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Paynesville Press - June 21, 2006

Dogs make another successful state run

By Michael Jacobson

At the start of the 2006 baseball season, head coach Brad Skoglund rejected the notion that the Dogs were defending their state title from 2005. No one needed to guard the trophy case, he said; that championship trophy is secure.

Derek scores "We have to have the mindset: 'We're going after another one,' " he explained. And the Dogs did, reaching the Class AA state final again before finishing second this year.

Senior Derek Stanger celebrates with two unidentified teammates (left) and assistant coach Tom Ludwig after scoring the winning run for the Dogs in the bottom of the sixth inning in the Class AA semifinals against Maple River on Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud. The Bulldogs beat Mora 4-0 and Maple River 4-3 on Thursday to reach the state finals again but lost to St. Anthony Village 13-1 on Friday.

From the first practice this spring it was clear that the Dogs were willing to work hard for another shot at a state title, said Skoglund and assistant coaches Dick Realdsen and Tom Ludwig at the team's welcome home on Friday night after returning from Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.

"Wow!" Skoglund remembered thinking after the first practice this spring. The Dogs, he thought, have always been a hard-working team, but this year the work ethic was incredible. "We took it up a notch," said Skoglund.

The seniors, noted Realdsen and a number of the juniors, set great example with their work ethic. "They never complain about working," said Realdsen of what he called an enjoyable season.

"It's been a joy working with these kids," added Ludwig. "They know the right balance between working hard and having fun."

The Dogs' hard work paid off, with the team going 21-5, matching the school record for wins (set last year when the Dogs were 21-6). The Dogs tied with Melrose for the West Central Conference North title, won their fifth straight subsection title, claimed their second straight section title, and reached the state finals again, finishing second.

Sam scoring "Overall, it was an awesome season," said senior John Hemingson.

Junior Sam Bayer scored the Dogs' fourth run as a pinchrunner in the sixth inning on Thursday, avoiding Mora's catcher at home plate.

In their third trip to state in baseball - the Dogs placed fifth in 2002 and won a state title in 2005 - the Dogs beat Mora 4-0 and rallied to defeat Maple River 4-3 on Thursday at Dick Putz Field to reach the state final again. On Friday, they fell into a 5-0 hole early in the game and surrendered another big inning to St. Anthony Village, losing 13-1 and breaking a ten-game winning streak for the Dogs.

Even on the heels of that disappointing game, where the Dogs did not play their best, the coaches and players reflected on the positives of the season at the welcome home.

"Only one team in the state wouldn't trade spots with us," said senior Mitch Mueller about placing second at state. "That's pretty cool."

If told at the start of the season that they'd finish second in state, added senior Derek Looman, "I'd say, 'Alright, let's take it.' "

It was the third time that Paynesville has finished as a state runner-up, joining the wrestling team in 1992 and the girls' cross country team in 2001 (which is the school's highest team finish in a female sport). The Dogs have won six state titles: four in wrestling (1987, 1990, 1991, and 2000); one in boys' cross country (2000); and one in baseball (2005).

"First in the conference, first in the subsection, first in the section, and second in the state...not a bad season," said Skoglund.

In their run to the state title game, the Dogs had a number of dramatic victories: beating Litchfield for the subsection title 4-3 on Hemingson's walkoff homer in the bottom of the seventh inning; beating Litchfield again in the section final 9-6, with the Dragons leaving the bases loaded in the seventh inning; and rallying to beat Maple River 4-3 in the state semifinals.

"You look at some of the wins we had," said Skoglund, reflecting on these three victories. "You talk about excitement in the big games. That was fun."

One Bulldog fan called Skoglund after the Maple River victory at state - where the Dogs rallied with three runs in the bottom of the sixth and won 4-3 to advance to the state final again - and told him it was the best $8 he'd ever spent in his life.

"We had tremendous fan following this year," said Skoglund. "It was great to see the community of Paynesville support this team." Paynesville's fans outnumbered the other team's fans at subsections, at sections, and at state, noted Skoglund.

The 2005 and the 2006 versions of the PAHS baseball team both had outstanding end-of-the-year runs: the 2005 team winning 13 of their final 14 games, including all eight of its playoff games, and the 2006 team winning ten games in a row before falling in the state final.

Sam lifting John But, where the 2005 team pounded its way to the state title with its hitting, finishing the year with a team batting average of .342 and scoring 33 runs in three games at state, the 2006 relied on its pitching, defense, speed, and timely hitting.

Senior John Hemingson is lifted by junior Sam Bayer as teammates rush onto the field to celebrate after the Dogs defeated Maple River 4-3 on Thursday to advance to the state final. Hemingson strated the tying and winning runs.

The Dogs hit .293 this year with 41 extra-base hits (compared to 63 extra-base hits last year), but they also had more walks (104 to 77) and more stolen bases (85 to 47) than last year. The Dogs averaged 7.4 runs per game last year, compared to 7.0 this year. On the other hand, the Dogs yielded only 3.0 runs per game this year (78 total), versus 3.8 runs per game (102 total) last year.

This spring, the Dogs returned four full-time starters from last year - seniors Trent Hansen, Hemingson, James Paul, and Derek Stanger - and two part-time starters, seniors Mark Andrie and Ryan Hess. Juniors Steve Gerding, Alex Naujokas, and Cory Nietfeld stepped into the starting lineup this year. Naujokas and Nietfeld, who played key roles as pinchrunners in last year's state tournament, gave the Dogs the fastest outfield around.

Gerding, who split time between shortstop and catcher, fulfilled a vital role in solidifying the up-the-middle defense for the Dogs, said Skoglund. His play was key to the team's development during the season.

The Dogs started the 2006 season by winning their first six games and won 10 of their first 11 before suffering their only skid, losing three of four before rebounding to beat Melrose 4-0 to claim a share of the conference title and start that ten-game winning streak.

Having won a state title last year and starting the year rated #1 in state caused the Dogs' opponents to circle their games on the calendar and had the Dogs facing lots of team's top pitchers, said Skoglund. "That was a lot of added pressure. It took its toil. I hope we're never rated #1 again," he explained.

For the nine seniors on this year's team - Andrie, Sean Glenz, Hansen, Hemingson, Hess, Looman, Mueller, Paul, and Stanger - this season and this state tournament run ends several years of playing school baseball together. "I love these boys," said Hansen at the welcome home. "I'm gonna miss playing with these guys. It's been a lot of good years."

Thanks to all their youth and school baseball coaches, said Andrie: "We can only get as far as our best teachers."

The Dogs will miss their senior leadership next year, said Skoglund, but should have a talented team with several juniors getting valuable state experience this year.

Paul, who missed most of the state tournament due to an ankle sprain, thanked his teammates for picking him up. "They played their hearts out (at state)," he said.

If the Dogs reach state next year, said Naujokas, whose boat was pulling Paul when he got hurt, there will be no wakeboarding the week before the state tourney.

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