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State Baseball: 'Cats face tough test

New London-Spicer's John Perkins singles in the second game of Thursday's Section 3AA final in Granite Falls. Jake Schultz / Tribune1 / 2
New London-Spicer's Paxton Nelson tries to backhand a throw as a Luverne runner slides into second base in Thursday's Section 3AA final in Granite Falls. Jake Schultz / Tribune2 / 2

New London-Spicer's first taste of the state baseball tournament won't be an easy one against a veteran-heavy Pierz team.

The Wildcats are making their first appearance in the Class AA state tournament following a wild come-from-behind victory over Luverne in the Section 3AA final. Pierz (24-2), on the other hand, is back in the tournament for the second year in a row and enter this season as the No. 3 seed. They defeated Paynesville in the opening game last season and went on to take third place.

"I feel like it's a pretty good draw," NLS head coach Mike Thompson said. "We've been talking to Paynesville and BBE to get to know their thoughts and pick their brains."

Pierz defeated Paynesville 11-1 and 7-1 this year and defeated BBE 9-1 and 12-0 as well.

"Their first five hitters are really strong and they like to run, too," Thompson said. "They have a couple of guys that can pitch really well, too. It's going to be a low scoring game, 2-1, 1-0, something like that. Runs will be at a premium."

The Wildcats are accustomed to pitchers duels. They only allowed a total of 10 runs in the section 3AA tournament including two one-run games. Thompson will hand the ball to junior Will Roguske for their portion of the duel and the Pioneers will likely look to senior Matt Tautges or junior Preston Rocheleau. Both are hard-throwers that pound the strike zone. Tautges was the winning pitcher and struck out seven batters in four innings in last year's tournament opener against Paynesville.

Experience should help Pierz but many of the Wildcats say they're not nervous about taking on the veteran-heavy Pioneers.

"We're confident," senior shortstop Wyatt White said. "We've played a lot of really tough teams this year so we feel good that we can compete (with Pierz)."

Senior outfielder John Perkins acknowledges there are some nerves when thinking about the historical aspect of the game but thinks the inexperience could be a benefit as well.

"We realize there's nothing to lose," Perkins said. "We're going to go out there and give it our all. We're not ready to be done."

Thompson said his team isn't nervous about the stage either.

"They're certainly not afraid of the bright lights," Thompson said. "We've played some games with a lot of fans and they always play well. I don't want to say they get up for it because they've been pretty consistent all year but they like playing in front of a lot of people."

Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud should bring one of the larger crowds that the Wildcats have played in front of this season. That only excites them, Perkins said.

"We feed off the crowd," Perkins said. "We like going into other places and showing people what Wildcat baseball is all about."