All posts by James Howell

Bats cost Saints in league losses

By James Howell

After hitting .294 as a team last year, the Saints have struggled mightily at the plate to open their North Star League schedule.

On Sunday, the Saints fell at the hands of Hutchinson, 4-3.

The Saints could muster only 6 hits off Hutch righty Connor Kern.

Cody Benson started on the hill for the Saints and lasted 4 innings allowing 3 runs.

Tyler Zwibohmer was solid in relief throwing 4 innings of one-run ball, but the run was a walk-off home run by Huskies SS Keegan Macemon.

The hitting woes continued in a 4-0 loss to Howard Lake.

Orphans starter Shane Kahn was in control throughout, surrendering only 2 hits over 8 strong innings.

Chris Kubitz pitched for the Saints, and he battled an injury all night. Kubitz lasted only 4 1/3 innings.

Jordan Flick was great in relief, throwing 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball.

Trent Thinesen made his Saints debut, starting at SS and batting 8th.

On Sunday, the Saints will host Rockford at 1.



Season Preview: Busy Winter has Saints Poised for Deep Run

By James Howell

After another year of playoff disappointment, the Dassel-Cokato Saints went into the winter looking for answers. With the addition of four new players, the Saints believe they finally solved the postseason problem.

“There’s a different smell in the air at Saints Field,” declares manager Mark Forsman. If such a smell exists, Forsman is likely breathing in the aroma of having added a Division II ace. Former St. Cloud State pitcher Chris Kubitz joined the Saints in the off-season and figures to slot in to the top of the rotation. As a senior in 2014, Kubitz struck out 56 batters in 51 innings of work, posting a miniscule 1.59 ERA. “He’s a left-handed pitcher that throws around 90 (MPH). He’s also an outfielder and 1st baseman and can hit,” explains Forsman. After posting a team ERA of 4.55 in 2014, Forsman expects Kubitz to be a big contributor in getting the Saints back to their usual ways of having a dominant pitching staff.

Going into last year, offense was a big question, but those questions were laid to rest after the Saints improved their team average over 30 points from their 2013 mark. As a team, the Saints hit .294, coming in fourth in team hitting in the North Star League.

With the additions of Andy Haataja, Cody Benson and Russ Fellbaum, Forsman expects a similar output from the offense this year.

Haataja looks to see time at shortstop and in the outfield as well. In his time with the Charger baseball program, he led the team in on-base percentage.

Cody Benson comes over from the Cokato Kings where he had a big postseason, helping the Kings advance to the region playoffs. Benson also pitches for Bemidji State, logging 18 innings on the hill for the Beavers this spring.

Russ Fellbaum will see some time in the outfield and previously played for the Flensburg Falcons in the Victory League.

In addition to the new players, many returning Saints look to build off their breakout years. Lucas Larson hit .402 and also handled the pitching staff behind the plate. Kyle Johnson quietly had the third best on-base percentage on the team at .440 while also playing good defense at second base.

John Hohenstein continued his rise into the discussion as the Saints MVP as led the team in average, on-base percentage, stolen bases, total bases, and triples. He can also cover a lot of ground in center field.

With a big year last year, Lucas Larson led all North Star League catchers with a .403 average. Larson also led the Saints in hitting.

On the pitching side, Jordan Flick hopes to bounce back after an up and down year where he had a 4.54 ERA in 75 innings. Flick became somewhat homer prone, allowing five dingers, three more than the next Saint.

Tyler Zweibohmer had another solid year last year with a 3.91 ERA in just under 70 innings of work. He and Kubitz should form one of the best lefty 1-2 punches in the area.

Closer Jordan Danielson remained a steady force out of the bullpen with a 2.54 ERA in 28 2/3 innings.

Also likely to see innings is Karsen Forsman. Pitching out of the bullpen for St. Cloud State, Forsman has changed his delivery as he now pitches with a three-quarter arm slot. This should allow for even more movement on his already good slider. Forsman is also valuable at first base where he had another solid year a season ago.

With an already established core and several key additions, the Saints are serious threats to make noise come playoff time. Fans can look forward to an interesting summer of baseball in Dassel.


Saints back in familiar spot

By James Howell

After a solid 4-2 win in the opening round over Delano, the Saints faced league leader Maple Lake.

The early innings of the game played out as expected. Both lineups struggled against 2 of the better pitchers in the NSL. Then in the 5th, the Lakers touched up Jordan Flick for 4 runs. A 4-0 lead against Mitch Wurm and the Lakers may have seemed insurmountable, but the Saints responded immediately in the sixth.

After Jon DeRock walked with the bases loaded, Brent Opsahl hit a 3 run single to right to tie the game.

The Lakers regained the lead in the 6th on a single by Luke Fobbe.

Pitching with a 5-4 lead, Mitch Wurm settled down and retired the Saints in order in the 7th.

In the 8th, Wurm unraveled again, this time in a big way.

A lead off walk to Kyle Johnson started the wild inning. After John Hohenstein was retired, Reid Nelson singled and DeRock walked bringing up Brent Opsahl.

Opsahl came through again, this time with a bases clearing double to right to give the Saints a 7-5 lead.

A single by Lucas Larson put runners on the corners for Karsen Forsman and he smacked a double to left center to extend the lead to 9-5.

Eric Hanson’s RBI single made it 10-5 and with Jordan Danielson warming in the bullpen, things looked bleak for Maple Lake.

DeRock started the 8th on the hill after taking over for Flick in the 6th.

A walk to Nate Johnson followed by back to back singles by Brian Redemske and Riley Decker brought the score to 10-6.

Danielson came in at this point, and the first man he faced was Luke Fobbe. With 2 men on, Fobbe hit Danielson’s 2-1 pitch over the center field fence bringing the Lakers within

Graham Brown hit a single to center, and then Matt Bergstrom sacrificed him to 2nd.

Chad Raiche brought home Brown with a sharp single to center to tie it at 10.

Hohenstein led off the 9th for the Saints with a single to left, and promptly stole second. Nelson grounded to 2nd, but Hohenstein advanced to 3rd to bring up DeRock.

DeRock went down on strikes, bringing up Opsahl. The Lakers elected to walk him, but on the 4th intentional ball Laker reliever Ben Jungers sailed the pitch over Bergstrom’s head, scoring Hohenstein and giving the Saints a 1 run lead.

Leading off the Laker 9th, pinch hitter Derek Rachel flew out and Riley Decker was retired on a ground out. With 2 away, Danielson got Fobbe to 0-2, but Fobbe laced a single to center, turning the lineup over.

Graham Brown bounced to short, but Brice Berggren had the ball glance off his glove, giving the Lakers new life. Matt Bergstrom tied the game with a base hit to center, bringing up Raiche.

Raiche laced another single to center, bringing home the speedy Brown, giving the Lakers a dramatic, come from behind win, clinching a spot at state.

After the tough loss, the Saints find themselves back where they’ve been 3 years in a row. Win and in, lose and go home. The last time the Saints made it to state was in 2011. The Saints can return this year with a win against the Howard Lake Orphans, a team that beat the Saints twice this year. Tyler Zweihbohmer will not start on the mound after throwing 128 pitches on Friday in the 1st round against Delano. Instead the Saints will turn to another lefty, Andrew Carlson. On the surface it may seem unconventional, but Carlson was the last Saints pitcher to beat the Orphans, a 2-1 regular season win last year in which Carlson pitched brilliantly. Carlson’s junk ball style may be just what the Saints need to finally break through to state.

As for the offense, the case can be made that the Saints lineup is now better than their pitching staff. After getting 14 hits against Delano and getting 12 hits against Maple Lake, the Saints offense is as good as it’s been in a long time.

The Saints hope that this run of success against good pitching can continue on Thursday when they will likely see either Adam Koch or Shane Kahn.

It won’t matter who pitches if the Saints keep hitting.


North Star League playoff preview

By James Howell

Playoff baseball is a funny thing. After playing 30 plus games in the regular season, any successes or failures can be erased with an unlucky hop or a suddenly hot hitter. It’s the randomness of playing a handful of games to determine a season’s worth that makes any playoff series a maddening, yet enjoyable experience. In these playoffs, it’s state tournament or bust for the Saints.

After 2 years of playoff let down, the Saints are in a better position to qualify this year. For starters, the Saints will have the advantage of being the home team against Delano at Maple Lake. While the neutral site lessens the advantage, it is still worth something. The Saints also can count on a healthy John Hohenstein. The speedy center fielder went down with a leg injury in the postseason last year, which hurt their offense. This time around the Saints will also have Jon DeRock, whose 1st year with the team could be worthy of league MVP consideration.  All of these factors improve the Saints chances of winning the 2 games necessary to advance.

A win on Friday would in all likelihood put the Saints in a game against Maple Lake. The Lakers lost a few games down the stretch, but had the best run differential in the league by 49 runs.

A loss to Delano and the Saints would likely find themselves in the midst of another game in the ‘bike path series’ against Cokato.

Looking at the playoffs from a broad view, Maple Lake seems to be a lock to qualify for state. Howard Lake usually would be, but they will almost certainly face Maple Plain hurler Ben Hendrickson in their opening game. Hendrickson, a former major league pitcher, makes the Diamond Devils more of a threat than their 7 seed would indicate. Any of the top 7 teams could reasonably qualify for state.

The Saints have as good a chance as any of those teams to find themselves moving on, but must first navigate through a very tough region. Any team that can make it through regions will be poised to play deep into August.

Saints drop intense game in Maple Lake

By James Howell

All season long Maple Lake has been viewed as a consensus top team. On Wednesday, the Saints challenged that claim, but were unable to steal one from the Lakers.

Things started about how you would expect given Mitch Wurm and Tyler Zweihbohmer were pitching. In the 3rd, the Saints were able to score first with a little luck. It looked like the Lakers would escape the 3rd when Jon DeRock hit a ground ball towards veteran second baseman Nate Johnson, but the ball hit a rock in the infield and shot over his shoulder into right field, allowing Kyle Johnson to score and DeRock to go to second. Karsen Forsman then brought home DeRock with a single, giving the Saints a 2-0 lead.

Zweihbohmer worked in and out of trouble until the 5th. Nate Johnson walked to open the inning. After Zweihbohmer set down Chad Raiche on strikes, Dusty Decker blooped a single to right. Both men eventually scored, knotting the game at 2.

The Lakers looked poised to take the lead in the 6th when Raiche came to the plate with runners on 2nd and 3rd, but Zweihbohmer fanned the Laker slugger for the 2nd out. Manager Mark Forsman brought in relief ace Jordan Danielson to face Dusty Decker and Danielson struck out Decker with a nasty slider to end the threat.

In the 8th, the Lakers loaded the bases and once again Chad Raiche had a chance to put Maple Lake up. Raiche promptly grounded into a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.

For the Saints in the 9th, Kyle Johnson hit a 2 out single and reached second when Wurm threw it away on a pickoff attempt. Wurm was able the retire John Hohenstein on a groundout to stop the threat.

In the Laker 9th, Wurm singled and Brian Redemske reached on a hit by pitch. Derek Rachel came to the plate for the Lakers. Jordan Danielson had gotten Rachel looking in the 7th. This time, Rachel took Danielson’s 0-1 offering and blasted it over the center field fence for a dramatic walk-off 3 run homer.

Though the loss was disappointing, it was to be expected. The Saints have a very real opportunity to beat Howard Lake on Sunday at Saints Field. Couple that with a Loretto loss to either Delano, Mound, or Maple Plain and the Saints clinch the 3 seed in the Region 12C playoffs.

The Saints play a non-league game Friday against the Minneapolis Angels in Dassel.



Saints defeat neighbor Litchfield on Darwin night

By James Howell

A crowd of over 300 people turned out for the annual Darwin night at the ballpark. The home fans went home happy with a 6-1 Saints win.

Just as in their previous game against Buffalo, the Saints took a while to get started. The Saints were without a hit entering the 6th inning.

Fortunately, Tyler Zweihbohmer was sharp on the mound for the Saints. Zweihbohmer held the Blues to 4 hits over 7 innings.

In the 6th, the Saints scored all of their runs. Litchfield starter Brady Smith ran into some control problems after keeping the Saints off balance. A 2 run double by Brice Berggren was the biggest blow of the inning.

The Blues pushed across an unearned run in the 7th to end the shutout.

Closer Jordan Danielson looked sharp again as he threw 16 of 22 pitches for strikes while finishing off the win.

While it wasn’t a league game, it was still nice to get a win on Darwin night. The Saints have a chance to win a league game on Wednesday when they play Montrose-Waverly.

Saints roll past Buffalo

By James Howell

A strong outing by Jordan Flick and a solid offensive showing carried the Saints to a 9-2 road victory over Buffalo Sunday.

Both Flick and Bulldog pitcher Jon Euerle kept the game scoreless until the 5th inning.

In the 5th, the Saints exploded for 6 runs on the power of 5 hits and 2 Buffalo errors.

With Flick dealing on the mound, the lead was insurmountable for Buffalo. The only blemish on the day was a 2 run blast by Bulldog first baseman Ramon Vega.

The Saints added 3 insurance runs in the 8th and 9th innings.

Saints catcher Lucas Larson had a good game at the plate, collecting 3 hits.

The win secured the season sweep of Buffalo, after previously beating the Bulldogs 10-5 at Saints Field.

DeRock dominant as Saints top Hutchinson

By James Howell

Jon DeRock has impressed in his first year with the Saints. He’s hit well, been an above average defender, and on Wednesday he blanked Hutchinson for 8 innings on the hill.

DeRock scattered 5 hits and struck out 3 in his first start of the season. After this performance, DeRock can expect a bigger role in the rotation going forward.

The Huskies couldn’t manage a hit until the 6th inning, and by that time the Saints had taken a 5-0 lead.

The offense got things rolling in the first when DeRock brought home Reid Nelson on a single to left. The Saints got 3 in the 3rd on the strength of 3 hits and 2 Hutchinson errors.

In the 5th, and RBI double by Lucas Larson extended the advantage to 5-0.

Hutchinson starter Dylan Weber threw 6 innings and gave up 5 runs, although only 2 were earned.

The Saints have a few days to rest for Independence Day. They return to action on Sunday when they travel to Buffalo to take on the Bulldogs.



Saints drop non-league game to Bird Island

By James Howell

The Saints played a rare Tuesday game against Bird Island and came out on the losing end of a 13-4 rout.

Things looked promising in the 1st when the Saints scored 3 times to get out to a 3-0 lead. A 2 run single by Karsen Forsman and an RBI single by Lucas Larson did the damage.

Forsman started on the mound for the Saints and lasted 2 1/3 innings. After a 1-2-3 inning in the 1st, the Bullfrogs got 3 runs in the 2nd, and 7 runs in the 3rd to take a 10-3 lead. Walks were not the issue tonight as Bird Island collected 10 hits off Forsman.

Brendon Opsahl relieved him and fared better, allowing a run over 2 2/3 innings of work.

Mitch Kurtzweg worked 3 innings and was effective, allowing a single earned run.

The story of the game for Bird Island was their hitting, but Shawn Dollerschell deserves credit for his performance on the hill. He threw a complete game, limiting the Saints to 4 runs. He allowed 12 hits and struck out 7.

This was a good opportunity for some of the Saints more inexperienced pitchers to get some work in against a good team. While a win would have been nice, this game does not mean as much as a league game.

The Saints host Hutchinson on Wednesday. The Huskies topped the Saints in May by a score of 9-8. Hutchinson is reeling, having lost 4 straight North Star League games. It is usually a tight game when the Huskies come to town.


Saints win sloppy game against Mallards

By James Howell

It wasn’t the prettiest game, but it worked.

Five errors by Mound gave the Saints struggling offense the boost it needed.

In the first inning, Saints starter Tyler Zweibohmer got the Mallards in order. The second inning did not go as well, with Mallard right fielder Ed Kutz hitting a 2 run shot over the left field wall.

Mound got 2 more in the 3rd, to pull ahead 4-0.

For the Mallards, soft tossing left Pat Regan kept the Saints at bay until the 5th when his defense let him down. Regan set down Zach Lingl and Kyle Johnson to open the frame. With 2 outs, John Hohenstein and Reid Nelson hit back to back singles. A routine grounder to short off the bat of Brendon Opsahl looked like it would end the inning, but Mound short stop Mitch Kern threw it away, allowing Hohenstein to score. Another error allowed Karsen Forsman to reach, which scored both Nelson and Opsahl. Up with a chance to tie the game, Brent Opsahl delivered a run scoring double, knotting the game at 4.

The Saints kept things rolling in the 6th when Nelson hit a 2 run single and Brendon Opsahl hit a sacrifice fly to give the Saints a 7-4 lead.

The Mallards loaded the bases with 2 outs in the 7th for Peter Sycks who cleared the bases with a double off reliever Eric Hanson to tie the game at 7.

Brent Opsahl led off the Saints half of the 7th by crushing Regan’s 0-1 offering over the left-center field fence, putting the Saints ahead for good.

The Mallards threatened in the 8th, but did not score as Hohenstein cut down Tyler Hebig at the plate with a perfect throw to the plate from center field.

Saints closer Jordan Danielson got the final 4 outs on 10 pitches, giving the Saints an important 8-7 victory.

The Saints host Bird Island on Tuesday at 7:30. The Bullfrogs are ranked 6th in the state, so it should be a good ball game.