For the last two seasons, Southwest Christian has been on the doorstep of breaking through in the section 5AA tournament, only to come up short of reaching the Class 2A state tournament.
Stars head coach Rob Wassenaar knows the section is always going to be a challenge and that the team needs to be playing its best baseball in late May to survive and advance. But if 2023 is going to be the season for Southwest Christian to break through in the postseason, the Stars are going to need to rely on some new pitchers and their defense more than they did in previous years.
“One of our goals is to peak at the right time in mid-to-late May so that we’re firing on all cylinders as best as we possibly can,” Wassenaar said.
With an 11-4 regular season record in 2022, Southwest Christian earned the top seed in last year’s section 5AA field. The Stars fell to the elimination bracket, after a loss to Litchfield in the quarterfinals, where they eventually were eliminated by Glencoe-Silver Lake for the second straight season. In 2021, Southwest Christian finished with a 20-5 overall record but lost two games to the Panthers in the section 5AA championship round.
Wassenaar said the team will need some junior and sophomore pitchers to step up if they are to have similar success. Southwest Christian lost two key pitchers from last season’s roster in Cade Wiegert and Ollie Yuhas.
One pitcher the head coach expects to play well is senior Seth Luther. Called the Stars’ primary leader on the field by Wassenaar, Luther returns as the team’s ace and will also play infield when not on the mound. Juniors Max Wiegert and AJ Newell are two others that will be needed in the rotation.
With experienced pitchers departing and others filling in, Wassenaar also believes the team will need to emphasize strong defensive play to win games. Southwest Christian held opponents to two runs or less in 13 games last season and went 12-1 in those games, but the head coach said it will be difficult to continue shutting down opponents like that again without a strong defense behind the pitching staff.
Two players he is excited to see help the Stars in the field include sophomore infielder Melvin Maldonado and sophomore catcher Ben Lindberg. Wassenaar added that sophomore Zach Trettin is an athlete with upside as a pitcher and infielder.
Along with playing well come tournament time, Southwest Christian also hopes to continue its success in the Wright County East Conference. The Stars were atop the standings the last two seasons at 10-2 in 2021 and 7-3 in 2022 and are 2-1 early on this spring with wins over Jordan and Holy Family. Not only does reaching the top of the conference add to the list of season accomplishments, but it also helps playing Class 3A competition before the section playoffs.
“There’s no doubt whatsoever we are better prepared when we hit two sections because we’ve seen better pitching,” Wassenaar said.
While the Stars have goals of winning, Wassenaar said he enjoys seeing how the team grows and reacts to stressful situations that come within the game. He said this team is one of the hardest working groups he has had and he is excited to see how that continues throughout the spring.
“Our vision is to not just teach baseball but to teach life,” Wassenaar said. “We want to help our young men grow as young men, persevere through hard things [and] celebrate the great things with their teammates.”
The Stars’ postseason path begins the week of May 25 in the section 5AA tournament, with games running until June 8. The Class 2A state tournament takes place June 13-14 at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud with the state championship game June 16 at CHS Field in St. Paul.