By Jenny Kirk
ast year at the Minnesota State Class C amateur baseball tournament, the Lamberton Long Sox went further into the playoffs than they ever had before in their eight years of existence. As the team gets set to begin Region 2C competition this weekend in hopes of making a third-straight run at state, the top-seeded Long Sox appear to be in great shape to make that happen.
Independent file photos/illustration by Joe Brown
Lamberton's Derrick Jenniges, left, and Johnny Pistulka.
"We finished 2-2 at state last year and made it to the final eight teams," said Derrick Jenniges, who is Lamberton's manager and ace pitcher. "It's a fun time and a good tournament. It gets followed throughout the state and it's what you're shooting for all season."
Since its inaugural season in 2002, the Long Sox have won eight Tomahawk East League division championship titles, including this year after recording an 18-4 league record.
"We started out a little slow, but that usually happens," Jenniges said. "It depends a lot on the availability of our players. We try to time it out with the vacations and weddings, until we get to the playoffs. People know to keep August as open as possible."
After a sluggish start, Lamberton - who is currently 26-9 overall -
went on a team record 12-game winning streak to build momemtum that carried the Long Sox into the postseason.
The Long Sox capped a three-game series and eliminated Redwood Falls from the opening round of playoffs this season with a 9-2 win Friday night and then a 14-2 victory Sunday. Jenniges struck out 11 and allowed six hits and one walk en route to the Game 1 win, while Johnny Pistulka picked up the win on the mound for Game 2, striking out 14 and giving up six hits and no walks.
"Johnny has gotten stronger every game out," Jenniges said. "He has three different pitches he can throw for strikes. When you have that stuff that he's capable of throwing backed with our defense, it's a good thing. He's had a lot less walks the last few games, too. He's been throwing the ball over the plate."
Pistulka also went yard against the Redbirds in the second game, while Colby Pack led the team, hitting 2-for-3 with a pair of three-run homers. Landon Erickson and Jake Wahl both added a three-run bomb apiece.
"We were a little low on players for awhile in July, but now we've been playing good," Jenniges said. "We've been scoring more runs and swinging the bats well."
The Long Sox pitching staff had some injury issues early in the season, but has managed to patch things together well enough to pull out some crucial wins. Jenniges believes that things look optimistic from the mound for the playoffs.
"Our pitching is coming around," he said. "We were a little low on pitching to start the game. A couple of guys couldn't help us at all. Matt Samyn has been out all year and Johnny was recovering from knee surgery from his spring season. So we had to piece some games together. But the last two-to-three weeks have been consistent."
Jenniges leads the hurling crew with a 10-1 record, a 1.56 ERA and 79 strikeouts. He has thrown six complete games, including two shutouts this season. In 355 batters faced, Jenniges has only given up 81 hits, 15 earned runs and 11 walks.
"I have a lot of faith in our defense," Jenniges said. "I personally try to throw strikes and keep the hitter off-balance, and let the guys do what they do defensively. That's always been a key for us. Our outfielders have some good speed and our infield hasn't gotten as many double-play balls, but have been able to pick up groundballs and get them across. They make the routine plays."
Jenniges admitted that statistically, the Long Sox are having their best defensive season in their nine-years of existence.
"Some of our younger pitchers are starting to realize that strikeouts aren't the key factor in games," he said. "They're starting to play enough games where they understand that we play a pretty high level of defense, and offensively, we'll score enough runs to win."
Tyler Reiner posts a 6-0 record on the hill and has 51 strikeouts for Lamberton, while Pistulka is 4-2 and has struck out 52 batters.
Batting third in the lineup, Pack is the biggest threat at the plate for Lamberton's opponents. Pack leads the team in a number of categories, including batting average (.424), RBI (36), home runs (6), doubles (11), hits (50), runs (29) and at-bats (118).
"Colby's a good hitter," Jenniges said. "He's an experienced hitter and understands the situations. In some at-bats, he's trying to hit the ball to opposite field, or maybe hit a double in the gap. He's a guy we rely on to drive in runs and get on base. Offensively, he really helps our team."
Following Pack in the lineup and in the statistical categories is Erickson, who is in his second year with the Long Sox. Erickson is second on the team in batting average (.363), RBI (24), home runs ( 4), and doubles (8).
"Landon is having a really good year," Jenniges said. "He's started every game at first base. That position used to be a place where we used to rotate a number of kids in at, but now he's locked down that spot."
Erickson also leads the team after getting hit by a pitch 23 times, which is nearly half of the team's combined total.
"He's been hit by 23 pitches and he's proud of that," Jenniges said. "He's a baseball guy and from around the area. It's nice to have his bat following up Colby."
Jenniges is the leadoff guy, while Matt Samyn hits from the No. 2 slot. Jenniges is third on the team at the plate with a .321 batting average and is second in runs scored with 28. In addition to being tied with Mike Samyn for the most stolen bases (7), Jenniges also tops the Long Sox in drawing walks (25).
When he isn't pitching from the mound, Jenniges is most often found behind the plate. Eric Altermatt and Reiner alternate catching when Jenniges is on the hill.
"Tyler and Eric are both good catchers," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in them."
Ever since the Miller High Life Invitational in Gaylord and Arlington in the middle of July, Jenniges said the team has relied on a handful of pitchers. The Long Sox - who finished second - won three straight games before falling in the title game to Owatonna, 8-2. Shane Schoborg pitched a two-hit shutout to lead Lamberton to a 1-0 win over Henderson in the opening game of the invitational.
In the second round, Jacob Jenniges earned a 7-4 win over the St. Cloud Ice, the defending Class C state champions. Then, Reiner picked up a victory on the mound when Lamberton scored three runs in extra innings en route to a 6-4 win.
Lamberton added to its pitching and catching staff Wednesday after the conclusion of the draft game, which the Long Sox won 10-0 in seven innings against Searles. Reiner went the distance to get the win, pitching a two-hit shutout, while striking out seven. Matt Samyn went 4-for-4 to lead the team offensively.
With the victory, Lamberton received the first and third draft pick, which the Long Sox used to select pitcher and catcher Andy Cook and left-handed hurler Johnny Cook, both from the Leavenworth Orioles. Searles will be the second-seeded team in the regional competition.
"The draft game used to be a seeding game," Derrick Jenniges said. "But the league has done away with that and they go with a team's season record as a priority. Win or lose, we'd still be the No. 1-seed in the double elimination tournament. It's an important game, though, not only because you want to keep on winning games, but you also get to add a player or two to your roster."
Last year, Lamberton defeated Gibbon 7-2 in the Tomahawk East playoffs and then followed up with a 13-3 win over Essig in the draft game. In regions, the Long Sox recorded wins over St. James (3-0), Sleepy Eye (7-6) and Hanska (8-5) to advance to state, where they opened the tournament with victories over Sacred Heart (2-0) and Windom (3-1) before falling to Winstead (14-1) and St. Martin (5-4 in 14 innings).
"The state tournament is still almost two weeks away, so we have to focus on one game at a time," Jenniges said. "With the draft, teams are able to add some good hitters and that's really dangerous. We can't ever look past anyone. We have to go out every game and try to get in the win column. Hopefully you can make the plays and come up with big hits when you need to."
The Region 2C tournament begins on Saturday. New this year will be the five-team format since Hanska was bumped up to Class B this season after finishing second in Class C at state last year. That allows Lamberton to receive a first-round bye on Saturday.
The Long Sox will take the field on Sunday against the lowest seeded winner from the first round of competition. The game will most likely be in Lamberton unless that team has not received a home game yet.
With two wins, Lamberton would find itself on the way to the 2010 State Class C tournament, which is slated to be in Willmar and Bird Island.