Archive for HJ Sports

PREP BASEBALL: New Life Academy sneaks past LP/HT

LESTER PRAIRIE – The chances and opportunities were there for the Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity baseball team. They simply just couldn’t take advantage.

A rough start for the Bulldogs in the first inning didn’t hang with them, but they were unable to get the key hits when needed as they fell short against New Life Academy in a 4-1 loss on their home field Tuesday evening.

LP/HT had just four hits in the loss, but still had several chances to get back in the game. After senior Trevor Schuette on the mound rebounded after a tough inning, LP/HT had multiple opportunities to change the momentum in the game.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Zach Jackson led off the inning with a single. Riley Heimerl kept things going with a walk, and the Bulldogs had runners on first and second with just one out. LP/HT would strand both runners to end the inning, letting a chance to cut into the lead slip away.

Even in their last at-bat, the Bulldogs had a chance. After the first two batters were retired to start the inning, senior Dylan Ruzicka gave the Bulldogs some life. His second hit of the game kept things alive for the Bulldogs, with Jason Zimprich coming to the plate. Zimprich kept things rolling by drawing a walk, but once again, the Bulldogs were unable to find the clutch hit. For the game, LP/HT left eight men on base.

For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, April 19 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.


Where do we go from here?

There are a lot of fun things going on in the Twin Cities right now that I could write about. First, we just hosted one of the more exciting Final Fours in recent memory. However, I figured I’d let Kip handle that one since he was able to attend both nights.

Second, the Minnesota Twins were playing pretty well until they walked about 7 straight batters on Wednesday in a loss to the Mets. I have all summer to write about them, so I think I’ll pass this week.

Third, it isn’t sports related, but I could write about this Spring Apocalypse Storm that is crushing us in West-Central Minnesota. Tuesday night I drove by DC High School on my way home and saw all the fields filled with softball games. Thursday on my way to work in the morning I think I saw a Polar Bear in center field and even he looked mildly upset.

But instead, maybe inspired by the snow, sleet and wind, I think I’ll do a recap on the season that was for the Minnesota Wild and Timberwolves. First, let’s start with the Wild.

The Wild had their worst point total since the 2011-12 season (not counting the shortened lockout season) finishing with 83 points. Minnesota had made the playoffs for 6 straight seasons until this year, where they finished dead last in the Central Division.

In the wildcard hunt with a few weeks remaining in the season, the Wild limped to a 3-6-1 finish in their last 10 games and were shut out in their final four losses. So what does this mean for the 2019-20 season?

First, it looks like head coach Bruce Boudreau is returning for another year. I’m not a hockey expert, but in any sport, stability at the top is crucial and Bruce is a proven successful coach. I think he can right the ship.

Getting Matt Dumba and Mikko Koivu back from injury should provide a huge boost to the lineup next season. Also, apart from Zach Parise, Eric Staal and Ryan Suter, the Wild are actually a pretty young team.

If Jason Zucker can have a bounceback year, Joel Eriksson Ek and Kevin Fiala can continue to grow and the veterans can stay healthy, the Wild should be right in the playoff hunt next year. It wasn’t in the cards this year but at least there is hope.

Speaking of hope, or maybe lack thereof, the Minnesota Timberwolves wrapped up their season on Wednesday with a loss to finish 36-46. While the Wild have reason to believe this season was a fluke, I’m not sure the Wolves are so lucky.

This team that was built around our youth isn’t so youthful anymore and the time has come to start winning some games. Andrew Wiggins is now 24 and is on a $146 million guaranteed contract. It is time to average more than 18 points and start being the all-around player that everyone expects from a 1st overall pick.

Karl-Anthony Towns had another great season averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds, but he simply can’t do this alone. The only players under contract next season are: Wiggins, Towns, Jeff Teague (assuming he accepts his ungodly high player option of $19 million, and let’s face it, who wouldn’t?!), Gorgui Dieng, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop. That roster screams 35 wins.

With these 8 players alone, the Wolves are right up against the $109 million salary cap and have very little flexibility to make any big moves. Nevermind the fact that there are still 5 spots to fill and decisions to make on Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones and Taj Gibson. They can’t simply run it back with the same team and expect anything to change, but I’m not sure they have much of a choice.

At least it sounds like they are bringing back Ryan Saunders to be the permanent head coach, which gives me a glimmer of hope. However, I fear that it will be more of the same for our Wolves next season. Glen Taylor has to be wondering… where do we go from here?


Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club will be closed Wednesday, April 10

Due to the weather, the Lester Prairie Sportsmen’s Club will be closed Wednesday night. As we have done in the past, three league rounds will be needed to be shot over the next two weeks. It can be two rounds next week and the third the following week or vice versa.

PREP BASEBALL: Hilten plays the hero as Royals top Chargers in dramatic fashion

WATERTOWN – The Watertown-Mayer baseball team wasted no time in their season to pull off a dramatic win. After Ansen Dulas kept the Royals in the game with a strong performance on the mound, it was junior Tanner Hilten who got to play the role of hero.

After Dassel-Cokato rallied to take the lead in the top of the seventh with two runs, the Royals needed a rally of their own in the bottom half. With the Royals down to their last out, W-M finally got something rolling as Cale Wabbe and Devyn Burns came through with singles each to keep the game alive. With two runners on and a 2-2 count, Hilten delivered with a walk-off double to score Wabbe and Burns to give the Royals the dramatic 3-2 win in their season opener.

“It is hard to have a better game to start the season for us,” W-M coach Justin Stohs said. “We played good defense, pitched great, and got a couple timely hits that led to the victory.”

The late game heroics by Hilten wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the strong performance by Dulas on the mound. In six innings of work, the junior allowed just two runs off of two hits while striking out 10. Will McBee closed things down in the seventh for the Royals, keeping them within striking distance heading into their last at-bat.

“After taking a lead in the first, the game went very quickly with both pitchers throwing strikes and playing good defense,” Stohs said. “It is great to see guys that work hard and get rewarded during a game. Tanner stepped up today and got the big hit.”

For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, April 12 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

KOVAR: Dreams do come true

Each March, when you turn on the TV for the greatest sporting event in the world, you’re greeted by some popular phrases from March Madness history. Phrases like, As good as it gets, Oh my gosh, and Phenomenal!

All those phrases come from some of the best moments in March Madness history. My personal favorite, though, is Dreams do come true. One of my dreams came true this past week.

Ever since I can remember, March Madness has been my favorite thing of all time. I would eagerly wait for the bracket to be released during the selection show. Following the announcement of the bracket, I would print a ton of copies of them, along with info on each and every team. I’m not kidding when I say this. It still takes me a good two hours to fill out my bracket.

I would research each team in the tournament and find their strengths and weaknesses. I would look hard at each matchup, and make my decision. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter much as upsets are bound to happen and destroy my bracket. That’s the beauty of it.

Once my bracket was filled out, it was time to simply enjoy the tournament. In seventh and eighth grade, my teacher, Mr. Shipler was cool enough to let us watch some of the games during class. Well, that was until his team (Iowa Hawkeyes) were upset by No. 14 Northwestern State in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Iowa led by two with under 15 seconds to go, but Northwestern State found some magic that always seems to happen in March. A desperation 3-pointer from the corner somehow found the bottom of the net, and madness began.

Once school was out, it was a race to get home as soon as I could to claim the TV. While my parents would have liked me to be in bed around 9 p.m., I always found a way to catch the ending of the late games. Each night, I would sneak out of my room, quietly walk downstairs to catch the ending. I’m sure there was a time or two where I woke them up with screams of excitement for close games and buzzer beaters.

I have so many memories of March Madness. I can remember little plays or obscure moments for some reason that just stick in my head. One of the best was when No. 15 Lehigh beat No. 2 Duke in 2012. As a big North Carolina fan, it was awesome seeing Duke lose in the first round as a No. 2 seed.

While I’ve had so many great memories of March Madness growing up, there was always one thing missing. That was until this past week.

It’s always been a dream of mine to attend a Final Four. It’s the sporting event I’ve always wanted to go to more than any other. I finally got my chance this past week, and it didn’t disappoint.

When I drove down to US Bank Stadium Saturday, it was a surreal feeling knowing I was about to take in the Final Four. I’ve been dreaming of a moment like this forever, and I couldn’t help but smile the whole drive down.

While the normal blue bloods of college basketball weren’t at the Final Four this year, the games were still incredible. The tournament never disappoints, and Minnesota did one heck of a job hosting it this year. I hope we get to host it again sometime soon.

After getting to take in the Final Four and National Championship game, I didn’t think my dream could get any better. That was until One Shinning Moment.

It was a surreal feeling standing at mid court at the Final Four with confetti falling down, listening to One Shining Moment. I never thought I would be lucky enough to attend a Final Four, let alone stand on the court for one of the best ways to cap off an incredible event. I’ll admit it. There was certainly a tear or two falling down. This was a dream of mine ever since I can remember, and it was all coming true. It’s truly something I’ll never forget.

I wasn’t the only person to have a dream come true at the Final Four this year. Take a look at Virginia’s Kyle Guy. After he and Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the history of the tournament, he and his team are the National Champions a year later. That’s an incredible story.

Guy had a huge impact on Virginia’s run to the title. In the semifinal game against Auburn, Guy scored six points in the final 10 seconds to lead them to the win, including knocking down three free throws to help Virginia win by one.

“Yeah, these are moments that every basketball player has dreamed of, hitting the game-winning shot or free throws or whatever,” Guy said after the win over Auburn. “Kind of had that feeling in your stomach, like a good nervousness, like, all right, this is my chance. To be able to go to the National Championship off of that for these guys and Coach Bennett, I mean, I really don’t have the words. I just literally told myself that we dream of these moments, and to be able to make one happen was special.”

It was equally special for teammate Ty Jerome, who was also a member of the team last season that made history in a way a team wouldn’t want.

“I was about to say, don’t ask me because I can’t yet,” Jerome said about putting the feeling into words. “Forget last year, this is everything you dream of since you’re a little kid. I’m not even thinking about UMBC right now. I’m just thinking this is a dream come true, and it’s even more than that because you never even imagine you’ll be able to spend a year with people you actually love, your teammates and your coaches. Not a lot of people get along like we do, so to share this moment with them is unbelievable.”

It was an incredible run for Virginia in this tournament. They very well could have lost multiple times; yet, always found a way to win. In the South Regional Final against Purdue, they trailed by two with just 3.8 seconds left. A buzzer beater forced overtime, and of course, Virginia went on to win.

In the National Semifinal game against Auburn, Virginia trailed by two again with 3.3 seconds left. Guy hit three clutch free throws to send the Cavaliers to the title game.

In the title game, Virginia found themselves trailing again late after holding a nine-point lead in the second half. With 14.8 seconds left and down by three, Virginia again found a way. De’Andre Hunter knocked down one of the biggest shots in his career, tying the game and sending it to overtime, where Virginia would capture their first National Title.

“I told them this, ‘it’s about the joy of competition and the fun in the pursuit of a championship’,” coach Tony Bennett said. “That, I love it.  What that says, if you learn to use it right, the adversity, it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way. I don’t know, maybe we could have, but I don’t know, going through what we did last year and having to, you know, it helped me as a coach. All the stuff that they talked about, I think, bought us a ticket to a National Championship.”

Dreams do indeed come true.

Minnesota Twins are in for a fun Summer

With only 157 games to go, the Minnesota Twins are atop of the AL Central Division with a 4-1 record. At that rate, Minnesota is on pace to go 129-33, which would only be 13 more wins than the best record in MLB history… Okay I guess we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Considering the small sample size, the Twins have actually shown some signs of life that would indicate this could be a much better season than last year.

Already the Twins have shown that they can win games in multiple fashions. They started the season with 2-0 win over Cleveland that showcased quality pitching from ace Jose Berrios. Berrios pitched 7.2 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts against last year’s AL Central champs.

After losing 2-1 in another pitcher’s duel, the Twins bats have since woken up to win three straight games. Minnesota dominated Cleveland 9-3, beat Kansas City 5-4 in extra innings and had an impressive come-from-behind win again over the Royals 7-6.

Last year, most of the free agents the Twins signed simply did not pan out. Obviously it is still incredibly early to decide whether this class of free agents will perform better, but so far the signs have been encouraging.

Designated hitter Nelson Cruz has been exactly what Minnesota needs for the middle of the lineup, batting .333 with a home run and six RBI’s. Cruz even had the game winning hit in the 10th inning of Tuesday night’s affair.

Since 2014 when he led the league with 40 home runs, he has tallied totals of 44, 43, 39 and 37. His lowest RBI total in that stretch was 93 while also notching a league leading 119 just two years ago. It seems like the veteran power hitting DH might be exactly the threat the Twins need to solidify the 4th spot in the order.

Apart from experiencing a rib injury, even Byron Buxton has been good so far in 2019. Batting .308 and playing elite defense, it is hard to complain about what he has been doing. Taking a rest day for his ribs, Buxton played a huge part as a pinch-runner in the 7-6 comeback win over the Royals on Wednesday. He stole his 30th consecutive base that would eventually be the game winning run for the Twins.

Courtesy of Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman on Twitter), no player in MLB history has a stolen base success rate above 90% with at least 50 attempts… except Byron Buxton. I just really hope Buxton can stay healthy.

Lastly, the Twins might have accidentally stumbled into a replacement for Miguel Sano at third base. Willians Astudillo is 6-9 on the season with five runs scored, three doubles and three RBI’s. Obviously the Twins need a healthy Sano in the lineup if they want to be the best that they can be, but “La Tortuga” as Astudillo is affectionately known has been really fun to watch.

Plus, if you take a look at the highest average in MLB history with a minimum of 100 plate appearances (data courtesy Aaron Gleeman), the proof is really in the data. Ty Cobb: .366 avg. Willians Astudillo: .382 avg. Clearly we have an all-timer on our hands folks.

All kidding aside, the Twins look like they might be in for a competitive, entertaining and simply fun summer, and that is all anyone can ask for.