Why are the Chaska Cubs having one of its best years in recent memories?
A pitching staff with an earned run average of under three.
A line-up that features 13 players in double digits in hits.
A team that finds a way to win, no matter the situation. Down late in the game, no problem. A different line-up just about every night, no problem.
"Depth has been big this year. We don't fall too far off the table when we have to put different guys in. We're able to move guys around, get production from a bunch of guys. It's certainly fun coaching them," Chaska manager Bob Poppitz said.
Chaska is two games clear of Chanhassen in the win column in the Region 3B standings following wins over Burnsville (7-5) and Prior Lake (11-1) on July 12 and 14.
The Cubs, 6-1 against River Valley League East Division opponents, finish with five of the final seven games against league opponents, including Chanhassen on Lenzen Night at 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 21.
The Red Birds are No. 1 in Class B, the defending state champions. Chanhassen won 3-2 in the first meeting in June. Chaska was No. 3 in the latest rankings.
"I think every game is big right now. You have to win the games you're supposed to win, and you got win the games you hope to win to be the top seed. I don't circle a game (on my calendar), maybe a few of these guys do. Maybe I think about a game a bit more. I want to win them all," Poppitz said.
The latest win, a 10-run decision in seven innings over Prior Lake, showcased everything that has made Chaska a 19-game winner in 23 contests this summer.
Pete Ohnsorg, Chaska's top arm the past half-decade, was sharp, improving to 6-0 on the season on a five-hit complete game with seven strikeouts. Prior Lake mustered a solo run in the sixth inning.
Ohnsorg's remarkable 51 strikeouts to eight walks have led to a 1.79 earned run average this season.
"We've toned his innings down this year as he gets older. He's still dominant. He's still very, very good for us, but we're trying to save something for August with him," Poppitz said of Ohnsorg.
Chaska's potent offense was on display, totaling five doubles and 12 hits. First-year Cub Matt Halloran had a pair of extra-base hits, plating four runs.
Tyler Peterson's two-run double to the gap was a part of a four-run sixth inning, the final run on a sharp Steve Edlefsen single through the hole on the right side for the 11-1 lead.
Jon Leighton was also 3-for-4 with three runs scored and a double.
Chaska survived a bit of a scare from Burnsville July 12, scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning for the final difference. J.T. Canakes, who reached base on four consecutive plate appearances, drove in both runs with a two-out double.
Halloran, one of three starters batting over .375 this summer, was 4-for-5 at the plate. Leighton, Cub newcomer Colton Schrempp and Justin Johnson each collected two hits and two runs scored.
Leighton and Ryan Rodriguez combined to strike out seven Bobcat batters in allowing eight hits and four earned runs.
"They're playing pretty well. We have a lot of talent this year. A lot of guys. Makes my job a little easier, and a little harder at the same time, trying to get all of these guys into the game," Poppitz said.
Chaska, at Eagan and Victoria on Thursday and Friday, July 18 and 19, 7 and 7:30 p.m. starts, respectively, also host Northfield on Tuesday, July 23.
NO. 1 IN THE STATE
Why are the Chanhassen Red Birds considered by all as the consensus No. 1 team in the state of Minnesota for Class B amateur baseball?
A three-game stretch in three days reaffirmed why.
A second consecutive shutout on the week, a 7-0 win over the Carver Black Sox, Chanhassen backed up that performance with wins over two of Class B's perennial powers, 5-4 in a walk-off win over Moorhead, and 10-5 versus Cold Spring.
The Red Birds are 16-3 overall.
Twice leads slipping away against Moorhead, Chanhassen got a little luck to pull out the win, a two-out hard ground ball getting past the Brewer second baseman, allowing Michael Jurgella and Riley Johnson to score in the 5-4 final.
Chanhassen loaded on a Garrett Fischer walk, Jurgella double and Johnson intentional walk, a double play leaving the Red Birds' one out from a defeat.
Jurgella was 4-for-5 with a triple and two doubles, scoring twice with two RBIs. Johnson and Justin Anderson, the game's final batter, each had two hits as well.
John Straka went the distance, scattering 11 hits with three earned runs and a season-high 13 strikeouts over 127 pitches.
Outhit 12-9 by Cold Spring, Chanhassen did its damage over the fence, totaling five home runs, three from Justin Anderson in the 10-5 win on July 13.
Anderson plated four runs with Zach Hoffmann connecting on his second home run in three days. Brandon Arnold was 2-for-4, plating two runs with a blast in the third inning and adding a two-run single in the fifth.
Logan Spitzack fanned seven batters over six innings for the win.
Six pitchers combined to hold Carver to five hits with 10 strikeouts in a 7-0 win on July 11. Shawn Riesgraf hurled four shutout innings with Chris Choles striking out four of six batters faced.
Kevin Sampson, who played high school ball at Chanhassen, doubled, while his former Storm teammate Cole Kirchoff also had a single in the homecoming.
Chanhassen, home against Victoria and Minnetonka to start the week, the later on the Fox 9 Town Ball Tour, continues six games in seven days on Thursday, July 18 at Burnsville at 7:30 p.m.
The Red Birds host Shakopee on Friday with a road game on Lenzen Night at 6 p.m. on Sunday, July 21. A make-up with Burnsville is at home on Monday, July 22.
Chanhassen trails Chaska by two games in the win column in the Region 3B standings at 4-1 overall.
CROW RIVER SHOWDOWN
One game separates the top three teams in the Crow River Valley League South Division.
One game separates seeds five through seven, those trying to lock up the next best-case scenarios in the upcoming league playoffs.
One week left to play.
Carver, in control of its own destiny entering play July 14, needing just wins in its final two games to claim the No. 1 seed in Region 7C, saw the first contest slip away late.
Cologne scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, rallying past the Black Sox in a 4-3 final. It was the Hollanders' second straight win in eight days over Carver.
Unable to score despite the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning, Cologne capitalized with the same scenario in the ninth.
A Tanner Luebke two-run double tied the game at three, a runner from first base thrown out at home plate for the second out. Casey Clemensen, though, came through in the next at-bat, a single to score Luebke for the walk-off win.
Zack Nelson threw 8 1/3 innings with six strikeouts in the no-decision. Luebke recorded the final two outs of the ninth inning for the win.
Cologne, now with season sweeps of Hamburg, Carver and Plato of the South Division, is 10-6 overall, one game back of Brownton.
The Hollanders meet in the regular season finale on Sunday, July 21 at 2 p.m. at Fritz Field. Cologne is also at Green Isle at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 18.
Cologne lost in a walk-off one day earlier at first-place Young America, 6-5. Kyle Brazil collected three hits with Anthony Brenner clearing the bases with a third-inning double.
Carver scored seven runs late to beat Plato 10-0 on July 13, which included a pair of home runs, a 4-for-5 game with three runs scored and six RBIs for Kyle Dalton.
Sam Warner added a three-hit game with Adam Fredericks 2-for-5 with an RBI. Andrew Weber struck out eight batters over seven innings for the win.
Carver's final game in the league playoffs is Sunday, July 21 at 3 p.m. against Green Isle. The Black Sox can earn the No. 1 seed still with a win and a Young America loss to either Brownton or Plato.