Archive for HJ Sports

Mowing in Milroy: Saints Field groundskeeper Cole Flick helps Yankees transform field for state tournament

MILROY – Fans traveling to the tiny town of Milroy, MN for the amateur state baseball tournament might not have known it, but they were treated to yet another Cole Flick creation.
Flick, a DC phys ed teacher and baseball coach, is also the head groundskeeper at Saints Field in Dassel. Over the years, but especially with the advent of social media, his sharp and crisp mowing patterns at the ball park have gained him a measure of status and notoriety in the groundskeeping/turf management world.
So it was only natural that Flick’s name was mentioned when the Milroy Yankees began asking around for groundskeeping help and advice after learning just a month before the state tournament that they would be one of the two Class C hosts (along with Springfield).
Originally, New Ulm was slated to be a host field, along with Springfield. But on July 24, the New Ulm city council voted to withdraw from hosting, leaving the Minnesota Baseball Association (MBA) board scrambling to find a second host site. They chose Yankee Stadium in Milroy (population 252), 13 miles east of Marshall.
Pat Dolan, the Milroy Baseball Association Director who has been with the team since the late 1960s, explained that the MBA gave him Flick’s name as someone who might be able to lend his expertise in getting the field ready for the tournament, which began Aug. 21.
Dolan said Flick showed up to the field four days after they contacted him, a little over two weeks before the start of the tournament.
“He walked out on the field and looked over the grass, and said, ‘You’ve got good grass. This is gonna work good,’” Dolan said. “That was a relief. Then he asked if we had a real mower, which we did, and he said, ‘well, this is going to work out great.’”
Flick drew up a pattern that could be easily adjusted for three different patterns, one for each weekend of the tournament.
“I thought he was just going to show us the pattern, and that would be that,” Dolan said. “But nope, he sat down on our mower for an hour and a half and did the whole pattern.”
Dolan said Flick gave the Yankees some instructions on how to maintain the turf, and said he would show up in a few days to check on the progress.
“He came down again, a two hour drive, and did the mowing again. And again. Then, he showed up during the state tournament and mowed again,” Dolan said. “Not only that, he helped us do other things on the field, working the mound, home plate, the sprinklers … he helped us all weekend.
“Then he came down during the week [before the second weekend of the state  tournament] and did it all again.”
All told, Flick had made the two-hour trip to Milroy eight times in a span of just over two weeks when this article was written on Tuesday. He planned to go down there again for the final weekend of the tournament this weekend.
The kicker, said Dolan, was that Flick refused any sort of compensation for his help.
“He’s just a crazy nice guy,” he said. “I just can’t say enough good things about him, he’s been tremendously enjoyable to have around.”
To top it all off, the field looks better than it ever has, said Dolan. Many players and fans have remarked on the field’s pattern.
“We’ve had great reviews,” he said. “It’s been unbelievable, the things he did. We were just really fortunate to have his help, especially on such short notice.”
An amateur baseball sensation
Flick’s work on Saints Field has drawn rave reviews for years.
His designs wowed visiting fans in 2005, 2016 and 2019, when the DC Saints hosted the state tournament. In 2006 he won the State High School League Coaches Association Field of the Year/Groundskeeper of the Year award, and in 2016-19 he has been a top-six finalist in the Allett Mowers “Creative Stripes Contest.”
It’s only been in within the last decade, however, that his work started gaining real notoriety and attention, due to social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and the like, along with being featured on Fox 9, Fox Sports North, and in Todd Mueller’s book Town Ball Parks of Minnesota
Flick, who joined the DC Saints in 1996, said he really didn’t get too involved on the field until 1998, when the Saints requested that they take over management of the field from the city of Dassel.
In the early 2000s, Flick remembers working on the field for a high school baseball playoff game that featured Paynesville and another team.
“I mowed it with some really crisp lines. It wasn’t anything special but it was nice,” he said. “I remember listening to the Paynesville kids oohing and aahing about how it looked.’”
It was in 2005, when Saints Field hosted their first state tournament, where he made a big splash, debuting the now-famous “Sunray” pattern.
His work and expertise has led to him being in demand for ball clubs throughout Minnesota looking to spruce up their field.
In fact, on one of his mowing trips, it was actually his third ball field stop of the day, out of what would be four. He started in Springfield to offer assistance there, stopped by the Wabasso ball field to talk with the Athletic Director about improvements they could make in the fall, stopped by Milroy to mow Yankee Field, and ended up at Saints Field to meet with two grounds crew members from Waconia.
His love for ball park fields even infected his son Gus, who is in his second year at Southwest Tech in Sioux Falls, SD, working towards a degree in turf and grass management.
“I guess my passion is baseball field maintenance. I’ve gotten to know so many other groundskeepers, some from small towns like ours, Milroy for example,” said Flick. “I’ve had help and advice from others that work professionally in the turf grass industry.
“It’s like a brotherhood where we all want to see each other succeed,” he continued. “I still have a lot to learn, but if I could offer help to others I’m more than happy to do so.”

PREP GIRLS SOCCER: Crusaders fall to Hutchinson

MAYER – The Mayer Lutheran girls soccer team suffered another tough loss in the opening week of the season. An impressive goal early put the Crusaders down early as the Tigers got their offense rolling in a big way in their 4-0 victory over the Crusaders Tuesday night.

“It was a tough loss for us.,” Mayer Lutheran coach Keith Traska said. “They scored an amazing goal in the first minute of the game at a crazy angle from almost 23 yards out. It might have been the best in-person goal I’ve ever seen.”

After Hutchinson grabbed an early 1-0 lead, the Crusaders began to get back to their style of play. While they were unable to get the offense going themselves, several injuries throughout the game kept Mayer Lutheran shorthanded most of the way.

“After that, we settled down and played a great first half,” Traska said. “In the second half, we struggled after they scored their second goal. We had a couple of injuries during that game the had us playing girls in different positions than normal.”

Marsia Green led the way for the Crusaders in the loss. She had all four of the shots for Mayer Lutheran, two of which were on goal.

With the loss, Mayer Lutheran fell to 0-2 on the season. The Crusaders return to action Friday night against Waconia.

“We played hard, but we have some adjustments to make in order to be ready for Waconia on Friday,” Traska said. “The good news is that we play Hutchinson again on Tuesday and we will have Brynn Martin back for that game.”

Minnesota Lands the 1st Overall Pick

For the second time in franchise history, the Timberwolves have claimed the first overall pick via the NBA Draft Lottery. Minnesotans were bracing themselves for the worst case scenario and were ready to claim that the lottery was rigged once the Warriors claimed that first pick, but were shocked when the Golden Gate Bridge popped up on the screen as 2nd overall.

While I do fully believe in the frozen envelope theory from the 1985 draft (NBA was hemorrhaging money, Patrick Ewing was a no-brainer first overall pick who was one of the most dominant college players at Georgetown, and the Knicks, the biggest market, needed the local star to hopefully jolt the NBA), those days are long gone with the NBA’s health in tact and Adam Silver at the helm.

For those complaining that the Wolves never move up in the draft, you do have to realize how the NBA lottery works. The Wolves only had a 14% chance for the first overall pick, equal to that of the 1st and 3rd teams. With the way that the top pick is determined, the Wolves had a 52.1% chance of staying in the top four, meaning it was almost a coin-flip’s chance to fall out of the top four, let alone wasn’t reasonable to expect to get the first overall pick.

But now that they have it, what are they going to do with it? While the draft has no obvious first overall picks like when Minnesota drafted Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015, there are certainly some talented prospects in the pool. More popularly, fans seem to want Gersson Rosas to continue his aggressive nature and trade the pick for a veteran difference maker.

What trades are realistic? One of the most popular ideas being thrown around is to trade for the Suns superstar Devin Booker. This was mostly based on two things. First, it has long been public that Towns, Wolves point guard D’Angelo Russell and Booker want to play together at some point. With the Wolves having two of the three, it seems like a good fit. Second, the Suns have been awful in Booker’s time in Phoenix. That is until the recent bubble games, where Booker played outstanding and led the Suns to an 8-0 record.

Simply put, Devin Booker is too good and the Suns have no incentive to trade him. The only way it might happen is if he explicitly says “I’m not playing another game here. Trade me to Minnesota.” And even then, it might not happen.

Another option being thrown out there has been Ben Simmons, due to the 76’ers lack of success with Joel Embiid and Simmons together. Most basketball minds are convinced that those two superstars simply cannot win a championship together and that Philadelphia is going to have to pick one.

However, again, the likelihood that the Wolves can put together a package that meets the 76’ers win-now mindset without a third team being involved is minimal. Even if there is a third team, there will be many moving parts making it an incredibly complex and unlikely scenario.

There aren’t currently many other B-list stars that seem to be available, making trading the first overall pick for a high impact player difficult to do. That leaves the Wolves with the option of drafting someone.

There are pretty much three players that appear to be at the top of this draft class, with a lot of disagreement about which one has the brightest future. The three are Anthony Edwards, a shooting guard from Georgia, LaMelo Ball, a controversial point guard, and James Wiseman, the center who played two games at Memphis. I personally will throw out Ball as an option. I don’t want to deal with that headache.

That leaves Minnesota with two options and I’m not sure which fit is better. If the Wolves want to play like the Rockets and hoist 3-pointers and go cruise control on defense, Edwards is the guy. Edwards is an explosive perimeter player who likes to have the ball in his hands and take plenty of shots. Put him with Russell and Towns and the game will look like a track meet.

Inversely, the Wolves could go a different direction with the 7’1” center. Towns historically has struggled as a rim protector and Wiseman could be a great athletic option to pair alongside KAT to help stabilize the defense. Wiseman has a great post game and is a decent shooter from outside and due to his athleticism, should be able to play in a switching defensive scheme. However, scouts question his ability to give consistent effort, which usually isn’t a great sign.

Regardless, it is going to be interesting to see what Gersson Rosas has planned for the future of this franchise. This draft will have a large hand in determining the future success of the Russell and Towns core. On the bright side, I don’t think it can go as poorly as the last time the Golden State Warriors picked after the Timberwolves…

5 Most Intriguing NBA Playoff Storylines

The NBA restart at the bubble in Orlando, Florida has been very competitive. While a few minor players chose to opt out of the rest of the season, most of the players elected to play and the play has been surprisingly intense and the quality has been good.

The atmosphere is also surprisingly good in my opinion. The video screens around the arena are a fun touch to get some fans on TV. The pumped in crowd noise doesn’t feel fake to me either – if you aren’t paying close attention, you almost assume that there are fans at the games.

The playoffs started on Monday and have been stellar thus far. Both 8 seeds won game one of their series and an overtime game where Donovan Mitchell put up 57 points in the loss was phenomenal to watch. Let’s take a look at the top five storylines for the playoffs this season.

5. How will the Rockets small-ball strategy over the course of the playoffs?

James Harden (and the Rockets) have not had an abundance of playoff success. This is not entirely Harden’s fault, though, as they ran into the Warriors dynasty a few times. In 2018, the Rockets were up 3-2 on the Warriors when Chris Paul got injured and the Warriors won game six and seven.

This year, the Rockets fully committed to the small-ball strategy, trading their center Clint Capela for Robert Covington, a 3-and-D small forward who is starting as their “center”. Their starting lineup consists of two small forwards under 6’7, two shooting guards and Harden. More guards and small forwards fill out their bench. The Rockets rely on an onslaught of 3-pointers to score which is great when shots are going in but can be a disaster when shots aren’t falling. Harden is no doubt an amazing offensive player, but I’m very skeptical that this team can get past the Clippers in round two, which puts the Rockets’ future plans in limbo.

4. Will Kawhi Leonard be the first player to win three Finals MVPS with three different teams and titles with different teams in back to back seasons?

The Clippers are essentially tied with the Lakers and Bucks as the odds on favorites to win the title. Leonard, simply put, is a different animal when it comes to the playoffs, as he is the primary offensive threat and defensive stopper. I am intrigued to see if he can put the Clippers officially on the map and become the first player in NBA history to win three Finals MVPS with three different teams and win titles back to back seasons with different teams. They’re my pick to make it out of the Western Conference.

3. Can Damian Lillard carry the Blazers to a tremendous upset?

As the bubble was being discussed, Lillard made a point that it wouldn’t be genuine unless the Blazers were invited. Portland indeed was invited, went 6-2 in the bubble, won the play-in game and Dame scored 51, 61, 42, and 31 in the last four games, winning those games by a combined 11 points to claim the 8-seed. Lillard followed that up with 34 points in a game one upset of the LA Lakers on Tuesday. Simply put, his run has been spectacular. Charles Barkely predicted a 4-0 sweep by the Blazers, to which Lillard says “One down, three to go.” Lillard has become my favorite player in the NBA and I can’t stop watching.

2. Can the Bucks and Giannis finally break-through to make the NBA finals?

The Bucks have been the best team in the NBA the past two seasons. After losing to the Toronto Raptors 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, the Bucks responded by dominating the regular season and claimed the number one seed again. However, the Bucks limped to a 3-5 bubble record and in a tremendous surprise, got upset by the 33-40 Magic 122-110 in game one. Similar to the Rockets, the Bucks rely almost entirely on star Giannis Antetokounmpo to create everything on offense. When defenses collapse down, he kicks it out to one of the four shooters spaced out on the floor. However, the Magic are putting five guys around the paint and daring Giannis to give it up and it has worked so far. I’m very intrigued to see how Giannis and the Bucks respond going forward because the offense that they ran in game one is not going to win them a title, not to mention the defense giving up 122 points to the awful Magic.

1. Can LeBron win his 4th NBA title? 

As tiring as the LeBron NBA title narrative can be, it is inevitably the most intriguing aspect once again. After missing the playoffs last year, LeBron got his buddy Anthony Davis to join him and again has built the roster he wants to take to battle in the playoffs. However, losing Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley has proven to be challenging and despite a 23 point, 17 rebound and 16 assist night from the King, they lost by seven to the Blazers.

LeBron already doesn’t seem to trust his teammates and guys like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and Alex Caruso are easily outmatched by the Blazers backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. In order to even sneak out of the first series, I think we are going to need to see some vintage LeBron performances which I am all here for. However, as a Michael Jordan truther and Lillard enthusiast, I can’t wait to watch the meltdown and blame-game fallout from a Blazers first round upset.

STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: Young America to lean on talent, experience for another tournament run

YOUNG AMERICA – The Young America Cardinals are no longer a secret when it comes to amateur baseball. After back-to-back thrilling runs at the state tournament the past two seasons, the Cardinals are on everyone’s radar now.

After winning their second-straight Region 7C title, the Young America Cardinals come into the 2020 Class C State Tournament as the No. 1 seed from Region 7.

While expectations might be high for the Cardinals outside of the team due to their recent success, the Cardinals know how important it is to take it one game at a time.

“As far as our expectations coming in, I feel like we should take it one game at a time because that’s what it really comes down to,” Young America manager Adam Kostecka said. “If you don’t win the first one, you don’t get a second chance.”

Taking things one game at a time can be hard for a team like Young America. The Cardinals have been playing on the final weekend of the tournament the past two seasons, including playing in the semifinals in 2018. The taste of getting so close the past couple of years only fuels the Cardinals to make another deep postseason run this year.

“I also want the guys to feel like we deserve to be here.” Kostecka said. “The last two years were great, but we want more. Someone told me after the 2018 loss to Sobieski to not worry, and this team is built to do this for years to come. That may be true, but it takes some luck and some breaks and not just talent. I want our guys to remember that we aren’t guaranteed anything and still have to earn every win.”

Experience is one thing the Cardinals bring to the state tournament. Young America is back at the state tournament for a fourth-straight season. While state tournament experience is always nice, a majority of the Cardinals players have been playing in big games long before their amateur baseball careers took off.

“As far as experience goes, I honestly believe that most of these guys truly don’t look at it any different than any other big game they have played in,” Kostecka said. “Most of them have some college experience and know what it’s like to play in important games on big stages. It helps to have been there a few times in a row, but overall, I feel like most just treat it like any other elimination game they have been a part of.”

Talent goes hand-in-hand with experience for Young America. From top to bottom, the Cardinals are one of the deepest and most talented teams in the state. Whether it’s pitching or offense, Young America ranks near the top in all the state.

A talented pitching staff of Josh Lenz, Dillon Whittaker, and Isaac Hormann only go better for Young America this year. All three have showed up in big games on the mound for the Cardinals, and will be relied on even more this time around.

Young America has also added some more depth to their pitching staff through the draft. With the first overall pick in the draft, the Cardinals selected Cologne’s Christian Johnson. He is coming off a breakout season last year in which he pitched the Cologne Hollanders into the final weekend of the state tournament.

Young America also added Tanner Luebke (Cologne) and Pat Regan (Green Isle) to their pitching staff, as the rich got richer heading into the state tournament.

“Our pitching staff was pretty solid before the draft, and adding three good pitchers obviously helps,” Kostecka said. “Christian’s track record speaks for itself, and is a great addition to our staff for sure. I have seen both Tanner and Pat pitch, and feel like they could be very useful if we can make a deep run. I am not sure how the draftees will exactly be used yet, but if we get to Labor Day weekend, we know that’s a lot of innings in three days, so more good pitchers never hurts.”

With the addition of three strong pitchers, pitching and defense will be the key for the Cardinals as they look to make another deep run. While Young America might be known for their dangerous lineup at the plate, pitching and defense is where it starts for the Cardinals.

“If we want to make a deep run, we have to pitch and play defense,” Kostecka said. “That’s what I think we do well, so hopefully that continues. I know our lineup is capable of scoring us runs, so if we don’t kick the ball around and give people free passes, I believe we have a chance to win every game.”

Young America also comes into the state tournament battle-tested. Playing in the Crow River Valley League and Region 7, the Cardinals have been grinding it out since the season began.

“Playing in Region 7 is a battle every year,” Kostecka said. “In normal years with 18 games, the difference between three losses and four losses could mean you drop two or three spots in the seeding. That’s the difference between a bye into the region tournament and becoming the No. 5 seed. It’s a good region with a lot of good teams and it definitely helps to see that level of competition going into state.”

The Cardinals have a bye into the second round of the state tournament after winning their region. The time off is a welcomed thing for Young America, as they’ve had one of the most grueling schedules of any team in the state. The Cardinals played four games in four days midway through the regular season, and followed that up with three games in three days near the end of the regular season. To top it all off, the Cardinals had to beat Waconia and Watertown in back-to-back games on the same day, just to win the Region 7C title.

“Down the stretch we played a lot of baseball, and I think the guys are welcoming a little break,” Kostecka said. “It will be good for the guys to be able to step away for a bit and get rested for hopefully a long state tournament run. If we get to Labor Day weekend, I have no doubt we’ll be ready to play four games in three days. We have the pitching staff to do it, and adding three more gold arms is going to help.”

As Young America awaits to see who they will play in the second round of the state tournament (Luverne or Mora), they know how crazy the state tournament can be. The Cardinals have played in their fair share of thrillers over the years,  which shows them just how important each inning is at this time of year.

“As far as crazy games, I guess we like it that way,” Kostecka said. “We know every team at the state tournament is there because they’re a good team. You can’t take an inning off, or your season could be over, just like that. I believe defense and pitching wins most games at the tournament, especially if you are deep in pitching. If you play defense and score more than three runs, you have a chance to win every game.”

STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: Watertown Red Devils looking to continue momentum into Class C State Tournament

WATERTOWN – It’s been a long time in the making for the Watertown Red Devils. This weekend, Watertown will be taking part in the Class C State Tournament for the first time since 2008.

While it’s been 12 years since the Red Devils have competed in a state tournament, there’s just one player left on the roster who was their the last time the Red Devils reached state. It’s manager Jared Duske.

“This tourney is not easy to get to, especially out of this region,” Duske said. “Me being the last player from that 2008 roster, I want my guys to know that we cannot take this for granted and to leave everything out on the field, because you really don’t know when you will be back.”

Watertown comes into the state tournament as the No. 2 seed from Region 7C. After collecting wins over the Green Isle Irish and Young America Cardinals, the Red Devils fell to the Cardinals in the Region 7C title game last Sunday.

Duske and the Red Devils don’t have a ton of state tournament experience on the roster with their long absence, so he knows how important it is for the guys to just enjoy the moment.

“I want the guys to stay loose and have fun,” Duske said. “(Just) play the game we have been playing all year. If we are down in a game, do not panic. If we are up, do not let up. Play the full game and see where you are at the end of it.”

While the Red Devils don’t come in with a ton of state tournament experience as a team, there is one player who does. Ace pitcher and leadoff hitter Pat Tschida has several years of state tournament experience under his belt. Tschida has been the big prize for teams who’ve won the Region 7C title previously as the no-brainer No. 1 draft pick. This year, Tschida will be relied on for more than his arm and bat. He’ll be asked to lead the younger guys who are experiencing this for the first time.

“I cannot express enough how much Pat means to this team,” Duske said. “Not only on the diamond, where everyone is aware of the damage he can do, but off the field. Pat is there for every person in that dugout. The team knows we are a Red Devil family, and Pat preaches that. We are all there for each other.  Winning is very important to Pat, but doing it with guys that you call family is even more important to him.”

Tschida has played a huge role on teams who’ve made deep runs in the state tournament from the Crow River Valley League before. This year, he’ll be looking to do the same thing once again, but with his own team.

“Pat is our spark plug,” Duske said. “He brings energy everywhere. The young guys feed off his energy and are attentive when he is speaking. We do not have much state experience, but we do have some. (Zach) Iten was in the final weekend last year with Cologne, (Jonah) Lewis was with Carver last year, and I have had a go in 2008 and a few different years with a few different teams.”

While the state tournament experience is minimal for Watertown, Duske believes the drive his team has right now makes up for the experience that some other teams might have.

“Having said that, I believe that experience is very good to have going into the tourney, but the drive to get back is the most important,” Duske said. “The taste of the state tourney never leaves you.  Once you have been there, you do whatever you can to get back. Pat having won a state title with Plato, I believe drives him to get his team to the tourney and win some games, so they can experience the feelings he has felt there.”

The Red Devils are a team that has fed on momentum all season long. After a 10-3 regular-season record, Watertown earned the No. 3 seed heading into the Region 7C Tournament. Although they ended the region tournament with a loss, the way they battled back late was big.

Watertown trailed 7-1 entering the bottom of the ninth inning against Young America in the Region 7C title game. After scoring five runs, the Red Devils found themselves with a chance to tie it, or even take the lead after trailing big. The fight Watertown showed late gave Duske a reason to be excited heading into the state tournament, even after a loss.

“It was huge,” Duske said about fighting back late. “The guys kept after it. They never gave up, even when it looked like the game was going sideways. That game may be a blessing in disguise, in all honesty. I think it reiterated that we are never out of a game. The whole year, we preached just keep playing the game, keep attacking at the plate, and have an approach. No matter if we are down six or up six, do not let the score dictate how you play the game. They hung on at the end, but that game told us that we can play with anyone. Young America is a very deep and talented team that is looking to make a deep run in the state tournament. We hope we can do the same.”

The Red Devils will take on the Red Wing Aces in the first round of the Class C State Tournament. The Aces are the No. 3 seed from Region 5. First pitch is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 22 at 8 p.m. in Milroy.

“We just have to play loose, and know that we are a good team,” Duske said. “Guys need to enjoy the tourney and take it all in.  Get that taste that I was talking about.  We have to show up ready to get after it right away and stay after it.  Heading into the last game of the tourney, I believe we were on a nine or 10-game winning streak in a very tough league schedule and even a tougher region.  We hope to carry that momentum into Milroy on Saturday night.”