Raiders baseball ends season with close loss to Owatonna
It's been a road full of challenges and accomplishments for the Hastings Raiders baseball team.
"A month ago, if you would have told me that we would be in the section semi-finals, I would have been happy," head coach Paul Hartmann said. "We expect each and every year to get better every day and ultimately compete in the section. Our long-term, No. 1 goal at the beginning of the year was to make the final four - and with such a young team, these guys can be proud of their accomplishments."
Hastings played three games as one of the section 1AAA final four teams. In the first game, Hastings beat No. 1-ranked Owatonna 2-1, and after four and a half innings in the second game against Rochester Mayo, it looked like the Raiders would pull off another upset. But it wasn't meant to be.
The Raiders were doing a good job of getting runners on base, but until the fifth inning, were unable to push anyone home. Fighting for a run after Mayo scored one in the third, Hastings pulled ahead in the fifth, when pitcher Aaron Stoneberg hit a double that put Nick Bachman home and Stoneberg scored himself thanks to a Mayo fielding error on David Schoeberl's at-bat.
Stoneberg, who pitched six and a half innings, walked the first runner of the game in the bottom of the sixth, and the next two Mayo batters had two doubles that scored them two more runs. Another run came that inning after Wes Hedlund relieved Stoneberg.
Hastings couldn't answer the late Mayo runs in the seventh and lost the game, 4-2.
The game was a wet one. Hastings and Mayo battled throughout the game in the rain, and the water gave both teams' pitchers an extra challenge. The umpires stopped the game a few times, once so that Hastings pitcher Aaron Stoneberg could clear the mud from his cleats, twice to add fresh dirt to the mound to soak up some of the water while Rochester Mayo was on the mound.
Conditions were similar in 2007, head coach Paul Hartmann told his team before the game. That was the last year the Raiders won the section championship and played at state.
The double-elimination tournament gave Hastings another shot. They played Owatonna for the second time Monday for the chance to face Mayo for the section championship.
Hastings scored first, a run by Brian Amble in the top of the third off Austin Nelson's sacrifice fly, and Owatonna matched the run in the bottom half of the inning.
Hedlund scored another in the fourth, but Owatonna put up two more to take the Raiders' slight lead.
In the next two innings, Nelson was the only runner from either team to get on base. He advanced to second.
The Raiders pulled ahead again in the top of the seventh. Stoneberg scored on a double by Tony Hammes and Hammes went on to score on a single by Nelson. Leading Owatonna 4-3, the boys were just half an inning away from advancing to the section championship game, but two Owatonna runs put an end to the hope.
Schoeberl pitched the whole game, save for the last Owatonna batter. He was relieved in the bottom of the seventh by Hedlund.
"Our guys took the loss very hard," Hartmann said, "which as a coach you appreciate as it shows you how much they care. But this group has nothing to hang their heads about. They improved throughout the season more than any team I've ever coached or played on."
Not only did they improve in the season, but the Raiders continued to get better in the playoffs.
"We did not commit an error in the last three games, which in high school baseball, is very difficult to accomplish," Hartmann said. "These guys deserve a lot of credit for staying together and sticking with the plan that we set for them."
The team's record (2-16 in the Suburban East Conference) doesn't show the success these athletes have had.
"Ultimately, as a group, our team became very close throughout our early struggles," Hartmann said. "I believe they have learned valuable lessons and developed relationships that will last a lifetime."
This year's varsity team has a lot of players, including all its pitchers, who are likely to return next season.
" ... So now the challenge for these guys is to take that next step," Hartmann said. "Their work ethic and passion for the game of baseball will guide them through this process. They know that we are more than capable of making a similar run next season, but that won't come easy, as all the other teams will be working hard to improve."