Frustration had set in for the Milroy Yankees following a 2011 season in which they failed to make the Class C state amateur baseball tournament for the second straight season.
The team had made the state tournament five straight years from 2005-09, and with a total of 26 state tournament appearances, the Yankees have become a team that isn't satisfied unless its season ends at state.
So what had happened to the Yankees the past two years? The answer was obvious - errors.
Independent file photo
Milroy Yankees’ shortstop Chris Eichten throws to first base for an out during a Corn Belt League game against the Marshall A’s on June 30. Milroy opens the Class C state amateur baseball playoffs Saturday against Loretto in St. Cloud.
Out of 124 runs the team gave up in 2011, just 70 were earned. The total number of errors in that season: 68.
Yankees manager Ryan Rohlik knew his squad had to cut back on the miscues in 2012 if it wanted to achieve its lofty goals, so he did some tinkering in the field by moving Christopher Eichten from the outfield to shortstop and by putting Eric Dolan at second base to solidify the team's infield. The move has paid off, as the Yankees have limited their errors to 39 this season.
"Obviously there are going to be some games where you have errors or a costly mistake, but it's been far and away a lot better," Rohlik said of his defense. "You can see the pitchers' confidence and the players' confidence that if we aren't doing well at the plate, we have to do what Milroy Yankees baseball has become known for and that's pitching and defense."
Getting back to what they do best has gotten the Yankees back to where they want to be. By winning the Region 11 tournament with victories over St. Augusta, Bird Island and Raymond, the Yankees are once again heading to the Class C state baseball tournament.
Milroy (16-7 overall) opens its state experience at 2 p.m. today at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud. The Yankees opponent will be Loretto (20-11), which beat Wilmont 5-0 on Aug. 18 to advance to the second round of the tournament. Milroy had a first-round bye.
Winners of seven of their last eight games during postseason play, the Yankees head into state with plenty of momentum. That wasn't the way they entered the playoffs, however, as they lost five straight games to close out the regular season.
Rohlik said the team's slow finish in the regular season wasn't much of a concern, as the Yankees hung close in most of their losses against some of the top teams in the Corn Belt League. The losses had Milroy flying a bit under the radar as the team entered the league playoffs.
"I think it kind of put a chip on our shoulder that people were overlooking us and that we hadn't been there the last two years, and that isn't normal for us and what we've come to expect," Rohlik said. "Guys kind of just said, 'You know, let's just go out there and play and not think of anything.' That definitely showed with the intensity and the focus."
The Yankees had had a difficult time coming up with clutch hits during their losing streak, and catcher Justin Schlemmer put an end to that in the first playoff game against Willmar when he smashed a two-run home run to left-center field in the first inning of what turned out to be an 11-1 win in Milroy. Rohlik said Schlemmer, a 19-year veteran on the team, has been instrumental in the Yankees' playoff run thanks to his leadership behind the plate and his contributions from the batter's box.
During a 9-2 win over Bird Island in the region tournament, a victory that clinched a state berth for the Yankees, Schlemmer demonstrated his commitment and leadership by battling through an injury in a game Rohlik said he won't soon forget.
"A lot of people look at that game against Bird Island where he got hurt in the first inning, pulled a muscle in his thigh rounding second base, but still plays the rest of the game and hits a home run later on when he can't run," Rohlik said. "To me, that was one of the guttiest efforts I've seen in baseball, period, during my tenure, whether it's playing or coaching or whatever."
It's not just Schlemmer who's been hitting for the Yankees. Along with Schlemmer, the Yankees have three other players batting at or above .400 in Dave Schmidt (.475), Josh Hadley (.412) and Matt Bauer (.400).
If a team wants to win a state title, it also has to have pitching depth. The teams remaining in the tournament play one game this weekend, but the two teams that make it to the championship will play one game next Saturday, two on Sunday and one more on Monday.
Along with reliable pitchers Austin Deutz, Nathan Deutz and Hadley, who each have big-game experience, Rohlik will also be able to call upon a trio of draftees if needed in Sacred Heart's Jeremy Hinderks and Nate Hebrink, and Kimball's Brooks Marquardt.
With a hot lineup and a stacked pitching staff, Rohlik said the Yankees have the talent to make a run at their second state title, but he said the Yankees aren't going there with a championship on their minds at this point.
"I think that the guys are enjoying it a lot more this go around because of the two-year hiatus away from it," Rohlik said. "I just hope we go out relaxed. You don't really put expectations on it, you just hope you go out and play well and let the chips fall wherever they may."