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Baseball: State experiences drive MACCRAY, Randolph

Unseeded Wolverines take on No. 2 Rockets in Class A quarterfinals Tuesday in St. Cloud

Baseball roundup
MACCRAY head baseball coach Nate Hebrink addresses his team prior to the start of Game 1 of the Section 3A championship against R-T-R on Thursday, June 9, 2022 at Yankee Field in Milroy.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
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ST. CLOUD — Separate state tournament experiences have MACCRAY and Randolph ready to do battle in the Class A state baseball quarterfinals.

For the unseeded Wolverines, its four seniors — Isaac Strommer, Gavin Husman, Dreyer Homan and Brooks Asche — were part of the state champion Sacred Heart/MACCRAY Division II American Legion baseball team last summer.

Then for the No. 2-seeded Rockets, they’ve waited a calendar year for another chance at a Class A state title after losing a 15-inning heartbreaker to New York Mills in last season’s semifinals.

The two squads face off at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud.

“Our guys got that taste in their mouths at being at a state tournament last summer,” said MACCRAY head coach Nate Hebrink. “Our four seniors are baseball guys. We knew we had quite a few younger guys this season and (the seniors) took them underneath their wings and showed them what we needed out of them to be successful at varsity.”

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Coming into state with a 15-6 record, the Wolverines have found the right mix of senior leadership with young-but-promising talent. It all came together for the Section 3A championship and the school’s first state trip since 2009.

The 10 freshmen in MACCRAY’s roster are more than the senior, junior and sophomore classes combined (seven). Three of the freshmen start in second baseman Ethan Strommer (.246 average, 11 RBIs, 10 runs), third baseman Grayson Ahrenholz and right fielder Xavier Noble (.321 average, 12 runs). One of the top relievers is also a freshman in Jase Dirksen (1.91 ERA, 17 strikeouts, 18.1 innings).

061422.S.WCT.MACCRAY base Ethan Strommer.jpg
MACCRAY's Ethan Strommer gets caught in a pickle during Game 1 of the Section 3A championship against R-T-R on Thursday, June 9, 2022 at Yankee Field in Milroy. Strommer eventually reached second base safely.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

“And we got four or five others with playing time, whether it's courtesy running or pinch running,” Hebrink said. “They’re really good and really athletic. I’m really excited to see what kind of solid ball team they become.”

But make no mistake: the senior quartet is leading the way for the Wolveines.

Homan is the team’s top hitter with a .460 average and .714 slugging percentage with four home runs and 22 RBIs. Isaac Strommer is hitting .380 with a team-high 20 runs along with 16 RBIs.

Husman bats .362 with 19 runs. Along with the 3:30 p.m. baseball game, Husman is set to tee off in Day 1 of the Class A state golf tournament at 8:42 a.m. 23 miles away in Becker.

Asche is batting .446 with six doubles and 13 RBIs. He’ll also get the start against Randolph. In 60-2/3 innings, Asche is 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA with 73 strikeouts to 33 walks. Asche will play college baseball at St. Cloud Technical & Community College, which also plays its home games at Faber Field.

“The seniors I have, I’ve had since ninth grade, whether as starters or as role players coming into the game,” Hebrink said. “They have a lot of experience with me and the program. They were baptized by fire a little bit.”

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While MACCRAY has mixed youth and experience, the Rockets come into state with a plethora of experience. Randolph has 10 seniors — five starters — on a squad that made the state tournament in 2019 and ‘21. There was no state tournament in ‘20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brothers Jake and Nate Weckop lead the way for Randolph. Jake (.455 average, 11 doubles, 28 RBIs) plays catcher and is set to play college baseball at Gustavus Adolphus. Nate (.309 average, 19 RBIs; 8-0 record, 0.82 ERA, 79 strikeouts) will get the start on Tuesday. Also a middle infielder, Nate is commited to play at Wisconsin-Stout. The Weckop brothers were both selected to play in the Play Ball MN! All-Star Series later this month.

There’s also third baseman Will Baldus (.400 average, 21 RBIs), who is committed to Southwest Minnesota State.

“Those two guys (Jake and Nate) live and die in the weight room,” said Randolph head coach Chris Stanton. “We’re a strong, quick team and you can tell (the weight room work) does benefit us.”

The Rockets also come into the tournament with a chip on their shoulder after losing 9-8 in 15 innings to New York Mills in last season’s state semifinals. Scrambling to find arms to pitch in the next game, Randolph lost 16-2 to Springfield in the third-place game.

“They want to be that close again,” Stanton said. “We were one out away from Target Field.”

With a 22-1 record, the Rockets are the highest scoring team in Class A at 10.1 runs per game. Eleven of Randolph’s wins were by the 10-run rule.

“What’s been different this year is if someone scores, there’s not a fear that we’re not going to come back,” Stanton said. “Someone scores two, we score three. They have this kind of mentality that if we’re down, we better zone in and get this done; that’s been a good thing to see.”

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061422.S.WCT.MACCRAY base Joe Heidecker swing.jpg
MACCRAY's Joe Heidecker follows through on a swing during the Section 3A championship against R-T-R on Thursday, June 9, 2022 at Yankee Field in Milroy.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

They also own a regular-season win against defending state champion Hayfield. They beat the top-seeded Vikings 6-5 in eight innings on May 3.

“The players, they feel good enough to get (to the championship),” Stanton said. “To be honest, my job’s done; I just have to decide on a lineup and a couple changes during the game. They need to put themselves in good situations. Playing with pressure and adversity, it comes down to how they’ll perform.”

Knowing they’ll be the underdog, Hebrink expects the Wolverines to be loose when they hit the diamond.

“We’re going in thinking, hey, we’re not going to worry about stats and records,” Hebrink said. “We’re going to see where the ball bounces. Baseball can be a funny game. We’re looking forward to playing.”

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