2017 All-Area Baseball Team
If this season in west central Minnesota prep baseball is any indication of what's to come in future years, then the area is in great shape. The numbers don't lie: a youth movement swept across the the high school baseball scene this season, with underclassmen lining the WCT All-Area first team. While last season's West Central Tribune All-Area team featured seven graduating seniors, this year's crop is made up of three sophomores, four juniors and just two seniors: Central Minnesota Christian School's Tanner Stoel and Minnewaska's Colin Richards.
Stoel led the area in batting average and on-base percentage and Richards was near the top of many batting and pitching categories, but a surplus of players returning to their teams next season to wreak havoc next season were up-and-down the leaderboards.
New London-Spicer's Will Roguske was arguably the top pitcher in the area while also owning a 1.116 OPS, and helped lead the Wildcats to the state tournament. Luke Ryan of BOLD put his name in the state record books with a phenomenal campaign, and teammate James Woelfel was an all-around excellent player that was among the area leaders in both hitting and pitching categories.
And that list of players just scratches the surface of this year's elite class of local baseball players.
New London-Spicer, So., C/1B/P
It's difficult to envision Roguske's spring season going any better on the diamond. He was dominant in every facet of the game, leading the area in earned-run average (0.86) and finishing fourth in OPS (1.116). Perhaps most importantly, Roguske coupled that individual success with the Wildcats' run through Section 3A to earn the school's first appearance at the state tournament.
Those numbers will certainly strike fear in opponents in the West Central Conference and throughout the state. Perhaps even scarier, though: Roguske is only a sophomore and already may be the area's best two-way player.
At the plate, Roguske batted a robust .422 and displayed an impressive eye en route to a .576 on-base percentage—third-highest in the area. Couple that with 64 strikeouts in 49 2 / 3 innings for the state-bound Wildcats, and you have a no-doubt first-teamer.
"He relishes competition and wants the ball in his hand with the game on the line," Wildcats head coach Mike Thompson said.
Roguske may very well get that opportunity on Thursday, as NLS opens up the state tournament against Pierz.
BOLD, Jr., C/P
Woelfel's junior season was his first at BOLD, and what an introduction it was. As a batter, he was one of the best in the area, trailing only first-teamers Tanner Stoel and Luke Ryan in OPS and finishing second in batting average (.437). Behind the plate, Woelfel led the Warriors' pitching staff to great heights, including a 2.03 team ERA and top QRF ranking throughout the season. Head coach Brian Kingery was hesitant at times to pitch Woelfel simply because it would mean removing his top-tier catcher from behind the dish, but a 1.19 ERA and 0.853 WHIP in 29 1 / 3 innings proved that the junior really could do it all.
"James has had a great first season at BOLD," Kingery said. "He stepped in a team leadership role right away, and has truly excelled. At the plate, he is an extremely dangerous hitter that pitchers do not want to face.
"On the mound he has also been dominant. Even though he is a great hitter and pitcher, he is without a doubt one of the best catchers in the area if not the state."
Central Minnesota Christian, Sr., SS
The instances in which Stoel actually recorded an out at the plate were few and far between this season. One of only two seniors on the first team, Stoel led the area with a .500 batting average and .650 OBP for the Bluejays, earning a well-deserved jump from honorable mention to the first team.
Stoel was a menace to opposing pitchers with the bat, and that didn't stop once he reached base, stealing 15 bases and scoring 24 runs.
He capped a stellar career at CMCS with a .402 average and .552 OBP while stealing 44 bases on 45 attempts. Stoel likely would have even been more dominant this season if not for a shoulder injury that kept the hurler (career 1.98 ERA) from pitching the last month of the 2016 season and all of the 2017 campaign.
BOLD, So., CF
In the category of "Dominant Sophomores", Ryan slots in right next to Roguske. If you like players that etch their names into the state record books, then Ryan was your man in 2017. The speedy leadoff man for the Warriors stole 40 bases on the season—good for second-most in a single season in state history—and tied the record with eight triples.
"Luke is a gifted athlete with skills that make him very dangerous on the baseball field," Kingery said. "He's a left-handed hitter with great speed and power. His ability to take a leadoff walk or single and turn it into a double make him a great leadoff hitter."
There is more to Ryan's game than just slap-hitting and speed. The 2016 All-Area honorable mention was second in the area in both slugging percentage (.681) and OPS (1.197) with a home run and two doubles. Ryan led the area in runs (38) and showed good discipline at bat with 22 walks, as well.
Minnewaska, Sr., P
Richards was another example of a local player that would have earned first team honors with his bat alone, but completely solidified his position on the squad as an ace on the mound. Richards batted .421 with a .471 OBP, led the area with 32 hits, was seventh in the area in OPS (1.050) and flashed some power with five doubles, two triples and one homer.
"Offensively, Colin has been very clutch this season as he leads our team in RBI, and can steal a base when needed as well," Lakers head coach Brian Gruber said.
Then, of course, there were Richards' efforts as a pitcher. The right-hander struck out an area-best 81 batters in 51 innings while posting a 1.78 ERA and even-more impressive .849 FIP. Richards was unhittable at times, striking out 11.2 batters per game and 36.5 percent of batters faced. Over Richards' first six games of the season, he went 2-0 with two saves and a 0.34 ERA.
"Colin is a shut-down right-handed pitcher," Gruber said. "He can dominate teams with his fastball, but also has the ability to command his off speed pitches when he needs to. He nearly averaged two strikeouts per inning this spring."
New London-Spicer, Jr., P
Spaulding was stellar all season long before turning up his performance another notch and leading the Wildcats to the state tournament on his right arm. The NLS junior finished the season with a 6-0 record and second-best ERA (1.22) in the area, minimum 35 innings, but those numbers don't even tell the whole story. Spaulding opened up the Section 3AA tournament for the Wildcats with six innings against Morris/Chokio-Alberta, allowing just one unearned run and picking up the win. Then, to reach the section final over Jackson County Central, the right-hander threw five innings, allowing no earned runs. To cap off his memorable stretch, Spaulding allowed two runs over seven innings, picking up the win as NLS downed Luverne in a do-or-die game to reach state. Spaulding enters the state tournament with a 0.77 playoff ERA. On top of his pitching success, Spaulding's bat came along as the season progressed. He finished the season with a .992 OPS and 15 RBI, both second on the Wildcats behind only Roguske.
KMS, So., P/SS
Not to be outdone by his sister Sam, one of the area's top softball players, sophomore Weston Gjerde posted a sparkling 2017 season on the mound and at the plate to earn first team honors. In leading the Saints to a 13-4 regular season record, Gjerde was third in the area with a 1.56 ERA (minimum 20 innings) and eighth in OPS (1.021). Up until KMS' Section 3A playoff game against Lac qui Parle Valley, Gjerde sported the area's best ERA with a 0.56 mark.
"Weston has been our offensive leader all year," Saints head coach James Cortez said. "He hits leadoff for us and when he gets on base, we score a lot of runs. On the mound, he had an excellent year, as well."
Gjerde hit one home run and drove in 17 runs while scoring 20 times and stealing 12 bases.. He exercised great plate discipline, walking 10 times and only striking out twice.
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Jr., P/OF
Much like Spaulding, Holtz placed himself in serious consideration for the honor with a stellar regular season and then cemented his places with a memorable postseason performance. Holtz was one of the area's top pitchers and came through every time the Falcons needed him in a big game, leading his team to the Section 2A championship game. The gem of Holtz's three postseason starts was a 6 1 / 3 -inning no-hit, 11-strikeout masterpiece that he delivered in a losers' bracket game against defending state champion Springfield. Holtz also was on the mound as ACGC took down top-seed and state top-ranked BOLD in the playoffs. Over those three section tournament starts, Holtz went 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA.
"Kobe was our ace on the mound all year long and just stepped it up in the playoffs," Falcons head coach Mike Kingery said.
At the plate, Holtz served as the Falcons' cleanup hitter and batted .316 with a .444 OBP. He finished his season on the mound with a 6-3 record and 2.31 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 57 2 / 3 innings.
New London-Spicer, Jr., P
Spaulding was stellar all season long before turning up his performance another notch while helping to lead the Wildcats to the Class AA state tournament on his right arm. The NLS junior finished the season with a 6-0 record and the second-best ERA (1.22) in the area, minimum 20 innings—but those numbers don't even tell the whole story. Spaulding opened up the Section 3AA tournament for the Wildcats with six innings against Morris/Chokio-Alberta, allowing just one unearned run and picking up the win. Then, to reach the section final over Jackson County Central, the right-hander threw five innings, allowing no earned runs. To cap off his memorable stretch, Spaulding allowed two runs over seven innings, picking up the win as NLS downed Luverne in a do-or-die game to reach state. Spaulding enters the state tournament with a 0.77 playoff ERA. On top of his pitching success, Spaulding's bat came along as the season progressed. He finished the season with a .992 OPS and 15 RBI, both second on the Wildcats behind only Roguske.
Minnewaska, Jr., P/OF
Gruber set a school record a season ago with a 0.94 ERA as a sophomore, and followed it up with a junior season worthy of a first team spot. The 1B to Richards' 1A on the mound, Gruber displayed excellent command of the strike zone. He walked just six batters in 47 2 / 3 innings while striking out 50—by far the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the area. Gruber finished the season with a 2.35 ERA and the fourth-best WHIP (1.054).
At the plate, Gruber posted a .347 batting average, but set himself apart with his power. Gruber led the area in extra-base hits, thanks in large part to his 11 doubles. With a .556 slugging percentage and 13 walks at the plate, Gruber owned a 1.004 OPS, which was ninth in the area. "Matthew has all the tools to be a highly successful baseball player," head coach Brian Gruber said. "He can hit for average and power and has the speed to steal a base. Defensively he a top-of-the-line shortstop and leads his team by example, On the mound, Matthew can command three pitches and is a fierce competitor."
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Jr., C
.269 BA, 18 RBI, 7 SB. All-Section 2A.
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Jr., SS
.240 BA, 12 R. 3-1 pitching record, 2.07 ERA, 20.1 IP. All-Section 2A.
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Sr., P/2B
.289 BA, 9 RBI, 13 R, 10 SB. 6-5 pitching record, 3.64 ERA, led the area with 65.1 IP. All-Section 2A.
BOLD, Jr., 1B
.384 BA, .483 OBP, .603 SLG, 1.086 OPS, 17 R, 23 RBI, 6 2B, 5 3B. WCC All-Conference.
BOLD, Fr., C/P/IF
.338 BA, .427 OBP, .477 SLG, .904 OPS, 16 RBI, 14 R, 9 SB.. 3-0 pitching record, 16.1 IP, 0.86 ERA. WCCC All-Conference Honorable Mention.
BOLD, Sr., P/IF
.405 BA, .467 OBP, .494 SLG, .961 OPS, 27 R, 26 RBI, 16 SB. 5-1 pitching record, 40.1 IP, 26 K, 16 BB, 1.33 WHIP. WCC Co-MVP.
BOLD, So., P/2B
.418 BA, .540 OBP, .507 SLG, 1.048 OPS, 19 R, 20 RBI, 21 SB. 7-2 pitching record, 39.2 IP, 3.18 ERA, 38 K, 1.54 WHIP. WCC All-Conference
Hancock, Sr., C
.357 AVG, .500 OBP, .964 OPS, 20 H, 14 RBI, 14 R. Pheasant Conference All-Conference.
Hancock, Sr., P
.304 BA, .391 OBP 17 H, 9 SB. 5-2 pitching record, 59 IP, 1.9 ERA, 81 K, 1.22 WHIP, .200 batting average against. Pheasant Conference Most Valuable Pitcher and All-Conference.
Hancock, Sr., SS
.274 BA, .444 OBP, .371 SLG, 17 BB, 23 R, 11 SB. Pheasant Conference All-Conference.
Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Jr., 1B
.362 BA, .466 OBP, .955 OPS, 11 R, 12 RBI, 6 2B. Camden Conference All-Conference
Litchfield, Sr., C
.436 BA, second in area with .582 OBP, 1.110 OPS, 24 H, 15 RBI, 20 BB. Wright County West All-Conference and finished in Litchfield all-time single season Top 10 in average, OBP and walks.
Litchfield, Sr., P/CF
.309 BA, .407 OBP, .746 OPS, 19 R. 2-1 pitching record, 1.60 ERA, 26.1 IP, 16 K, 1.405 WHIP. Wright County West All-Conference.
Litchfield, Sr., OF
.343 BA, .420 OBP, .868 OPS, 13 RBI, 17 R. Wright County West All-Conference.
Lac qui Parle Valley, Jr., C
.308 BA, 22 R, perfect on 21 stolen base attempts. Camden Conference All-Conference.
Lac qui Parle Valley, Sr., P
.299 BA, .420 OBP, 16 R, 14 RBI. 6-3 pitching record, 52.1 innings, 1.87 ERA, 32 K, 1.39 WHIP. Camden Conference All-Conference.
MACCRAY, Sr., P/IF
65 PA, .339 BA, .400 OBP, .756 OPS, 11 RBI, 6 R, 7 SB. 2-3 pitching record, 25.1 IP, 1.66 ERA, 1.145 WHIP, 35 K, 15 BB. Camden Conference All-Conference.
Minnewaska, Sr., P
4-1 pitching record, 37 IP, 1.51 ERA, 24 K, 6 BB, 1.05 WHIP.
Morris/Chokio-Alberta, Sr., SS/P/C
.271 BA, 455 OBP, 12 RBI, 12 R, 16 BB. 2.46 ERA in 37.1 IP.
New London-Spicer, Jr., 3B/C
.338 BA, .403 OBP, .884 OPS, 14 RBI, 7 2B
New London-Spicer, Sr., 3B/P
.250 BA, 13 R, 10 RBI, 1 HR. 5-1 pitching record, 2.44 ERA, 37.1 IP, 24 K.
New London-Spicer, Sr., CF/P
.279 BA, .373 OBP, .519 SLG, 2 HR, 17 RBI
New London-Spicer, Sr., OF/IF
.319 BA, .418 OBP, .822 OPS, 16 R, 7 SB
New London-Spicer, Sr., SS
.371 BA, .390 OBP, .558 SLG, 10 RBI, 12 R, 6 SB
Paynesville, Sr., 1B/P
.364 BA, 10 RBI, 20 H
Willmar, So., C
.304 BA, 9 R, 9 RBI, 7 BB, 1 HR, 5 2B
Willmar, Sr., P/OF
.231 BA, .412 OBP, 3-2 pitching record, 40.2 IP, 3.27 ERA, 1.55 WHIP