Winning a championship is hard, repeating is even more difficult, and then there is what the Miesville Mudhens accomplished Labor Day. The Mudhens played four games in three days and won two games on Monday, coming up from the consolation bracket to secure their second-straight Minnesota Baseball Association Class B state tournament championship.
A challenging road
Miesville won their first three state tournament games with relative ease and were the consensus pick to repeat in Class B. However, they lost Saturday, Sept. 2, to the Chanhassen Red Birds 5-2 and all of sudden everything became that much more difficult. Bounced down to the consolation bracket, the Mudhens had to defeat the Moorhead Brewers to even force a rematch with Chanhassen. Miesville beat the Brewers 6-3 on Sunday, Sept. 3, to get back to the championship game.
In order to come away with a championship, Miesville had to beat the Red Birds twice on Labor Day, while Chanhassen had to win just one game. All season, and especially come tournament time, Mudhens' player/manager Chris Olean emphasized the value of his team's pitching depth and it proved invaluable.
"To go to Ahern (Shannon) when you're on your third starter, that's pretty good," Olean said. "He threw a great game (against Moorhead) and we had some depth in the bullpen we didn't even get to. We were set up pretty well."
The Mudhens' pitching was certainly tested this past weekend. In the loss to Chanhassen, starter Steve Maher was pulled after just two innings in favor of Jacob Dickmeyer, who pitched the remaining seven. In the consolation game the next day against Moorhead, Ahern came up big with 7 1/3 innings of three-run, three-hit ball. Mark Moriarty and Olean finished that game for Miesville to setup the doubleheader against Chanhassen.
Maher got another chance at the Red Birds and he proved to be an iron man while doing so. In game one, Maher threw eight innings, walked nine, struck out nine, faced 39 batters and threw 160 pitches. The Mudhens built an early lead for Maher, and despite allowing Chanhassen to tie it once, he battled the entire way and helped Miesville reach the winner-take-all championship game after winning 5-3.
It may have come a surprise to some when last year's tournament MVP Deryk Marks started on the mound for the Mudhens in the last game instead of one of their more established pitchers, but Olean said the team had plenty of confidence in him.
"We were sitting on him (Marks), we knew he's the ultimate competitor, the ultimate gamer," Olean said. "If nothing else, he was going to give us some innings. We had some guys behind him to finish it off if he hit a wall, but he just competes, he did exactly what he needed to do, he threw strikes and it was a gutsy performance."
While the first two games against Chanhassen were relatively low scoring compared to what Miesville is used to doing, it's almost impossible to face a lineup like the Mudhens have three times in just a couple days and not get roughed up. The Red Birds ran into that in the championship game where Miesville scored nine runs in the first five innings (Miesville went on to win 9-5), led by the Class B tournament MVP Nate Hammes.
Hammes hit .556 with 15 hits and seven RBI during the state tournament and much of that damage was done against the Red Birds. In three games against Chanhassen, Hammes went 9-for-14 with four RBI and two runs scored. Perhaps even more impressive, he put up those numbers while catching every single inning of the state tournament.
Hammes credited going back to basics with his tremendous performance during the tournament.
"I got back to what I was good at, which is spraying the ball," he said. "I think I only had one double in the tournament, but know that's what I'm good at. I like frustrating teams by spraying the ball. Once they think that I'm going to keep hitting the ball to right field then I'll pull something."
Olean praised Hammes effort not only on the offensive end, but on defense as well.
"Wow, .560, it didn't feel like that but he was on a lot," he said. "He caught very, very well, he had a lot of stops in the dirt that saved us some runs, he was very, very good and one of the guys that was consistently going through the entire tournament."
Different from last year
Hammes said that this year's experience is vastly different from last year's, despite the outcome.
"We had to come back through the backdoor this year, which wasn't easy, Chanhassen is really good, I thought we were the two best teams," he said. "It's a really big accomplishment to beat them twice in one day, especially two nine-inning ball games. It's so much harder than you think (coming through the consolation bracket) because every pitch counts, every play counts. You can't take any plays off. We got a great outing from Ahern last night, we needed that. If he hadn't done that, we wouldn't even be here. It's so hard because you have to win three ball games against Moorhead and Chanhassen, which are two of the top three teams in the state."
Olean said the feelings that come with repeating are different than last year's championship.
"When you repeat, it's always more of the expectation that you want to repeat," he explained. "It's not quite the same Cinderella feel, but you also have the satisfaction that you kind of ground this one out. It's sweeter beating a team that beat us, to come back around and beat them twice was awesome. We certainly had the pitching to do it and we had consistent at-bats from top to bottom, like I said all year we're really good. We got a little bit away from that the first couple games but we did enough."
This is Miesville's seventh state championship in the team's history and second in a row. Ten years ago this weekend, they won their fifth championship, their first since 1995. There are some familiar names still on the team from that 2007 championship, including Olean and center fielder Matt Van Der Bosch.
Looking ahead to next year, will the Mudhens have a chance for the three-peat?
"You know, we'll probably keep trying to hang on until our bodies tell us not to," Olean said. "We're getting a little bit long in the tooth, that always happens to good teams, but enough of these guys can keep themselves in shape and we'll continue to try and get better, add a few pieces and try and get younger at a few spots, but there's no reason we can't be good again."