10 June 2014

Baseball: Best in years

Parker Holmstrom: MVP, All-Missota Conference, Top Gun (photo by Jim Lindquist)
Prior to the start of his first year as head coach Jon Graff said he felt that if he and his team focused on the process and took care of business positive results would follow. Looking back on the 2014 season it looks like they did.

The Tigers finished the season with an 11-9 record (6-8 in the Missota Conference), their best since tying for the Missota Conference championship and advancing to the Section 1AA Final Four in 2006.

"I can honestly say we lived up to our potential," Graff said. "We made some errors and everything wasn't always perfect, but that's baseball.

"We played to the best of our abilities and had fun doing it. We played a lot of good baseball and when things did go wrong, we did a good job of battling through adversity."

Graff and his staff awarded 14 letters to members of the team at its post-season banquet. Monorgam winners included  seniors JD Hinks, Landon Neilsen, Jordan DeCroock, Jordan Beschorner, Johnny Dittman, Ryan Gebel, Nick Schoening, Kyle Johnson and Tyler Clayton and juniors Parker Holmstrom, Austin Martinsen, Bobby Eckert, Maverick Carlson and Robert Kramer.

MVP Holmstrom who hit a team-high .382 and went 4-2 pitching with a 2.03 earned run average and Dittman (.299 average) landed spots on the all-Missota Conference team. Hinks (4-1, 1.75 ERA) and 1Martinsen (team-best 15 RBI) received all-league honorable mention.

Holmstrom also received the Top Gun Award as the top pitcher while DeCroock (.359 average) took home "Batting Champ" honors. The Mr. D award went to Dittman and Johnson and Clayton shared the Tiger Award for attitude and work ethic.

Johnny Dittman: All-Missota Conference, Mr. D (photo by Jim Lindquist)
Graff said improved pitching (team ERA of 3.48) and hitting (team average of .302) stood out as primary reasons for the team's success.

"Hinks and Holmstrom had rock solid years pitching and we improved our team batting average 40 points from last year," he said.

Graff also liked the variety of ways his team was able to put together wins: blowouts, nail-biters and those of the come-from-behind variety.

"Lastly, the kids were a highlight," he said, "They made my first year both enjoyable and memorable. They played the game the right way, cared for each other and really believed in themselves. They were just great."

As far as disappointments, Graff said only one one stood out.

"Losing our first section game (4-3) to Lakeville South hurt," he said. "But South played a tough schedule all year and they took advantage of what we gave them. We almost battled all the way back but we just came up a little short."

Losing nine seniors will create a vacuum but the Tiger coach said next year's cupboard will not be entirely bare.

"We'll have a good core returning and some others who we will look to step into new roles.," he said. "We're also getting a little deeper at the younger levels which should help competition for positions. We'll have good pitching depth again...We should be just fine."

Next year will also bring about a major change in the regular season schedule as the Tigers move to the South Suburban Conference.

"The Missota is a good baseball conference but the South Suburban is deeper with some of the best teams in the state," Graff said. "There won't be any easy games, that for sure."