Celebration Saturday: These Paynesville Bulldogs never got rattled
A special group of ballplayers turned into state champs in 2005
Sports editor’s note: This is the fourth installment of the ‘Celebration Saturday’ series highlighting top individual and team achievements in the West Central Tribune area. Today’s story looks at the 2005 Paynesville Class AA state baseball championship team.
PAYNESVILLE — The 2005 Paynesville baseball team captured the first state championship in program history.
However, it wasn’t the first time the city or even members from that group would call themselves state baseball champions.
With a talented squad centered on freshmen and sophomores, Paynesville won the American Legion Division II state title in 2003. With so much good, young talent, the squad caught the attention of a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“He looked at them and was like ‘Holy Buckets, most of your players don’t even drive, coach,’” head coach Brad Skoglund said. “That was kind of neat because we were by far the youngest team in the state tournament.”
Those players without driver’s licenses would serve as the nucleus to one of the most successful eras in Bulldogs history, as the team won 78% of its games from 2004-06. In addition to the 2005 Class AA state title, Paynesville was the state runner-up in 2006.
“All the way up, that group played in a lot of tournaments,” Skoglund said. “They had very good youth coaching. ... They just loved the game of baseball, they had great passion and love for each other to play hard. The group never got rattled. If the other team would score, we’d answer right back. Our group just stayed composed in the big games. Plus, we had some talent there too.”
Led by senior Adam Kampsen, who set the then-single-season record for most home runs from an area player with 12, the Bulldogs went 19-6 in 2004 but had their season cut short by Glencoe-Silver Lake in the Section 5AA tournament. Heading into the 2005 season, the team was still confident in the players that were coming back, even if a trip to state wasn’t necessarily on their radar.
“We had enough good pitching and had an all-around good hitting team,” senior pitcher/infielder Chris Beier said. “The guys that we did lose in 2004, we replaced them with good players again. It was definitely in our minds that we could make a run.”
Beier was the ace of the staff in 2005. The right-hander recorded an area-best 10-2 record and accounted for nearly half of the team’s wins. Posting a 3.34 earned run average in 70 innings pitched, he struck out 49 batters and walked 18.
As part of a pitching staff that allowed the fewest runs in its section (3.8), senior Justin Butkofski and junior Jamie Paul rounded out the starting rotation, combining to go 11-2. Butkofski finished with a 1.47 ERA in 52 innings. Paul pitched 42 innings, posting a 2.67 ERA and allowing eight walks.
None of the three starters were power pitchers, but they all hit their spots and threw strikes. Life was also made easier by the offense, which scored a section-best 7.6 runs per game.
However, the strongest part of the team may have been its defense. When the starting pitching trio wasn’t on the bump, they, coupled with junior second baseman Ryan Hess, were solid infielders who rarely made errors. Junior center fielder Trent Hansen led a speedy bunch in the outfield that could get to many balls.
Behind the plate, junior John Hemngson wasn’t just the team’s best defensive player but was one of the best catchers in the state. Clocking in at under two seconds on throws to second, Hemingson threw out nearly 90 percent of runners attempting to steal.
“I think our defense was maybe the thing you could hang your hat on,” Paul said. “We just knew everybody was going to make the routine plays. When you know that as a team and as a pitcher, that makes it easier for you as well.”
The last laugh
Battling through grueling competition in the West Central Conference, the Bulldogs were 8-5 through the first half of the season. At one point, St. Cloud Cathedral, Albany, Melrose and Paynesville were all ranked in the top 10.
“We kind of hit tough luck early in the season,” Skoglund said. “We hit a lot of at-them balls, balls right at (the defense). But our conference was so strong at the time. ... That’s one of the things that prepared us so well for our section and tournament play.”
Following the slow start, the Bulldogs ripped off wins in 13 of their last 14 games, including their last eight contests. A highlight during that stretch was a postseason matchup against Annandale. After the team dropped the season-opener to the Cardinals, Paynesville earned its payback with a 1-0 victory behind Beier’s three-hit shutout.
“After we secured that game, I remember thinking ‘Hey, if we just won that, we can go ahead and beat anyone,’” Paul said.
Next, the Bulldogs shut down New London-Spicer 11-0 in the Section 5AA-20 championship. Seven days later, the two teams met again where an 8-4 victory punched Paynesville’s second trip to state in school history. But while the Bulldogs had the upper hand over the Wildcats, the rivalry didn’t stop there.
“I remember seeing their bus on the way home. They passed us and some of the guys were mooning us through the bus window,” Paul chuckled. “We were all rallying, hooting and hollering. So then we finally got our bus driver to pass them back and we just dangled our medals through the window.”
Though the team wasn’t known for mooning its opponents, Paynesville was certainly a rowdy bunch that pulled for one another.
“It was just such a fun group of guys,” Paul remarked. “We were probably hated by other teams. Now, I’m coaching high school baseball and I see teams that are hooting and hollering and yelling. Sometimes I’m like, ‘oh my gosh, can they be quiet?’ We were probably that team.”
Skoglund added, “In the dugout sometimes, I had to tone them down. It wasn’t like they were riding the other team, they were just cheering so loud for our team. We had a player on the team named Mark Andrie and every time he’d come to bat, the players would just chant ‘Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark.’ It sounded like our players were barking.”
Another for the city
Paynesville opened state against Albany, a conference foe that split a pair of regular-season games. On deck before the start of the game, Paul, the team’s leadoff hitter, remembers Skoglund telling him to set the tone. Paul had received similar advice during the Legion tournament two years prior.
“Before the game (against Albany), he came up to me again,” Paul said. “He said, ‘I want you to attack right away. I don’t want you to watch any pitches. We are going to attack and let them know that we are here.’ I think that started the whole mood.”
The Bulldogs piled up five runs in the first inning en route to a 12-5 victory. The team was just getting started with its bats.
Against a Hermantown team that was a tournament favorite and entered the game with the best record and the fewest runs allowed, Paynesville cruised to a 10-1 victory in the state semifinal.
“Sometimes when you play teams that are used to winning and getting on top of teams, if they fall behind, it gets really hard for them to swing the bats,” Skoglund said. “They were shocked, the Hermantown people were shocked. They couldn’t believe that they’d get pounded.”
Beier said regarding the team’s offensive output, “It’s just fun to be honest. You really aren’t worried to make an out because you got the guy behind you that’s going to pick you up if you do. It makes it more relaxing at the plate.”
Finishing the tournament with 33 hits and 30 runs, that relaxed nature offensively continued in the state title game against Pipestone, which was coached by Paynesville alum Rick Zollner. Zollner played under then-assistant coach Dick Realdsen and later was an assistant coach under Skoglund.
“That was a lot of fun knowing that he’s a Payneville guy and a Bulldog at heart,” Skoglund said.
Paynesville jumped out to an 8-1 lead, which was plenty of run support for Paul on the mound. The junior worked fluidly on the mound as he did a good job locating pitches down at the knees.
With the score 8-3, Paul was still on the mound when a groundout to junior third baseman Derek Stanger gave the Bulldogs the crown.
“I turned to look at John and I just, like, panicked. He was already sprinting at me,” Paul remembered. “I threw my glove and he picked me up. It was just a great feeling, something you don’t get very often.”
Every member of the baseball team was a part of the celebration, but the most touching moment belonged to Matt Beier, the team manager who has Down syndrome.
“When he held up that trophy and he held up that No. 1 finger, that was one of the most emotional experiences I had in my life,” Skoglund said.
As for Chris Beier, he remembers what the party was like when the team got home.
“When we got back, the cops escorted us into town,” he said. “At the high school park, the lights were on at night and we got a big greeting from the town. Coming back, everyone was all pumped up and excited and the town is right there with you to celebrate. That was an added little benefit.”
Love for the game
Skoglund, Paul and Beier are still active in baseball today.
After a playing career at Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D., Paul has been the head coach for Border West, a coop between Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley, Wheaton and Herman-Norcross, for the last five years. It’s through his coaching career that he most remembers the title with the Bulldogs.
“You just think how special of a team it has to be to be able to accomplish a championship,” Paul said. “For all of us, we were not extraordinary baseball players I don’t think by any means, but we all were very good and enthusiastic. I think our chemistry is what propelled us more than anything.
Additionally, he plays amateur ball for the Dumont Saints while Beier is a member of the Regal Eagles.
“We try to play his (Paul’s) guys once a year and that’s always a good time to look back at the team we had in high school and how good of a time it was,” Beier said. “It was kind of a fun little mix that we were always on the same team growing up and now we finally get to play against each other, talk smart, see who was better and see who can strike who out.”
After 34 years, Skoglund is still the program’s skipper. He was inducted into the Minnesota High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I’m very thankful to coach Paynesville baseball,” Skoglund said.
Each Saturday, the West Central Tribune is taking a look back at outstanding athletic teams and/or individuals. Today’s story is on the 1985 state championship Willmar girls golf team. Here’s a list of teams covered so far:
May 16 — Alex Carlson and Chris Patten (2000 Litchfield boys tennis)
May 23, 26 — 2009 New London-Spicer football
May 30 — 1985 Willmar girls golf team
June 6 — 2005 Paynesville baseball