The Indians had one of the best years in school history going 25-3 and won the State Championship. It was the first Indians Championship since 1981.
Going into the season, the Sleepy Eye Indians felt they had the perfect storm of team chemistry to win a state championship. The combination of having great talent and a strong comradery had the Indians believeing they had what it takes to parade the streets of Sleepy Eye with a Minnesota High School State Championship.
Senior and star pitcher Cole Deibele said a state championship was the goal. “We were extremely optimistic for 2000 baseball, and to be honest, our goal was to win the state title.” Deibele was also a part of the football team in 1999 that lost in heartbreaking fashion to LeCenter in the playoffs. Deibele says the outcome of that game fueled a lot of the team’s motivation for the spring of 2000.
Spring of 2000 was also the first year the MSHSL announced three classes would participate in the State Tournament. “We were always reminding ourselves to take it one game at a time. We knew we were talented enough, but we all know the most talented team doesn’t always win. We learned this in the fall in football, which I think helped us prepare better.”
The Indians finished the season 25-3. In 13 of their 25 games, the Indians scored double digit runs. The Indians averaged 8.3 runs per game and allowed 2.8 runs per game. In their 28 games, the Indians allowed three or fewer runs in 18 games. The Indians also hit .355 as a team. Seven of the nine hitters in the lineup had an average over .300.
The Indians pitching staff was strong throughout but was led by Deibele and fellow senior Jim Eckstein. Deibele says Eckstein was feared throughout the conference. “He was definitely the most intimidating pitcher in the conference.” Eckstein’s combination of a hard fastball and a knee-buckling curveball had hitters wishing for better days. “He had the best high school 12/6 curveball I have ever seen,” says Deibele.
Deibele and Eckstein were a force on the mound the entire season for the Indians. Deibele threw 73 and 1/3 innings while striking out 74 batters and compiling a record of 11-2 with an ERA of 0.86. Eckstein pitched a total of 58 and 2/3 innings and struck out 70 batters and finished the season 8-0 with an ERA of 1.31. The Indians had a team ERA of 1.74 and allowed an opponents batting average of just .212 throughout the entire season.
While Deibele and Eckstein led the charge on the mound, every good pitcher has a good defense. Senior Steve Geschwind and sophomores Cody Walter and Bryce Belseth covered the outfield while Ross Lendt and Loren “Bear” Havemeier held down the middle of the field at shortstop and second base. Bryan “Chico” Weiss played first base with the best of them. “Chico was a force in the lineup,” says Deibele while also crediting his defense, “he scooped everything at first base.”
Every pitcher has to be able to count on their catcher and Deibele and Eckstein were able to rely on their catcher Mike Nachreiner many times. “Mike managed us pitchers really well,” Deibele also credited Nachreiner’s knack to call a good game behind the plate.
The 2000 season for the Indians began with an 11-10 victory over St. James. The Indians then fell to Wabasso 7-2 two days later. Sitting at 1-1, the Indians went on a 14-game win streak before falling to New Ulm Cathedral in the second game of a doubleheader in the middle of May. The Indians also lost the next day to Springfield-Cedar Mountain-Comfrey to fall to 15-3 overall. The Indians didn’t lose a game after that.
The Indians bounced back two days later defeating crosstown rival St. Mary’s 16-7 before defeating Sibley East 12-3 to close out the regular season 17-3.
In the first game of Sub-Section playoffs, Eckstein threw a complete game shutout against New Ulm Cathedral in a 6-0 win. Eckstein allowed two hits and struck out four. Bear Havemeier was 2-for-5 at the plate with two runs scored while Cody Walter was 3-for-4. Bryan Weiss had two RBI’s in the game to lead the offense.
In the Sub-Section Championship game, the Indians defeated St. Mary’s 4-3. Havemeier had three hits. Walter scored three runs and was 2-for-3 with two stolen bases in the game. Deibele threw a complete game going seven innings allowing six hits and three earned runs with seven strikeouts.
Advancing to the Section playoffs, the Indians defeated Alden-Conger 11-0. Eckstein and Ross Lendt combined for a 5-inning win on the mound as the offense led the charge in a blowout victory. Weiss connected for a 2-run HR as he and Havemeier had two RBI’s each in the win. The Indians’ top four hitters in the lineup combined to go 6-for-8 with 6 runs scored.
After defeating Alden-Conger, the Indians were set up to take on the Knights once again. This time at Franklin Rogers.
The Knights jumped out to 1-0 lead in the first inning. Bryan Weiss then hit a moonshot over the left field fence to give the Indians a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second.
With the Indians leading 4-2 in the top of the seventh with two outs, Chad Armbruster stepped up to the plate and hit a 2-run home run to tie the game. Armbruster also pitched all 10 innings for the Knights. Cody Walter hit the walk-off base hit to give the Indians the triumpant victory.
Deibele then shut the Knights down in an Indians 5-1 victory following the 5-4 win in extras to send the Indians to state. The win gave the Indians a 5-0 record over a very good St. Mary’s team that season.
With the Indians clinching their state tournament appearance, they still needed three more wins to reach their goal of winning it all. Making the state tournament is no easy feat and takes a lot of hard work. Without the access to indoor training like many athletes have now, the Indians looked to be active when they could. Much of the team were three sport athletes and participated in band and choir, along with school plays along with their fall and winter activities. Many of the players took part in workouts orchestrated by Cole’s dad, longtime phy. ed. teacher and coach at Sleepy Eye Public, Dean Deibele. The talent and coaching were there as the Indians were coached by Bruce Belseth, Deibele, and John Hirschboeck. The difference in good teams and championship teams is often the drive a team holds within themselves. The Indians certainly had that.
“We had a lot of guys that were really dedicated to the weightroom. A lot of this was due to our competitiveness with each other,” said Cole. “Even though our class loved playing together, we also wanted to be better than each other.” Deibele says those attributes contributed to all the players on the team becoming better individually.
The Indians opened up State competition with an 11-1 win in six innings over Bertha-Hewitt. Eckstein, Weiss, Ross Lendt, and Bryce Belseth all had two RBI’s for the Indians in the state opener. The Indians continued to make their goal known as they dominated Ely 11-0 in the second game of the tournament to advance to the schools first State Championship game since 1990 in coach Belseth’s first year as Head Coach as the Indians fell to Waseca. Eckstein shut down Ely in five innings striking out nine and allowing just three base runners in the contest. Senior Steve Geshwind tallied three RBI’s in the game to lead the offense.
In the State Championship game against Lester Prairie, the Indians faced Eckstein’s cousin as he faced off on the mound with Deibele. The Indians and Bulldogs traded zeroes until the top of the fifth inning. Mike Nachreiner hit a go-ahead 2-run homerun to give the Indians a 2-0 lead. The Indians tallied two more runs in the top of the seventh on RBI base-hits from Havemeier and Weiss. Behind a 4-0 lead and the arm of Deibele, the Indians defeated Lester Prairie for their dream come true. A State Championship.
Havemeier, Deibele, and Eckstein were all named to the US Bank All-Tournament for their performances during the State Tournament. Havemeier was 7-for-12 with 5 runs scored with three doubles and three RBI’s with a stolen base. Deibele went 2-0 on the mound with 13 innings pitched and 12 strikeouts while allowing no earned runs. Eckstein had three RBI’s and two runs scored and was 1-0 on the mound with 5 innings pitched allowing no earned runs while striking out nine.
While getting recognition for the All-Tournament team, Deibele also acknowledged each role many players played throughout the entire season. Deibele credited sophomores Cody Walter and Bryce Belseth in their contributions throughout the season. He also credited role players Marty Hoffmann and Josh Hadley. “What was so memorable was how in every big game, someone different made a great play at some point in the game.”
Deibele enjoyed reflecting on the 2000 Championship and displayed the dog pile after winning the title his favorite memory. “Only one team in each class ends their season with a win and to do it with those guys is a memory I will cherish forever.”
Being a sophomore at the time, Bryce Belseth was in a unique situation and looked up to the seniors at the time. Being the coaches son, Belseth knew of the strong history Sleepy Eye baseball has held in the heart of the program and the championship vindicated the Indians of their runner-up finish in 1990. Looking up to the seniors and playing a role in the championship meant a lot to Belseth. “To see how they prepared and how hard they worked in the weight room and to see it pay off, was really cool,” Belseth continued on to credit that solid group of seniors, “To be around guys like that, you knew there was a benefit, you just knew you were going to get better by being around them.” As talented as they were, Belseth also credits the type of people they were.
Deibele credits his teammates and the comradery they built with themselves and coaches to his career now. Deibele says his time with the Indians led him down to his teaching and coaching path. Deieble teaches and coaches at Monticello. “Being in a position to have a positive influence on the lives of my students and athletes is extremely rewarding.” Deibele also credits his time as an athlete to many of the traits he carries with him today. He says, “the lessons learned from failure and success prepared me for life. If you do your best, work hard, and are prepared, you will have very few regrets.” Lastly, he thanked everybody he crossed paths with in his time as an Indian. “Be grateful. Thank you to all of my teammates and coaches. I will always cherish these memories.”