40 years is nearly unheard of in today’s day and age. To do it all at the same place is even rarer. While Pavlovich admits his coaching career has flown by, he won’t hesitate to admit that he enjoyed it all.

“One of the toughest things about how long I’ve coached is there is no way I can recall those 40 years of coaching,” Pavlovich said. “I don’t know where they went. They went by so fast. When those years go by so quickly, that’s a sign that you’ve probably enjoyed what you’re doing and I really did.”

Pavlovich came to Delano in 1970 from the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. In his 50-plus years of being in Delano, he never left as he knew it would be a good home for him. While Delano certainly has changed over the years of his coaching career, it’s all been for the better on and off the field.

“I came here in 1970 and I never left,” Pavlovich said. “I had some opportunities to go elsewhere but I chose to stay here. It’s been a great community. I came from the Iron Range. Every school had an auditorium, football field, and a swimming pool. We had the best of the best in the Iron Range. I never bought a tennis shoe, a piece of paper or anything. It was always provided for you. When I got to Delano in 1970, it was like the Iron Range was driving a Cadillac and Delano was driving an old Chevrolet. Nearly 50 years later, it’s all reversed. We have outstanding facilities and a great school system.”

Coaching hasn’t always been easy for Pavlovich, especially of late. In his early years of coaching, he was often surrounded by the same people every season. As the years went on and he got older, those same people began to disappear around him.

“That was another reason for me stepping down,” Pavlovich said. “I went to a funeral this summer for a good friend. That was hard on me because we’ve been friends for as long as I’ve coached. I lost a lot of my assistants along the way too. When you lose all those people, it kind of takes away from some of the fun you’ve established over the years. We’ve been through so many years together. We came from the same era.”

While Delano’s staff with Pavlovich has changed over the years, one thing has remained the same. When fans attend a Delano football game, they’ll know exactly what they will see each and every game before kickoff.

“One of the things I’ve always been proud of the Delano football team is if you ever watch us when the National Anthem is being played, we’re in the end zone, our helmets are on the left side, and hands are across our chest,” he said. “There’s no disrespect. We practice it one time and the kids know from that point on. Everyone is paying respect to that time and to the flag.”

While the faces have changed along the end zone line over the years, there are some familiar faces as well. The bonus of coaching for more than four decades means that some of the players you coach just might want to come back and help once they moved on.

“When I look down that end zone, one of the best moments I’ve ever had is looking and seeing how many assistant coaches are former players,” Pavlovich said. “There’s probably 15 or 16 guys that have given their time back to the program. I think that always says a lot about your program. They came back wanting to give something back to the program they left.”

As Pavlovich moves on from his storied coaching career, he’ll still be around the game. You can also find him out on Lake Vermilion wetting a line, but just don’t ask him for his hot spot. If he’s not out on the lake, you can bet you’ll find him in the stands under the Friday Night Lights taking in a game that he’s given so much to over the years.

“Coming up in the fall, I like to fish and want to spend more time on Lake Vermilion,” he said. “I’ll also get the opportunity to get out and see other games. You’re kind of restricted to games you see when you’re coaching. Now I’ll have a chance to go out and see other teams play a bit.”

 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports