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Willmar Notebook: Baseball rebounds following slow start

The week started out, the last thing expected in Cardinal sports would be for the baseball team to sweep Rocori.

At 1-10, Willmar was off to its worst start in history.

Rocori may not be the same group of veterans that won the state title at Target Field last spring but this is still a program with five top-two finishes in the Central Lakes the past decade.

Willmar last swept Rocori in 2000 when the Cardinals were enjoying some peak seasons.

Still, the Cardinals surely had more ability than that their lousy record showed.

The team just hasn't hit this season.

Both wins, before Tuesday, took stellar pitching. Gabe Amon beat Apollo 1-0 in 10 innings and Nathanial Swoyer threw Monday's 1-0 win over Rocori.

Like the Twins, the Cardinals run production has been anemic: five runs was the high, three times.

"We've been competitive in just about every game," said Willmar coach Mark Stier. "We just haven't got the bats going. We can't get a hit when we need it most."

So, the Cards are playing "small ball." When they get a batter on base, Stier moves him up the base path by steal or bunt pronto.

Stier feels this team is 10 deep, but the bench is thin. He is shifting players up and down from the JV and several freshmen have been elevated to JV.

The Cardinals also need to improve their play in the field and the way they run the bases. With the late spring, the team has had only five practices on a regulation diamond, six after yesterday.

Tuesday's win at Baker Diamond in perfect weather was wild and wacky. Just when it looked like Rocori would take home an easy 6-2 win, their defense and pitching crumbled in very un-Rocori-like fashion.

The seven runs are the new season high heading to Alexandria today for a doubleheader.

Stier, who retired from coaching in 2005 only to return this spring, is now 10-5 against the Spartans with three sweeps.

Smith named top player in NSIC

St. Cloud State University sophomore third baseman Jordan Smith (Willmar) has been named the 2011 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Player of the Year.

The 2010 Willmar High School graduate was also selected to the All-NSIC First Team for the second consecutive season. He's the first Husky to gain NSIC Player of the Year honors.

The Huskies beat Winona State 5-3 on Sunday at Mankato to win the NSIC Tournament. It was their 42nd win, a program record.

Smith also was selected to the 2011 NSIC Gold Glove Team for his defensive work at third base.

In NSIC games this spring, Smith led the league with a .477 batting average (NSIC games only) and a .829 slugging rate. He also topped the NSIC with 53 hits, 16 doubles, seven home runs and 92 total bases. Overall, Smith finished regular-season play with a .413 batting average to lead the Huskies, now 42-9 heading to the Central Region Tournament.

He also led the club with 17 doubles, 7 homers, 52 RBI and 111 total bases during the regular season.

After a banner season with the Willmar Stingers last summer, Smith will play in the Cape Cod college league starting in June.

Eagle Creek Memorial tourney

The second annual Eagle Creek Memorial Golf Tournament is scheduled for June 12. All proceeds from the event are directed to on-course projects. These include clubhouse flower beds, bridge improvements on No. 6, flower barrels and range improvements.

The tournament honors the memory of deceased golfers over the club's 80-year history. Both members and non-members are invited to participate. The entry fee is $40 and includes a picnic dinner. Register at the pro shop or call 320-235-1166.

Cardinal Pride Golf Outing

The Cardinal Pride Memorial Golf Outing is slated for June 17.

This is the former Anderson-Erickson Memorial at Eagle Creek. Proceeds are used to fund four athletic scholarships in honor of the late athletic standouts and also the Cardinal Pride Endowment Fund.

The entry fee is $95 per person or $75 for students or coaches. Teams are $360 in advance.

Register through the pro shop or download a registration form on Willmar High School's website.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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