John's Journal
Coming From Behind To Win State Championships 6/16/2014
There were two comeback stories Monday afternoon at Target Field. One involved a team that posted come-from-behind victories to reach the state title game, and the other a team that put together a miraculous come-from-behind win to capture a state championship.

New Life Academy, making its first appearance in the Class 1A state tournament, took home the title with a 5-4 victory over New York Mills. St. Cloud Cathedral rallied with four runs in the seventh inning to beat Fairmont 5-4 in the Class 2A title game.

The Class 3A title game between Mounds View and Eden Prairie was postponed by heavy rain and was rescheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at Target Field. In addition, the boys lacrosse state championship game between Eden Prairie and Rosemount, scheduled for Monday night at Chanhassen; it was rescheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Rosemount (the higher seed).

New Life finished with a 14-6 record last season. That maybe didn’t portend a big run in 2014, but second-year coach Dave Darr was optimistic before the season began.

“We talked about getting here. This was a serious goal,” he said. “We thought we had the opportunity, with the individual talent and the pitching and the depth that we had, to do it. Teams make a goal to get here but we felt we had a good chance. You have to be lucky, and we were very lucky in beating a couple of teams to get here.”

The Eagles lost to Mayer Lutheran in the Section 4 playoffs and had to fight their way through the loser’s bracket and then beat Heritage Christian twice to advance to state. They got to Target Field with a 3-2, eight-inning win over defending state champion BOLD in Friday’s semifinals at Chaska.

In Monday’s game, Matthew Palkovich and Sam Horner each drove in two runs and John Horner (four innings) and Sam Horner (three innings) combined on the mound.

“It’s all these guys,” Darr said. “They’ve worked their tails off these last three months and when we absolutely needed to come through, we did. That’s a testament to these guys.

“This is amazing. You hope you can get here one day, and to win the whole thing, I don’t know if I can explain the feeling. I’m really, really proud of these guys. I love them to death.”

Unlike New Life, Cathedral is no stranger to baseball state championships. The Crusaders now own eight first-place trophies, with the previous crowns coming in 1980, 1988, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2011. Cathedral's Bob Karn, the state’s all-time leader in baseball coaching wins, ended the season with 711 victories.

No. 711 was a doozy, too. Cathedral trailed Fairmont 4-1 after six innings, but the Crusaders put up four runs in the top of the seventh to take a 5-4 lead. A triple by Steven Neutzling drove in the tying and go-ahead runs. In the bottom of the seventh, Fairmont had runners on second and third when the game ended on a groundball.

POSTSCRIPT …

New Life Academy’s Palkovich gets the award for predicting the state title. He did so before the season began, and it took place in a manner unfamiliar to those who are not up to date in the ways of social media.

It began when Palkovich sent a text to his girlfriend. I won’t name the young lady here, but Matthew told me, “She was actually my girlfriend at the time and still is, actually.”

His text to her said, “Hey, I’m calling it. We’re going to win state.”

“She posted it to Twitter and everyone saw it,” he said, wearing a big smile and a gold medal.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 665
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 13,052
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Memorable Season For Cathedral’s Karn: 710 Wins And A Heart Attack 6/14/2014
Two very memorable things happened to St. Cloud Cathedral’s Bob Karn this season. 1) He became’s the state all-time leader in baseball coaching victories; 2) He suffered a postseason heart attack.

The season will end Monday at Target Field when Cathedral meets Fairmont in the Class 2A state championship game. Win or lose, it has been quite a spring.

Karn, 72, leads the career victory category with 710 wins during 44 seasons as the Crusaders’ coach. New Ulm’s Jim Senske retired in 2005 with 707 wins and Brainerd’s Lowell Scearcy – whose team played in the Class 3A state tournament – ended the season with 706.

The heart attack came the day after the regular season ended. It was May 23, a Friday, and Karn was at the high school as the freshmen baseball players were turning in their uniforms.

Out of nowhere, he felt chest pains and began sweating profusely. “I thought, ‘This just isn’t normal, isn’t right,’ ” said Karn, whose father died of a heart attack.

He was driven to an urgent care facility, where it was immediately determined that he was having a heart attack. The next stop was St. Cloud Hospital and a very quick trip to surgery. One of the arteries in his heart was blocked and a stent was installed to allow blood to flow again.

“Through the amazing coordination of highly trained and skilled people, it took 18 minutes from the time I went into the operating room until they put the stent in and I was finished,” Karn said.

He spent two days in the hospital and was back in uniform on May 27 when the Crusaders opened Class 2A Section 6 tournament play. Eight postseason victories have followed and Cathedral will take a record of 26-1 into Monday’s 3 p.m. game against Fairmont (25-1).

Cathedral hasn’t lost since falling to Albany in its second game of the season and the Cardinals are unbeaten since a season-opening loss to New Ulm. The last time the teams met in the state tournament, Cathedral beat Fairmont 5-3 in the 2011 semifinals.

In the 2014 state tournament, top-seeded Cathedral has defeated Blake 5-1 and Glencoe-Silver Lake 6-0. Second-seeded Fairmont has beaten Aitkin 7-0 and Kasson-Mantorville 19-3 in five innings.

Karn said he is feeling “very good.” He goes to cardio rehab, is limited in how much he is allowed to lift but all restrictions should be removed in a few weeks.

The Cathedral baseball players learned about their coach’s heart attack right away, and assistant coach Charlie Burg took over until Karn returned. Burg coached third base for a time because doctors didn’t want Karn to be struck by batted balls.

Karn – who graduated from Cathedral in 1959, still teaches literature classes part-time and is the longest serving employee in school history -- said he told his players, “If you’re going to have a heart attack, make sure you have it close to a hospital that knows how to take care of heart attacks.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 665
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 13,002
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Best Way To Describe Hawley’s Parker Hanson? Pure Astonishment6/13/2014
ST. CLOUD -- When Parker Hanson was born, not everything was perfect. One thing was very clear: he didn’t have a left hand. There was something else, however, something unseen that is now very apparent in the junior from Hawley High School.

“I don’t care if you’re playing baseball in the state tournament or you’re playing checkers, Parker wants to win,” said Hawley coach Beau Lofgren on Friday at the Class 2A state baseball tournament. “He’s very competitive. He has that drive, which is something you don’t coach. That’s something you’re born with. We’re very proud of him.”

Parker is the Nuggets’ top pitcher, coming into this week’s state tournament with a record of 7-1, a 2.92 earned-run average and 70 strikeouts in 48 innings. The Nuggets lost to Kasson-Mantorville 5-3 in Thursday’s quarterfinals and fell to Aitkin 5-4 in Friday’s consolation bracket.

Hanson also plays football, including time at wide receiver. So yes, in the baseball field he hits and plays defense, and on the football field he catches passes and carries the ball. All with one hand.

“I don’t know what it’s like to play with two hands,” he said very simply. He calls baseball his passion, and there’s no doubting his talent. Before the state tournament, Parker was hitting .346 with four home runs and 24 RBIs in 23 games.

On the mound and at first base, he puts his glove on his right hand. As he catches the ball he seamlessly takes the glove off, tucks it into his left arm and throws with his right arm. At the plate, he wears a prosthetic sleeve that attaches to the bat. As he drops the bat and runs to first base, the prosthesis remains attached to the bat.

“Regardless of what he has or doesn’t have, in terms of other human beings, he’s a phenomenal ballplayer,” Lofgren said. “He just shows a lot of tenacity and grit, and he’s able to lift a team when needed.”

Parker has been a varsity baseball player since eighth grade, and he has been an everyday player since the start of the 2013 season.

Lofgren said when opposing coaches got their first look at Hanson, the reactions were what you would expect.

“It’s pure astonishment. They’re almost beyond belief that he can do what he does. They see him throw and they say, ‘Oh geez, this kid’s for real.’ ”

The Nuggets made their first trip to state since 2009 the hard way, winning five consecutive elimination games to win the Section 8 championship. In all five games Hawley trailed in the sixth inning or later.

Teams don’t qualify for state without a lot of hard work, and Hawley is no exception. Parker, for example, has worn out his coaches while working to improve his defense at first base.

“He’s our leader, for sure,” Lofgren said. “I have hit him countless bags of groundballs. He’ll ask, ‘Can I have one more bag?’ It’s not, ‘I only want five more balls and then I’m done.’ ”

Parker isn’t onld enough to remember when Jim Abbott, who also was born with just one hand, spent 10 years (1989-99) as a major league pitcher. But Parker has done research on Abbott, including a school project in sixth grade. Parker has conversed with Abbott on Twitter.

“I’ve messaged him and he gave me a couple hints,” Parker said. “He’s really helped me, given me some confidence. He’s a really nice guy.

“He really set the bar high and gave me a lot of confidence to keep battling through all the struggles I’ve faced and keep going.”

STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES MOVED TO MONDAY

Because of weather concerns, the baseball state championship games have been moved to Monday at Target Field. The games were originally scheduled for Saturday at Target Field but will be played Monday. Game times will be as originally scheduled, and here are the matchups…

Class 1A at noon: New Life Academy vs. New York Mills

Class 2A at 3 p.m.: St. Cloud Cathedral vs. Fairmont

Class 3A at 6 p.m.: Mounds View vs. Eden Prairie

LACROSSE, CLAY TARGET SHOOTING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Saturday’s schedule also includes state championship events in lacrosse and clay target shooting. Both activities can be held in rain, but lightning can cause delays.

The lacrosse schedule…

Girls title game at 5 p.m.: Eden Prairie vs. Blake at Chanhassen

Boys title game at 7 p.m.: Eden Prairie vs. Rosemount at Chanhassen

The clay target shooting competition will be held at Minneapolis Gun Club in Prior Lake. Opening ceremonies will be held at 8:30 a.m. and the first of three flights in team competition will begin at 9 a.m. The team awards ceremony is scheduled for 12:45. Individual competition will begin at 1:15 with awards scheduled for 5 p.m.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 639
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 12,932
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Marshall Boys Golf Team And The Coach They Love6/11/2014
JORDAN – One of the more interesting figures at the Class 2A state golf tournament was not one of the golfers, but one of the coaches. He’s a retired golf pro who lives in a motor home on a farm, is beloved by his team members and is newly retired from coaching now that the high school season is over.

Allen Lucht has been coaching the Marshall High School boys golf team since 2009. He was the pro at Marshall Golf Club from 1993 until 2011, wintering in Florida with his wife, Shirley. Once he became the high school golf coach, he cut his warm-weather winters short to return to Marshall in March for the start of the golf season.

The impact on his players is immeasurable. He’s part father figure, part grandfather, part mentor and part friend.

“Allen’s one of the nicest, most kindhearted people I’ve ever met,” said Tigers senior Alex Buysse. “He knows the golf swing better than anybody. He’s just a great person, too, so what he’s taught us goes beyond golf.”

The Tigers were tied for fourth in the eight-team 2A boys field after Tuesday’s first round of play at Ridges at Sand Creek. They came back Wednesday with a strong performance, climbing two spots to finish second behind state champion Providence Academy. That was a great way for Lucht to end his high school coaching career.

As the club pro in Marshall, Lucht has had a long history with most of his players on the high school team. Five years ago one individual qualified for state and the team has represented Section 3 at state for four years in a row now. Marshall’s Max Deutz was the individual state champ in 2011 when the team also finished second.

This year’s Tigers were undefeated all season before the state tourney, which is a first for them.

“As far as I’m concerned these young men are champions all the way through,” Lucht said. “The greatest thing is their courage and demeanor and how they react to what you try to make them do. And you hope they react to it and they play the game the way you want them to play, and it’s the same thing in life. They work together very well and it’s really kind of cool to watch.”

The players enjoy hearing their coach tell stories from his own life and golfing career, as well as a steady string of jokes.

“He’s just always upbeat,” said senior Matt Bennett. “ He always tries to get us laughing and keep us calm as best he can. He’s always there; if you ever need something, he’s always got your back. He has stories for us and he always tells jokes, probably things we shouldn’t repeat. (insert laughter here)”

About that motor home. With their primary residence in Florida, the Luchts didn’t want to purchase another home in Marshall after retirement. So Allen bought a motor home from a member of Marshall Golf Club and parked it on a farm owned by another member.

The members of the golf team are the main recipients of Lucht’s decision to take over as coach.

“We were like six or eight years old and we went to lessons with him every day, all these guys,” said senior Matt Christianson. “Almost our whole team has been with him our whole life, basically. He’s like a grandpa. He keeps coming back and there’s really nothing in it for him other than seeing us every year.

“I think when I’m 25 or 35 or 45, I’ll still be thinking about Allen Lucht.”

GIRLS RESULTS

--Class 2A/ Detroit Lakes captured its third consecutive state team title with a score of 590, followed by Pequot Lakes (648) and Red Wing (650) in the top three. Detroit Lakes sophomore Kate Smith and Pequot Lakes junior Maggie Heggerston shared the individual championship, each shooting 73-70-143. It was Smith’s third state title, making her the fifth girl in Minnesota history to win three state golf titles. She could become the second to win four and the first to win five.

--Hole-in-one: Pequot Lakes junior Megan Snyder used a 9-iron to ace the 101-yard third hole at Ridges at Sand Creek.

--Class 1A/ Legacy Christian of Andover led the team race with a 718 score, followed by BOLD (732) and Fillmore Central (733). The individual champ was Christina Piwnica of Southwest Christian in Chaska, who shot 79-80-159. The runner-up was Abby Herding of Westbrook-Walnut Grove at 80-88-168.

--Class 3A/ Wayzata won the team competition with a score of 622, followed by Alexandria (641) and Edina (650). New Prague’s Kenzie Nielsen, who shared the individual title last year with Wayzata’s Sarah Burnham, won it outright with a 67-68-135, followed by Burnham at 67-69-136.

BOYS RESULTS

--Class 2A/ Providence Academy won the team title with a 602 total, followed by Marshall 612, Blake 614, Mankato East 618 and Fergus Falls 629. The individual title was shared by three players who had a 144 total: Andrew Sederlund of Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl, Andrew Israelson of Staples-Motley and Carter Haley of Mankato East.

--Class 1A/ Dawson-Boyd won the team title at 660, followed by United South Central (675) and Legacy Christian (679). The medalist was Mounds Park eighth-grader Brock Bliese (76-74-150), followed by Cordell Weber of Martin County West 77(-75-151).

--Class 3A/ Edina captured the team title with a 590 score, followed by Wayzata at 591 and Hastings at 617. Rochester Century's Chris Captain was the medalist with a 71-71-142. There was a three way-tie for second at 145: Jack Holmgren of Wayzata, Max Savini of Anoka and Sam Foust of Edina.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 623
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 12,690
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Fillmore Central Girls Golf: Building A Program, Getting To State6/10/2014
BECKER -- After Tuesday’s opening-round scores were posted at the Class 1A state girls golf tournament, Fillmore Central coach Lane Powell said this: “It’s OK to be under the radar.”

That’s how the Falcons flew into the state tourney at Pebble Creek Golf Club. It’s the school’s first appearance at state and the six players on the roster are a seventh-grader, an eighth-grader, a ninth-grader, a sophomore, a junior and a senior. How’s that for symmetry?

Fillmore Central – the school is in Harmony in southeastern Minnesota – stands in third place at the halfway point of the tournament and is within range of a state title by tourney’s end Wednesday. BOLD leads the team race with a 365 score, followed by defending champion Legacy Christian (367), Fillmore Central (369) and Windom (379) in the eight-team field.

Christina Piwnica of Southwest Christian and Lauren Laffen of Sleepy Eye lead the individuals with 79s, followed by Abby Herding of Westbrook-Walnut Grove at 80 and Elizabeth Hennessy of Lewiston-Altura at 81.

Fillmore Central is a golf team (pictured) that has been building toward this first trip to state. Powell is in his third year as the varsity girls coach after spending eight years coaching the junior high boys team. Powell, the band director at Fillmore Central, also represents the Minnesota Music Educators Association on the MSHSL board of directors.

Fillmore Central is well-known for its music program. In the 2013-14 school year, the high school had an enrollment of 131 students and 98 of them were involved in band, including every member of the varsity girls golf team.

“Powell has completely changed the (golf) program,” said junior Katie Tammel. “You see the band program and how strong it is; that’s what’s happened with the golf team.”

Senior Keeley Todd said, “Last year we had eight or nine players and now we have 15. They’re mostly young but that’s good for the program.”

Powell said his philosophy of building a golf team is just like his philosophy of building a successful band program. For example, a summer golf program was started three years ago and it’s paying dividends now.

“You’ve got to have a five-, 10-year plan; ‘Here’s where we want to be and here’s how we get there,’ ” he said. “You keep preaching the same things over and over until it’s second nature. Our goals were incremental, small steps. We’ve knocked down each small step, and that’s like any success. It can’t happen overnight.”

The Falcons’ top scorer Tuesday was sophomore Laura Donney with an 88. Todd shot an 89, eighth-grader Grace Miller a 95, seventh-grader Madison Scheevel a 97, Tammel a 100 and ninth-grader Elayna Kiehne a 111.

After all the players finished Tuesday’s round, Powell gathered them in a tight circle and talked about what they had accomplished and what’s in store.

“I told them I was very proud of them,” he said. “They’re playing our style of golf, which is conservative, smart. We’re not big hitters. We try to score on what’s in front of us. It doesn’t have to be pretty. And to be honest, nobody expected us to be here. We’re four strokes out of first and people are like, ‘Who is this?’ ”

A year ago the Falcons didn’t advance from their subsection tournament to the Section 1 meet as a team. Five individuals did advance to sections a year ago, with one player missing a trip to state by one stroke and another coming two strokes short.

“We knew we were getting closer but they’d never been on a big stage before,” Powell said.

Tuesday’s round on that big stage was a team effort, explained Tammel.

“Today was one of those days where your teammates really come up big,” she said. “I was golfing in the No. 1 spot but I shot a No. 5 score. My teammates buckled down and shot really well. I think the pressure was taken off even when I knew I wasn’t playing my best golf, because I knew my teammates were playing so well.”

Another major part of the story is how the community has rallied around the team. The Falcons had no matching team shirts to wear during the season, but their attire at state is first-class: Sharp-looking teal shirts (the school colors are silver, black and teal) with their first names on one sleeve and “State 2014” on the other sleeve.

Families, the public and local businesses have raised money for all kinds of purposes, including practice rounds at four courses near Harmony that are similar to Pebble Creek (“that was 250 bucks a shot,” Powell said). A local bank paid for the team’s dinner Tuesday night.

“People have been great,” Powell said. “Sometimes the non-gate sports can get a little neglected in the eyes of the public. But once it got out that the girls were doing so well, all these things keep going on and on.”

With the first round in the books, the Falcons are primed for the final 18 holes Wednesday. Expectations?

“I have no expectations,” Tammel said. “Just play well. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen. If we win it, we win it. if we get second place, it’s one of those things. It’s icing on the cake to be here.”

“We want to play well,” Keeley said. “And if we do, it’ll be awesome.”

No matter what happens, it’s already pretty awesome.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 607
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 12,638
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn