As the postgame awards ceremony began Monday at Target Field, ballplayers from Henry Sibley High School arrived at an important realization. The Mahtomedi team they had just defeated 8-4 for the Class 3A state championship was receiving its second-place medals while the Warriors stood single-file on the edge of the grass.
One of them said these words: “We’re 15 and 15.” And down the row it went. “We’re 15 and 15.” “Guys, we’re 15 and 15.”
They also, astonishingly, are state champions.
Has there ever been anything like it? What compares to this improbable storybook ending? After all, for the Warriors this was a season that could have been given up for dead, wrapped in a burlap sack and dumped in a ditch weeks ago. Who would have noticed?
One of the lessons here is that the regular season and the postseason can have absolutely nothing in common. Henry Sibley – the school is named for Minnesota’s first governor (as if you didn’t already know that) – opened the season with five consecutive losses. An eight-game losing streak came soon after. They lost to Mahtomedi twice, including a 10-run-rule affair. They entered the postseason with a 6-14 record and had to win their last two regular-season games to get there.
But then how do we explain the playoff run? The wins in the Section 3 tournament and the three victories at state?
“We were hot today,” said designated hitter Sam Essen, who scored two runs. “It was our day, it was our turn to win.”
Henry Sibley coach Greg Fehrman had no explanation at all.
“I can’t. I really can’t. I wish I could but I can’t. It’s one of those things that turned out the way it did.”
He and his coaching staff never gave up on the team, and the players never gave up on each other. That’s surely an important factor here.
“We never really ever ditched the thought that we would not be able to be competitive,” Fehrman said. “There were times that we would lose games and we as coaches would be at a loss for words to explain what it is that we were trying to do, what we needed to do. And we would share that with the kids and say, ‘Hey, we don’t have anything to say other than we have to hang in there and keep plugging away at it.’ ”
Fehrman said the “beautiful part” of the story is this: The boys never gave up, never grabbed a burlap sack.
“They seemed to go ahead and just persevere and hang with it and continue to want to come to the park.” he said. “They’re great kids to be around, just awesome kids to be around. And then all of a sudden we started catching on a little bit, and before you knew it everything started rolling. We just got out of their way and let them play.
“Everybody dreams about winning a state championship but hardly anybody ever dreams about winning a state championship with a 15-15 record.”
CLASS 2A: MINNEHAHA ACADEMY 5, BELLE PLAINE 1
As the baseball season came to a memorable end, nobody wore a bigger smile than Jesse Retzlaff. The senior pitcher and his Minnehaha Academy teammates will spend the rest of their days reflecting on disappointment, second chances and how great success can feel.
“Right now I’m so elated,” Retzlaff said after the Redhawks rallied to win the state championship. “It was such a fun run. It was such a great time.”
The disappointment came 360 days earlier. Minnehaha Academy lost to St. Cloud Cathedral 10-1 in that 2015 state championship game, and the losing pitcher was a junior named Jesse Retzlaff. He pitched 5 1/3 innings that day, giving up six runs while walking four, striking out three and throwing a wild pitch.
Cathedral was no slouch in 2015, winning its second consecutive state title and extending a winless streak to 50 games. The Redhawks finished 26-2 last season, with both losses coming to Cathedral. But 2016 was different. Minnehaha went to St. Cloud and beat the Crusaders in their 11th game of the season, finished the Section 4 tournament with a 24-3 record, and headed to state a team on a mission.
Minnehaha beat East Grand Forks 11-2 in the state quarterfinals (with Retzlaff going the distance) and held off Pierz 4-2 in the semifinals to reach Monday’s game. And this time at Target Field Retzlaff was masterful. He tossed a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts and two walks.
“Jesse has wanted this game since last year, and you could see that,” said Redhawks coach Scott Glenn. “He was calm, he was a true leader today. He was the guy we needed, and he was fantastic.”
Belle Plaine (25-2), which was the tournament’s top seed with Minnehaha No. 2, took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Brody Curtiss tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Wes Sarsland. But the Redhawks put up a five spot in the top of the fifth, with Andrew Wolpert and Alexander Jordan driving in runs. That was all Retzlaff needed.
“We knew we could come back from one run down,” he said. “We’ve scored a lot of runs in a lot of games.
“Last year we were kind of heartbroken so our motto coming into this year was ‘unfinished business.’ We just wanted to come back out and win this game. And we did, so we’re feeling really good right now. This is pure joy. You dream of playing here. It was just so much fun.”
CLASS 1A: SPRINGFIELD 4, PARKERS PRAIRIE 1 (11)
The Tigers scored two runs in the top of the 11th inning to secure the title one year after finishing as the state runnerup. Joe Pieschel opened the 11th with a single and stole second. A single by Carter Cook scored Pieschel before a double by Isaac Fink made it 4-2.
CLASS 4A: WAYZATA 9, CHAMPLIN PARK 1
The Trojans won their first state baseball championship behind an 11-hit attack, scoring in every inning from the third to the seventh. Griffin Schneider, Will Oberg and Danny Deis had three hits each while Wayzata pitcher Tommy Skoro went the distance, giving up five hits, striking out eight and walking none.
CLASS 1A/ Hunter Brommerich, Lewiston-Altura; Lucas Nelson, Legacy Christian; Cody Dunkley, TJ Johnson, Hinckley-Finlayson; Logan Rogers, Zach Loosbrock, Adrian; Andrew Johnson, Casey Peterson, Zach Gappa, Parkers Prairie; Sam Baier, Branden Flock, Carter Cook, Springfield.
CLASS 2A/ John Aase, Proctor; Alex Mushitz, East Grand Forks; Jack Siebert, Maple Lake; Matt Tautges, Noah Boser, Lane Girtz, Pierz; Brody Curtiss, Nathan Herman, Aiden Ladd, Belle Plaine; Alex Fedje-Johnson, Alex Evenson, Jesse Retzlaff, Minnehaha Academy.
CLASS 3A/ Cooper Yackley, New Ulm; Nic Zabel, Northfield; Jack Qualen, Derek Drees, Benilde-St. Margaret’s; Austin Jenks, Thomas Miller, Little Falls; Trevor Moses, Kyle Hinseth, Mitch Nordin, Mahtomedi; Charley Hesse, Sam Gantman, Joe Ihrke, Henry Sibley.
CLASS 4A/ Isaac Collins, Maple Grove; Ryan Brunner, Burnsville; Michael Dooney, Luke DeGrammont, Lakeville North; Max Meyer, Brady Mundahl, Woodbury; Riley Johnson, Aaron Kloeppner, Champlin Park; Griffin Schneider, Will Oberg, Parker Hlavacek, Tommy Skoro, Wayzata.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 858
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 12,498