Amateur baseball: Rockets overcome injury to valuable player to reach state

RAYMOND -- The Raymond Rockets have been without the services of catcher Tyler Steen for nearly two months now. The MACCRAY High School star and 2012 North Dakota State University graduate suffered a season-ending leg injury on July 1 in a collis...

The Raymond Rockets are playing .500 ball (8-8) since the injury to Tyler Steen, but have won three of their last four going into the Class C state tournament. Rand Middleton / Tribune

RAYMOND - The Raymond Rockets have been without the services of catcher Tyler Steen for nearly two months now. The MACCRAY High School star and 2012 North Dakota State University graduate suffered a season-ending leg injury on July 1 in a collision at home plate against Sacred Heart.
Steen was an offensive spark plug for the Rockets, hitting .453 with seven home runs, 11 doubles and 36 RBIs - all still team-high totals - to help the team post a 22-5 record in the first two months of the season.
The team has played only .500 (8-8) ball since the incident, but three of the wins have come in the last four games, allowing the Rockets to secure a spot in the Class C State Amateur Baseball Tournament for the fifth time in the last six years.
Raymond (30-13) opens the tournament today at 7:30 p.m. against Maple Plain (14-18) in Watkins. The winner gets Region 9C champion Morris next Sunday.
“We have had our share of injuries, but other players have to pick it up and try to make up for (the injuries),” said Raymond coach and Tyler’s father, Butch Steen. “Tyler’s injury was tough on the whole team, but his influence is still there and the players want it more for him than themselves.”
The Rockets were the Cornbelt League champions in the regular season and finished third in the league playoffs to qualify for the Region 11C tournament. They won their first two region games - beating St. Augustus 4-3 and Luxemburg 9-5 - before falling to eventual champion Watkins 2-1 in the winner’s bracket semifinals.
Raymond then kept its season alive by beating Cornbelt rival Sacred Heart 10-0, Luxemburg 7-6 and Kimball 10-1 in the elimination bracket. The win over Luxemburg assured Raymond a spot in the state tournament and the win over Kimball pushed them into the championship, where it was beat by one run again to Watkins, 3-2.
“We always feel we have a chance and I think the key is peaking at the right time,” said Butch Steen. “It’s a long season and it’s hard to keep the momentum going all the time.”
Another Rocket named Tyler hasn’t stopped producing. Tyler Knott, standing at an intimidating 6 feet-10 inches, was the winning pitcher in three of the Rockets’ five region victories and enters the state tournament 13-2 with an ERA of 2.34. The right-hander averages nearly a strikeout per inning and has more strikeouts (94) than hits allowed (88).
“He has really stepped up and has won several key games for us,” said Butch Steen. “He is a gamer and needs to continue to having this success for us to do well in state.”
Since they didn’t win the region in order to get a first-round bye, the Rockets would need to win six games in order to be crowned state champions in the single-elimination tournament. But Butch Steen feels his team has a “great chance to do well in state.”
“The addition of our three draftees is really a plus for us,” added Steen. “They are all excellent pitchers that will help us make a run at it.”
Right-handers Jeremy Hinderks of Sacred Heart and Josh Hadley of the Milroy Yankees, and left-hander Austin Klaverkamp of Luxemburg were picked up by Raymond at the conclusion of the region tournament.
Not only do the Rockets have quality starters, they also have a reliable reliever in veteran Zach Nelson. The right-hander picked up the other two region wins and sports a perfect 6-0 record with five saves and a team-low ERA of 2.20.
“Zach Nelson is really most responsible for us getting to state,” said Butch Steen. “He came in relief in the (second) Luxemburg game with runners on and shut them down in the last two innings for the win.”
A sore elbow, however, could keep Nelson in the dugout for today’s game.
The Rockets’ offense can erupt at any given time to back the quality performances from the mound. Mike Jeseritz (.362), Austin Smith (.329), Nelson (.325) and Justin Koenen (.318) are all hitting over. 300 and have a combined 69 RBIs.
Kyle Knott (.292 average, six home runs, 29 RBIs) and Cal Kosminskas (.282 average, seven home runs, 23 RBIs) have also fueled wins for the Rockets.
With Tyler Steen out John Sawatzky has picked up the catching duties. But the Willmar native has also got it done on the mound, striking out 83 while issuing just 21 walks in 83 innings of work to compile a record of 6-3 and an ERA of 3.50.
“John has done an outstanding job as a catcher and he is also the No. 2 starter,” said Butch Steen.


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