Opening Day Arrives for Owatonna Baseball
The Huskies open their season Thursday against Red Wing at Fuller Field at Dartts Park at 5PM on KRFO AM 1390.
Owatonna finished as section runner-up in 2016, as they did in 2015. Coach Tate Cummins says the Huskies, "played our best baseball when it mattered most. That's one of our goals every single year. We were fortunate to do that again for two years in a row and the hope is we get back there again." The Huskies went 15-10 overall and lost 2-0 to Lakeville North in the Section 1AAAA final.
OHS graduated the backbone of their pitching staff from last season. Alec Holcomb and Clay Leidall combined to go 10-3 and throw more than 100 innings of the team's 170 total innings. Cummins says he has about eight guys that could pitch for him this season and doesn't know how the rotation will set up. A new Minnesota High School League rule requires teams to track pitches in an effort to protect the health of players and reduce injuries.
Cummins says the team is an athletic group with many playing multiple sports and likes the experience and maturity the seniors bring. He says the Huskies will be quick on the bases and should be balanced offensively. The defense appears solid, especially in the infield with a couple of spots still getting figured out in the outfield.
OHS returns senior Noah Budach, who was an All-Section player and Big Nine honorable mention. He hit .353 with six RBI and 13 runs scored. Seniors Kodey Kiel and Jacob Gauthier were both honorable mention in the conference as well. Kiel hit .282 with five doubles and eight RBI. He was 1-1 with a save and an ERA of 2.84 and 12 strikeouts in 15 innings. Gauthier went 2-2 on the mound in 25 innings, the third-highest total in 2016.
Senior Matt Bothun threw about 13 innings, going 1-1. Senior Brock Hanson had a save and did not allow an earned run in about 10 innings of work. Senior Ben Staska hit .256 with four doubles and 11 RBI last season. Senior Nathan Deason drove in six runs. Junior Brady Schuster drove in five.
Red Wing (14-10 in 2016, according to Minnesota-scores.net) returns several players who received Big Nine recognition. The Wingers were the No. 2 seed in Section 1AAA in 2016, but lost to Albert Lea in the losers bracket final. Northfield won the section title. Owatonna beat Red Wing 6-3 in their only meeting last season.
The Big Nine website shows the Huskies playing at Winona on Tuesday, April 11, and at Albert Lea on Thursday, April 13. On Friday, April 14, the Huskies face Mankato East at US Bank Stadium at 8:15PM on Kat Kountry 105 FM. Cummins tries to schedule special games and good opponents, "Our schedule is a good one. It's probably one of the best we've had." Other schedule highlights include a game against Faribault at Seibert Field at the University of Minnesota, a home game with Minnetonka and a contest at Eden Prairie.
Owatonna will host a fundraising "Cancer. Get out of here" game for OHS grad Matt Ratzloff on Thursday, April 20, against Faribault. Ratzloff is battling a form of leukemia and is awaiting a bone marrow transplant, Cummins said. View his Caring Bridge page.
This is Cummins' 11th season as head coach. His assistants are Brandon Wolf, Jason Alstead and Travis Hilstad. Due to wet conditions at Willow Creek, Owatonna's ninth-grade and junior varsity teams play at Red Wing on Thursday.
In addition to Holcomb and Leidall, the other seniors on the 2016 roster were Sam Hylle, Blake Westphal, Eli Havelka, Eric Benson and Jacob Mundale. See the 2017 roster from the high school league website.