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Willmar opens state tourney today against Holy Angels

BLOOMINGTON -- The Willmar American Legion baseball team made it to its second straight state Division I tournament on the strength of its offense.

During the District 7 tournament, Post 167 recorded no fewer than 11 hits per game and averaged 13.5 runs per game over the four-game run.

A little bit of that power will be missing, however, when Willmar takes on District 5 champion Holy Angels at 10 a.m. today in the first round of the tournament at Dred Scott Field in Bloomington.

Jordan Smith, who plays both Legion and VFW baseball, will not be with team, nor will his .403 average. According to Willmar coach Dave Oehrlein the Legion and Willmar I VFW teams play at the same time today, with the VFW at New Ulm. He said that Legion rules state that a player who misses a tournament game for a non-emergency reason is not eligible for the remainder of the tournament.

"It would be nice to see him up here with us," Oehrlein said. "But we'll make the adjustments."

Even without Smith, Willmar has a formidable lineup, led by Tyler Horning. He's first on the team in batting average (.456) and RBI (36). He also has 10 doubles, three triples and two home runs.

Matt Seehusen (.378, 20 RBI), Ross Van Hauen (.338, 14 RBI), Kyle Townswick (.315, 17 RBI) and Michael Dunham (.291, 15 RBI) will also be picking up the slack.

"I really think that we've done better facing harder throwers. We have some guys that can turn on a fastball," Oehrlein said. "We've faced some pretty good pitching. We do best against the guys that throw strikes."

Defensively, Post 167 will have to move some pieces around.

"We are looking at Mike Dunham moving to third base from left field," he said. "Jason Otte and Travis Hanson will split time in left field."

In the tournament, Willmar will have to get the most out of its pitching staff. Although the offense shouldered most of the load, the pitching staff gave up and just less than seven runs per game during the district tournament.

Jason Scheffler will be today's first-round starter. He has an 8-1 record with a 2.89 ERA in 53Zc innings, recording 43 strikeouts. The other three main starters for Willmar all have 4-1 records: David Anderson (2.56 ERA), Alex Lotthammer (1.91 ERA, 62K) and Van Hauen (3.38 ERA).

"We have solid pitching, great defense and we've been getting some pretty good hitting in the last two weeks," Oehrlein said. "If we can get two out of three of those, we'll be OK."

A win would put Willmar into the 7:30 p.m. game today against the winner of Perham-Cambridge at Dred Scott Field. A loss would mean a 4:30 p.m. game today at the loser of the game teams.