Bart Hill has been a high school baseball coach for 17 years but he has never witnessed anything like this season, on the field as well as off. His Lac qui Parle Valley Eagles finished 2012 in spectacular fashion with an appearance in the Class 1A state championship game Monday at Target Field.
To begin with, the Eagles lost 12 seniors – and seven starters – to graduation off last year’s 16-7 team, which reached the Section 3 finals. This season began with a young roster, five losses in the first eight games, a whole bunch of lineup changes and an injury to one of the top pitchers.
“No one ever, ever imagined this,” Hill said after the Eagles fell to St. Agnes 6-0 Monday. “Most of these guys had never been in a varsity uniform before. We had a lot of goofy things happen along the way. We believe we had some divine intervention along the way.”
The 2012 season was a testament to sticking together and growing together. And making a long postseason run electrified the communities and school district, which is headquartered in Madison. It’s the biggest thing since the boys basketball team went to state in 1992.
“We’ve never had this opportunity,” Hill (pictured) said. “And the support people had … as a coach, all the alumni that have been calling me. You just can’t believe it. Small towns get excited about these things. All the cars have banners in them, all the stores have signs in them. It’s pretty special.”
The Eagles' iron horse Monday was 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior Brandon Bornhorst, who threw 141 pitches (93 strikes).
“He probably could have thrown 180,” the coach said. “I asked him, ‘Do you want to come out?’ He said, ‘Absolutely not.’ He’s got nine wins, he’s got half of our wins this year. He was good enough to win, we just didn’t have enough defense behind him.”
True, the Eagles (18-10) committed three errors in the first inning, helping St. Agnes (23-6) score two runs. They finished with five errors.
“Up until this game we didn’t even make five errors total in the playoffs,” Hill said. “I think maybe the nerves got to them a little on the big stage, but what a thrill.”
Way back when Lac qui Parle Valley was scuffling along with a record of 6-7, Hill and the team captains were trying to find a formula to turn things around. Motivation was elusive, but the coach remembered something he had done years ago: let the players become his hair stylists. The result was a Mohawk haircut.
“I had done it once a long, long, long time ago and I said, ‘I’m not that stupid to ever make that bet again.’ I said, ‘You get us to the state tournament, then you can.’ When you’re 6 and 7, nobody’s going to a state tournament. It was a very safe bet at the time.”
--In Holy Family’s 5-0 Class 2A championship victory over St. Cloud Cathedral, Fire pitcher Kasey Ralston (pictured) gave up only two hits, struck out seven and walked none in a dominating performance. Like St. Agnes in Class 1A, Holy Family did not allow a run in the state tournament.
“It’s the biggest thing in my baseball career by far,” said the senior. “At the beginning of the season we knew we were going to be good, but we didn’t expect to be this good. We got hot in the end when we needed to, and it’s pretty awesome.”
Holy Family coach Bryan DeLorenzo was an assistant coach on the school’s first state championship team, the 2007 boys basketball squad that won the Class 2A title.
“I remember thinking it would be nice to get one myself in baseball,” he said.
DeLorenzo is in his ninth year as a head baseball coach, which isn’t much compared to the 42-year career of Cathedral coach Bob Karn. Karn owns seven state titles in coaching more than 900 games.
“It’s an honor to be on the same field as him,” DeLorenzo said, “and a school with that much tradition that’s been around a lot longer than Holy Family.”
Holy Family opened in 2000; St. Cloud Cathedral has been around since 1902.
--When Eastview defeated Bemidji 1-0 in the Class 3A championship game, it completed a historic day. For the first time since 1984 (when baseball was a two-class sport), all the championship games were shutouts. The tournament was expanded to three classes in 2000.
--Lac qui Parle Valley’s Hill was wrapping up pregame drills in a traditional way, using his skills with a fungo to hit a high foul ball for catcher Preston Kraft to catch. The coach misfired just a bit, sending the ball into the stands behind the Eagles dugout. Cries of “Heads up!” had people preparing to be conked on the head, but the ball fell safely into the seats.
“Hey, it’s a major league park,” a smiling Hill hollered to the fans. “You’ve gotta be ready for anything!”
--Twins general manager Terry Ryan is never afraid to help out. After a foul ball landed in the unoccupied Legends Club seats in front of the press box, Ryan helped MSHSL media steward Steve Anderson locate the ball.
Class 1A: Wes Snyder, Ely; Adam Snelgrove, New York Mills; Trey Volk, Blackduck; Austin Host, Browerville; Brandon Bornhorst, Ben Morken, Colby Siegert, Brandon Hill, Lac qui Parle Valley; Charlie Turch, Jack Fossand, Ryan Hernandez, Evan Morehead, St. Agnes.
Class 2A: Tyler Boyle-Hoban, Cannon Falls; Tyler Wolfe, Delano; Spencer Chirpich, Fairmont; Jake Lewis, Ian Scherber, Proctor; Eric Pelant, Brian Minks, Michael Kerber, St. Cloud Cathedral; Kasey Ralston, Keller Knoll, Joe Salz, Conner Riddle, Holy Family.
Class 3A: Zach Garner, Red Wing; Luc Henke, Hill-Murray; Jake Bischoff, Grand Rapids; Cameron Mingo, Eden Prairie; Evan DeCovich, A.J. Stockwell, Chris Narum, Quinn Trusty, Eastview; Ryan Hirt, Collin Leif, Mason Bellew, Mitch Hendricks, Bemidji.
--To see photo galleries from each championship game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
--Diet Coke Count: 6 for the day, 37 for the spring tournaments.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 689
*Miles John has driven: 8,761
(*During the 2011-12 school year)
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn