Archive for HJ Sports

2019 Crow River Valley League Postseason Schedule

The 2019 regular season for the Crow River Valley League has come to an end. The seeds and matchups are set as the CRVL and Region 7C are in for another exciting postseason. There are four teams (Carver, Glencoe, Young America, and Cologne) that clinched byes into the Region 7C Tournament. Carver will be the No. 1 overall seed in the Region 7C Tournament after winning the CRVL South title with a tiebreaker over Young America. The Glencoe Brewers are the No. 2 seed after clinching the CRVL North Title. Young America is the No. 3 seed by virtue of the third-best league record, while the Cologne Hollanders are the No. 4 seed. Below is a look at the schedule for the 2019 postseason.

REGION 7C SEEDS

1. Carver Black Sox

2. Glencoe Brewers

3. Young America Cardinals

4. Cologne Hollanders

5. Watertown Red Devils

6. Brownton Bruins

7. Winsted Wildcats

8. Plato Bluejays

9. Green Isle Irish

10. Hamburg Hawks

11. New Germany Dutchmen

12. St. Boni Saints

 

TUESDAY, JULY 23 (GAME ONE)

(7) Winsted at (10) Hamburg, 7:30 p.m.

(9) Green Isle at (8) Plato, 7:30 p.m. (in Glencoe)

WEDNESDAY, JULY 24 (GAME ONE)

(5) Watertown at (12) St. Boni, 7:30 p.m. (in Watertown)

(6) Brownton at (11) New Germany, 7:30 p.m. (in Waconia or Winsted)

THURSDAY, JULY 25 (GAME TWO)

(10) Hamburg at (7) Winsted, 7:30 p.m.

(8) Plato at (9) Green Isle, 7:30 p.m.

FRIDAY, JULY 26 (GAME TWO)

(12) St. Boni at (5) Watertown, 7:30 p.m.

(11) New Germany at (6) Brownton, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, JULY 27 (GAME 3 IF NECESSARY)

(9) Green Isle at (8) Plato, 2 p.m.

SUNDAY, JULY 28 (GAME 3 IF NECESSARY)

(10) Hamburg at (7) Winsted, 2 p.m.

(12) St. Boni at (5) Watertown, 2 p.m.

(11) New Germany at (6) Brownton, 2 p.m.

 

BYES INTO REGION 7C TOURNAMENT

(1) Carver Black Sox (CRVL South Division Champions)

(2) Glencoe Brewers (CRVL North Division Champions)

(3) Young America Cardinals (3rd best CRVL Record)

(4) Cologne Hollanders (4th best CRVL Record)

 

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter to stay updated on all things related to the CRVL Playoffs and Region 7C Tournament. 

Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

 

 

 

 

What are reasonable expectations?

What are reasonable expectations? No, this time I am not talking about your Minnesota Twins. I didn’t feel like consoling nervous Twins fans after experiencing their first three game losing streak of the season and seeing the division lead fall to just four games.

No, this time I am talking about the Minnesota Vikings. In just 48 days, the NFL season will kick off with a Thursday Night affair between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. Just three days later, your Vikings will be opening their 2019 campaign against the Falcons at US Bank Stadium.

The last two years have been somewhat of a roller coaster. In a season with very tempered expectations, Minnesota shocked the world, finished 13-3 and had the Minneapolis Miracle. We all know how that ended.

Last year, with a new $84 million dollar quarterback and high expectations, things never seemed quite right and the Vikings stumbled through a 8-7-1 season.

In 2019, Minnesota is bringing back a bulk of the roster and did not lose any significant pieces. The Vikings bring back a tandem of wide receivers who are considered among the best, if not the best, in the entire league. They bring back a dependable tight end and an explosive, albeit injury prone, running back that can transform the offense. They also bring back a career .500 quarterback and a shaky offensive line.

Defensively, 9 of the 11 starters will be the same as last year, only missing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and safety Andrew Sendejo. Even Anthony Barr decided to return after originally accepting an offer with the New York Jets. At least the Vikings are more reliable than one other franchise!

Anyway, so where does that leave us? Well, that offense they are bringing back ranked 20th in overall yards and 19th in points per game last season at 22.5. In 2017, under the tutelage of Case Keenum, Minnesota ranked 11th in yards and 10th in points per game at 23.9.

Defensively, the story is a little greener. In 2018 we saw Minnesota finish 4th in yards given up and 9th in points per game. A small step down from 2017 when the Vikings finished 1st in both categories, but still a very legitimate defense.

What can these trends tell us about the potential of the 2019 season? My first takeaway, and perhaps the most obvious, is that this team will always be a top 10 defense under Mike Zimmer. Their worst year defensively in his tenure was in 2014 where they finished 11th in points per game, which also happened to be his first year at the helm.

The identity of this team will always be defense. As long as the offense is even minorly competent, the Vikings should at least be in the playoff picture.

Now to briefly discuss that hopefully even minorly competent offense. As I alluded to earlier in the piece, the offense relies on two factors. First, how well can the offensive line play? And second, can Kirk Cousins lead a playoff team?

So far, neither of these questions have had positive results. The Vikings offensive line has been a mess for years. Whether it is draft picks that don’t quite pan out or signing guys who are past their prime, Minnesota hasn’t been able to put together a line worth much of anything in recent memory. Hopefully the past three draft picks in Brian O’Neill, Pat Elfein and Garrett Bradbury can be the much needed change.

Lastly, Kirk is a career .500 quarterback. His stats are always decent but not great, which also seems to be the montra of the teams that he leads. If the Vikings are going to go anywhere, Kirk is going to need to take a big step up. Not that I am a football expert, but it is really hard to tell if he will be able to. He shows flashes of brilliance while also showing why he has only made the playoffs one time in his career.

The reality of the NFL is that the stars need to align in order to win a championship. You need to have a great defense and great quarterback play. It is probably safe to say that the floor for this team is about seven wins. The ceiling, however, is a deep playoff run if things go right. I guess that is all you can ask for as a fan – reasonable expectations.

KOVAR: Enjoy the finale of what has been an exciting CRVL regular season

The playoffs aren’t quite here yet, but the last few weeks of the regular season in the Crow River Valley League have had a playoff feel to it. Although the best part of the season is about to come, let’s not forget about the exciting finish we have coming up to the regular season.

It’s been a while since the final week of the regular season in the CRVL has had this much drama attached to it. With less than a week to go, no team in the CRVL has clinched a spot in the Region 7C Tournament. To put that in perspective, last year the Plato Bluejays locked up the No. 1 seed in the region tournament early, finishing with a regular-season record of 17-1. This year is a little different in a couple of ways.

The division titles for the CRVL North and South are still there for the taking. In the North, Winsted, Glencoe, and Watertown are all fighting for the title, and more importantly, the bye into the Region 7C Tournament. With Waconia ruled ineligible for the postseason in 2019, that opened the door for all three teams and created an exciting race for the CRVL North title.

There’s even more at stake when it comes to the CRVL North title. Not only does the winner receive a bye into the region tournament and a guaranteed top-two seed, the two teams that don’t win the division find themselves in a tough situation. Instead of being a No. 2 seed, the two teams who don’t win the North will likely find themselves in the No. 5 to No. 8 seed range come playoff time.

Things are just as exciting in the race for the CRVL South title. Carver and Brownton had leads early in the season, but the Young America Cardinals find themselves at the top of all of it now with less than a week to go in the regular season. With just six days left in the regular season, all three teams vying for the CRVL South title play crucial games the rest of the way as they look to seal their spot in the Region 7C Tournament, and possibly grab a No. 1 seed.

Adding to the unusual and unpredictable season it has been for the CRVL, neither Plato or Green Isle are contending for a division title. It’s been a long time since that’s happened as the two have been the powerhouses in the CRVL for a long time.

While they aren’t competing for a division title this season, that doesn’t mean they can be overlooked in the league playoffs. The Bluejays, despite dealing with an abundance of injuries all season, still feature Chris Odegaard, one of the top players in the entire league. Along with Odegaard are several key players such as Matt Odegaard, Kyle Panning, Tyler Lang, Joe Nix, and others who know what it takes to win games in the postseason.

The Green Isle Irish can’t be overlooked either. After starting the season 1-7. the Irish are playing much better lately as they look to have found some momentum to build on going forward in the playoffs. The Irish will be a tough matchup in the CRVL playoffs for whoever ends up matched against them.

One of the biggest surprises of the season has been the Winsted Wildcats. The Wildcats won just six games last season, and seven games the year before that. Now they find themselves in the hunt for the CRVL North Division title, and a possible top-two seed in the Region 7C Tournament.

The Cologne Hollanders are another team that has taken the next step forward this season. After finishing under .500 the past two seasons, the Hollanders are as hot as anybody in the CRVL right now.

After a tough loss to Young America July 13, the Hollanders responded the next day with a huge 4-3 win over the Carver Black Sox, in which they rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth.

Cologne is finding ways to win games this season, and that’s a scary thing for other teams in the CRVL. Last year’s batting champion, Carter Clemensen continues to swing a hot bat this season, and the Hollanders have the pieces in place to make a deep postseason run.

After a surprising and impressive run at the Class C state tournament last season, the Young America Cardinals seem to be the team to beat in the CRVL right now, if you can say that. The Cardinals are not only talented, but they’re deep.

That goes for the Young America pitching staff, as well. Josh Lenz is arguably one of the top pitchers in the league. After a bursting on to the scene at state last season, Lenz is the ace for the Cardinals and gives them a legitimate chance to win against anyone. Dillon Whittaker, Jordan Kohls, Hayden Meyer, and Isaac Hormann are all talented pitchers, as well, for the Cardinals, giving Young America one of the deepest pitching staffs in the CRVL.

The conclusion of the CRVL season, however it ends, will be an exciting one. The best part is that it won’t be over for long. The CRVL league playoffs will get underway right after, and the best two weeks of summer, the Region 7C Tournament, begin in Carver and Cologne after that.

It’s been an incredible summer of amateur baseball in the CRVL. The regular season hasn’t disappointed, and it is only going to be better here in the final week. I hope you enjoy it as much as I will.

Loether excited to take over reins of Watertown-Mayer softball program

WATERTOWN – She’s been in the Watertown-Mayer softball program the last four seasons, but next spring, she’ll be the one calling all the shots. After four seasons as the junior high coach at W-M, Bethany Loether will be the new head coach for the Royals softball team this spring.

“I’m excited,” Loether said. “It will be a good opportunity. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to developing the program.”

With being a part of the Royals’ program the past four seasons, Loether has already built some relationships within the program. Although it will be her first crack at a varsity coaching job, she’s got a good idea of the players currently in the program as she’s coached them in one way or another at some point.

“This will be my varsity coaching debut,” Loether said. “I’ve coached the high school kids in the summertime and things like that, but I haven’t officially been a high school coach. I think that it’s helpful that I have relationships built. This senior class, they were eighth-graders in my first year. They will be my only class that I haven’t directly coached in games, but I’ve helped coach in practices. From juniors on down, all those people I have had, so that’s exciting and fun. I hope that will help the transition to me being a new coach and for me being able to understand my players a little bit better right off the bat.”

Over the years as a junior high coach, Loether has made her way into practices here and there to help out. She’s got a good understanding of most of the players on the roster this upcoming spring, but also realizes that kids do a lot of growing up in four years.

“One of my seasons, I kind of went back-and-forth between practices to where I would go up with coach (Scott) Isakson and pitch batting practice or work on specialty stuff,” Loether said. “I’m also very aware that kids grow up a lot in four years. I’m excited to be on the other side of it, and to be able to see the growth they’ve done in the last four years. We’ll be able to work even a little bit deeper than I was able to do in seventh grade with them.”

It may be her first head coaching job at the varsity level, but Loether already has a mindset and identity for her program she wants to build. It stems from her playing days at the University of Minnesota, and she knows how important a role sports can play in the life of a high school kid.

“For me personally, I just have a high value of sports,” Loether said. “I think it’s a great vehicle to train and equip people in life. For me, the biggest thing is that winning and the stats and stuff will take care of itself if you’re doing the right things. The most important stuff is that I’m developing girls who are confident and people of integrity. The teamwork and collaboration is huge. I want them to go out and give their all, whatever that looks like. One person’s best is going to be different than the next person.”

Loether is a firm believer that there are roles for everyone on the team. While those roles may be different from player to player, it’s an important thing to understand to succeed in sports and in life.

“It’s understanding the value of roles. Not everybody is going to have the same role on the team, but one role is not any less than the next. If they can come together and understand the value of the whole body and each of its parts, those are the things that are important to me, and how that applies later on in life. That’s kind of my focus.”

While Loether enjoyed a four-year career with the Gophers, she’s certainly picked up on things during her time at the collegiate level. Whether it’s drills, how to practice, or influences she has had throughout the way, Loether hopes to tie that all together at Watertown-Mayer.

“I played in college for the Gophers for four years and the stuff you learn is important,” Loether said. “The intensity of practices are much harder than games. Games were fun almost and a piece of cake because of the work you put in during practice. I have a lot of fun and different drills to hopefully make practice fun. I’ve had some pretty great mentors over the years, both in high school and in college, and I’m so thankful for the role models and influences I’ve had all my career.”

Let’s Just Enjoy the Twins Season

In 2019 it seems that everyone has something to complain about. It might just be that internet trolls seem to have the loudest voices and get noticed the most. Maybe in reality most of us are actually positive about the season but we don’t pen our thoughts on Twitter very often.

The Minnesota Twins have had a surprising, exciting and impressive first half of the season. At 56-33 coming out of the All-Star break, they are only 1.5 games back from the AL best New York Yankees. The Twins also still hold a 5.5 game division lead over the Cleveland Indians.

According to baseball-reference.com, Minnesota has a 99.1% chance of making the postseason, 96.3% chance of winning the division, and after opening the season as the 20th team for odds to win the World Series, the Twins find themselves as the 5th best favorite.

With all of this team success, there have been plenty of individuals who have made this season enjoyable to watch. All-Star Jorge Polanco led the AL in batting average for an extended period of time and currently comes in at 5th with a .312 average.

Eddie Rosario led the AL for a long stretch when it came to home runs and currently sits at 10th place with 20, while teammate Max Kepler is tied for 6th with 21. Rosario, Kepler, and CJ Cron all rank in the top 15 when it comes to RBI’s as well.

In terms of pitching, All-Star Jake Odorizzi led the AL in ERA for a large part of the season and is currently tied for 3rd with 10 wins, while still bolstering a 3.15 ERA. The Twins other All-Star pitcher Jose Berrios is currently 4th in the AL in ERA with a 3.00.

On top of all of those individual performances, the team hitting stats have been off the charts. Minnesota is on pace to set the MLB record for home runs in a season. They are currently at 166, which is 6 more than Seattle while having played 5 less games. They also are tied for first in the league in team batting average and have the fifth fewest strikeouts.

Throw in a pitching staff that is top 15 in every major statistical category and you have yourself a very talented team.

So why has there been such a bout of negativity about the Twins? The primary reason is that fans have watched a large division lead of 8-11 games dwindle down to 5.5 over the past month. Minnesota has gone 16-14 in their last 30 games while Cleveland has gone an impressive 21-9.

But in reality, what did Twins fans expect? Did they think that the Indians would give up and the Twins would win the division by 20 games? The fact remains that Minnesota is still in the driver’s seat when it comes to this division and making the playoffs.

Since the Twins moved into Target Field in 2011, they have the worst record in the league. They have only reached 80-plus wins twice and the playoffs once… but sure, let’s complain that Indians played a good stretch of baseball.

Minnesota is on pace to win 100 games, a mark that hasn’t been reached since 1965 when they lost to the Dodgers in the World series.This is one of the best teams the Twins have put together in franchise history. So please, spare me the negativity. Let’s just appreciate great baseball, something we haven’t had in Minnesota for a long time.

Orphans continue to find ways to win close games in North Star League in victory over Maple Plain

HOWARD LAKE – In order to compete in the North Star League, you have to be able to win close games. The Howard Lake Orphans have taken that to a new level as they won their third-straight NSL contest with a 3-2 win over the Maple Plain Diamond Devils Wednesday night at Memorial Park.

Not only was it the third-straight win for the Orphans, it was the third-straight win that came by one run. It was also the third-straight NSL game the Orphans won by a score of 3-2.

Howard Lake found themselves down 2-0 heading to the bottom of the fifth, but once again, there was no panic. In the bottom half of the fifth, the Orphans took advantage of sloppy play by the Diamond Devils. After Noah Bush led off the inning with a walk, Maple Plain gifted the Orphans their first run of the game, thanks to an error.

Matt Streich was looking to lay down a sacrifice bunt to move Bush into scoring position, but a wild throw by the Diamond Devils went into left field, allowing Bush to come all the way around and score to make it 2-1.

Streich was held up at third following the error, and Zach Kuefler tied the game at two with an RBI single. In just eight pitches, the Orphans turned a 2-0 deficit into a tied game.

After the Orphans rallied to take the lead, Jared Koch took control of the game on the mound. In the final four innings, Koch racked up four strikeouts to give the Orphans an extra boost late.

Koch wouldn’t stop there, though. In the bottom of the seventh, he helped himself out with an infield single that allowed Steve Boger to score and give Howard Lake a 3-2 lead.

The Orphans had a chance to add on to their lead in the eighth, but left the bases loaded. That didn’t come back to haunt Howard Lake as Koch retired the Diamond Devils in order in the top of ninth, finishing off a complete game victory for himself.

In nine innings of work, Koch scattered 11 hits and struck out eight to earn the win.

Kuefler, Boger, Brad Bickmann, and Koch all had two hits to lead the way offensively.

With the win, Howard Lake improved to 10-6 in the North Star League. They currently sit in a tie for third place with Maple Lake in the standings. Delano has the top record in the NSL at 15-1, with Hutchinson in second at 12-4.

Howard Lake returns to league play Sunday, July 14 in a big matchup at Hutchinson.