In our sports section, I glanced back at most of the great happenings in the city of Sleepy Eye but I write about the state tournament run from a coaches perspective.
In our normal sports section, I discussed the many good things that happened in sports in the community this year. I wanted to open up about the Indians baseball team and what it meant to me.
This past season was my fifth season helping assist the Indians baseball program. So, the seniors that graduated last year were pretty much my first group that I truly coached at the Junior High level before I moved up to JV three seasons ago. At the JH level I worked with Dean Deibele and Scott Hadley in consecutive years and they were fantastic to work with. Two guys that knew their stuff and were very passionate about the game. I had also coached this group in part during their 14U days with Aaron Nesvold, Dean Brinkman, and Jason Stevens, and then their VFW years as well. Last year's senior group meant a lot to me. We all kind of grew up together, so to speak. Me as a coach and them as players and people. We had aspirations. High aspirations. And last season, our dreams came to fruition.
The Sleepy Eye Indians baseball team finished the season 18-6 and took home second place in the State Championship at Target Field. Being a member of the coaching staff under the lead of Aaron Nesvold, Cory Haala, and John Hirschboeck, we all agreed that we had something special just as practice had gotten underway in the snow filled month of March (and unfortunately, April). We had known that since these guys were young. Similar to the Indians girls basketball team, the group had worked hard and played together for a long time.
I remember coaching this group in their VFW days and we, like many other teams and coaches, told ourselves we wanted to make a run at a State Championship before graduation. Now, every team should say that, but you also must believe it. This group believed it. They knew the amount of work it would take. Working in the off-season, getting your games in for VFW and Legion in the summer heat, maintaining focus during indoor practices, etc. Just striving to get better every day was our strongest focus. Find your weakness and develop that while maintaining and tweaking your strengths.
Our section is far and away the toughest in the state. We have some very high quality baseball in this area. Our section has been loaded year in, year out with talent. I look back at some of the teams we defeated on our run last year in the playoffs like New Ulm Cathedral, BOLD, Springfield, those are some very good teams. The fact that only one of us advanced to the State Tournament just proves my point. That all goes without saying fellow Tomahawk Conference foe, the Wabasso Rabbits also made the State Tournament representing Section 3A. That is also not meant to discount Martin Luther, who was very good in their own right as well. They were in contention for the Section title all season and had gone to state the year prior with basically the same team. Even BLHS gave us a bit of a fight at times last season. Top to bottom the Tomahawk Conference was no slouch. You better bring your 'A' game every time out.
We had some very gut-wrenching losses in the past where we felt we had teams that had potential to make a run where we just couldn’t get over the hump of the first round to set ourselves up to do so. The group we had last season went through some ups and downs as they grew up. A lot of maturing was had in their last five years. We had some tough losses during the VFW days to go along with the first round exits. I think last year the group showed tremendous growth in the mental toughness department and that played a key role in our state run.
Losing to Springfield towards the end of the regular season kind of fired us up and got us refocused. Then seedings for the playoffs came out and we were given the No. 7 seed. That lit a fire into everybody on the team. I believe a lot of the guys just let that roll off the back of their shoulders, but kept it inside their heads as to show everyone that we deserved better. Rather than complaining about it, we embraced it and left that chip on our shoulders.
The Indians defeated BLHS in the first round. That game set up a rematch with Springfield where a victory at Riverside Park got us to New Ulm to face Cathedral. A no-hitter by Jacob Berg got us to Mankato where we defeated BOLD twice. The 5-0 Section playoff record gave us our first State Tournament berth since the year 2000.
In the first game of the State Tournament we were pinned up against Hinckley-Finlayson. We didn’t know a whole lot about them other than the fact they were North of the Twin Cities and could slap the ball around. The Indians went on to defeat Hinckley-Finlayson behind an Avery Stevens no-hitter where he struck out 15 batters. Avery was phenomenal for us and was huge that night. He had come close to a few perfect games or no-hitters throughout his career and finally got one. To get it in that environment was pretty cool to be a part of and couldn’t happen to a nicer kid. He works his butt off and when he has a goal in mind, I have yet to see him 'take it easy', he gets it done every time.
Following Stevens’ performance, Berg followed up with 13 strikeouts of his own by defeating South Ridge 4-1 in 6 and 2/3 innings to advance to the State Championship at Target Field. Berg has always been a gamer and he showed why in that game. It was one of those dripping sweat types of games, where every breath you took exhausted you. The humidity didn't phase Berg though.
We eventually fell to MN Twins draftee and Missouri baseball commit Seth Halverson and Heritage Christian Academy 8-0 after hanging out at Target Field for about five to six hours during a rain delay. The second place finish at state was something the entire team should be proud of. They worked for it and deserved every bit of it. The kids deserve 110% credit for their positive attitudes, their leadership, and just the way they played and respected the game. Great group of student-athletes, let alone the type of people they are. That is a true testament to the type of parents they have as well as the type of character coach Nesvold demands from our players. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to work with Cory Haala, John Hirschboeck, and coach Nesvold.
I was happiest for coach Nesvold. Aaron has become a true role model for me. He has taught me and the other coaches so much and I am truly fortunate and grateful to work with him. Working and coaching with him, I see the time he puts in and the disappointments he had been through prior to last year, there was nobody more deserving for our success last season. He does a great job with the program and I think there are many that would echo that statement.
Lastly, I wanted to thank the fans during that time. The parents. Everybody involved, really. It was an experience I hope every kid gets to be a part of. As for this coming year? Stay tuned.