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Sacred Heart returns to state amateur tournament

SACRED HEART - Unknowns abound in any sport, but Sacred Heart manager Andy Davis doesn't have as many this year heading into the State Class C Amateur baseball tournament.

The Saints (16-13) will play Lamberton in the first round of the tournament at 11 a.m. Saturday in Gaylord.

Sacred Heart lost in the first round in its first-ever state tournament appearance last season.

"The main difference is we have more confidence," Davis said. "We just seem to play more consistent. Last year we'd play one really good game and then one bad one."

The Saints finished 8-6 in Cornbelt South League action, tied for third, then came through the loser's bracket in the league playoffs to finish second to league champion Milroy.

In the Region 9C playoffs, Sacred Heart again came back through the loser's bracket, only to lose to Milroy.

But the second loss was after the Saints clinched their second straight tourney berth.

Davis said stability has been another key to Sacred Heart's success this season.

"We kept pretty much the same lineup as last year. In the past, we've had two or three new starters every year," he said. "Ryan Hebrink starting at shortstop has been pretty much the only new starter."

When talking about the Saints, it starts with pitcher Jeremy Hinderks. The hard-throwing right-hander logged 120 innings through the end of July with an 8-6 record, but an anemic 2.17 ERA. He has 10 complete games, 138 strikeouts and only 28 walks. Matt Koenen has been the No. 2 starter most of the season, with nine games started. He has a 5-4 record with a 2.84 ERA over 73 innings.

Sacred Heart's statistics through the region tournament were not available.

Offensively, the Saints have been getting their table set by Tyler Kleinhuizen, who has a .429 average with 33 hits and 21 walks. He led the team in runs scored with 17 and has "developed really well for us in the leadoff spot," according to Davis.

Hebrink is one of the team's leaders in RBI with 16 and has a .416 average and a .571 slugging percentage. Mike Kuschel is batting .412 and Hinderks leads the team with 18 RBI.

"We've hit the ball a little better this year," Davis noted. But we need to get a couple more big hits to push us over the top."

That will be the mission Saturday.