June 22, 2006 at 4:02 p.m.
But there’s reason for optimism. The Wildcats had just three senior regulars in the batting order this year. They lost seven games by one run. “You hope that a year of adversity makes you better,” said Wildcat head coach Pat Collins. “Next year, we’ve got to find a way to win the close ones.”
Many of the returning players give the team hope for next year. Power hitter Adam Gemuenden hit 12 home runs last season, but hit only one this year. If Gemuenden can show even some of the power he showed last season, it will be a huge boost for the Wildcats. Eric Reed showed some power. In the season opener, Reed hit the first pitch he ever saw as a varsity player off the center field wall at Cambridge, and later hit a home run at home against North Branch. Mike Welle hit the ball very well the second half of the season. Left-handed batter Tommy Fitzer showed the ability to get on base with an assortment of bunts, infield hits and hurried throwing errors from infielders. David Willhite got a few chances to show off his strong, accurate throwing arm in the outfield.
The Wildcats’ top two pitchers, juniors Dan Kaiser and Bob LeVasseur, were both honorable mention all-conference this season. Before this spring, outfielder Jeff Hollister had missed an entire year of sports due to a knee injury. He struggled a little with the bat this season while trying to get back in the swing of things, but should be more effective next year with a spring and summer of baseball under his belt.
“In addition to our returning players,” said Collins, “we’ve got to find a couple of hitters and a couple of pitchers from the younger group, the kids who were on the JV and ninth-grade teams this year. I’ve seen a few kids down there who give me a reason for optimism.”
Collins continued: “This was one of my all time favorite teams. I’ve never before had a group with such great attitudes. Even after losing a tough game, they were always optimistic. I remember one day in particular. The kids showed up for practice the day after a tough loss. I had to head over to the softball fields for a short meeting. When I got back ten minutes later, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the players in the dugout lamenting the previous day’s loss. Instead, they were out on the field, practicing and having fun. That ability to bounce back will serve them well on the baseball field next season and in their lives in the future.”
The top team highlight was the Wildcats’ 1-0 win over top-ranked Forest Lake. The late-season one-run win was the Wildcats’ only one-run victory of the season. The Wildcats scored the only run of the game off of losing pitcher Jed Hanson, who was recently named the Star Tribune’s Metro Player of the Year. They also played tough against state tournament entrants St. Francis and Totino Grace. It took a home run in the bottom of the seventh inning for the Eagles to beat the Wildcats the second time the two teams played.
Collins talked about each of his senior players:
Zack Stimson – Center Field
Zack is as good a leadoff hitter as we’ve ever had. He has a lot of power in a small package. He weathered a tough season well. Stimpy has good speed and covers a lot of ground in centerfield.
Lance Baumgard – Third Base, Second Base, Left Field
Lance was our leading hitter this year and also has good speed. He’s a good left-handed stick – he filled the cleanup role for us pretty well, with several doubles and one of our three home runs this season.
Shane Butcher – Left and Right Field
Shane had some nice hits, was a good defensive player and is a great kid.
Jake Kuehl – Pitcher
Jake is a left-handed pitcher, and you can never have too many of those. He pitched well for us this year, and he was swinging the bat well enough that I used him as a pinch hitter, too.
Tom McCullough – Right Field
When Tommy McCullough gets to be the President of the United States, I’ll be able to say I was proud to be his baseball coach. He’s a great kid and a great team player.
Cory Claeson -- Shortstop
Cory’s a good, heady ballplayer. He did a good job of bunting the ball this year, working his way up to the number two spot in the order. He plays the game the right way.
Charlie Kopp – Second Base
Charlie did a good job playing second for us this year and kept a positive attitude throughout the season. He’s another nice kid to have around.
All-Conference Honorable Mention