BY DAVID PEDERSEN
Delano baseball coach Dan Paulson’s intent was to have his players doing their best by tourney time when it counts the most.
The concept worked to near perfection as the Tigers outscored section playoff opponents 36-2 in five straight victories to advance to state for the third straight season.
Delano (18-7) opens the Class 2A state tournament against defending state champion St. Cloud Cathedral (22-5), 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 14 at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud.
The winner plays at 2:30 p.m. Friday, June 15 against wither Minneapolis Washburn (25-0) or Proctor (17-6) in St. Cloud. The state title game is 3 p.m. Monday, June 18 at Target Field, home of the Twins.
A loss in the first round would mean a 12:20 game on Friday with the consolation title set for 3 p.m. Friday in St. Cloud. A semifinal setback results in the third place game played at 5 p.m. Friday.
"We got really good pitching, played very well defensively and had timely hitting," said Paulson about the romp through the region. "We were fortunate to beat Rockford in the sub-section final and did not have to go through the loser’s bracket."
Rockford did have to take the rougher road and lost to Breck 13-2 to end a great playoff run when winning three straight.
Delano put a stop to Breck’s offensive explosion by winning the section crown 6-0 last Thursday. Senior pitcher Tyler Wolfe allowed five hits in eight innings with eight strikeouts and one walk.
Wolfe, Zach Muchenhirn and Toby Hanson powered the offense by each going 2 for 3. The other hits were by Cody Mathisen and Hunter Hart.
Pitching was a key factor for the Tigers in the section playoffs and will continue to be in the state tournament.
Paulson said if his team makes the title game Monday like it did two years ago, the first game pitcher would be 80 percent ready to go again. So, three good pitching efforts would be needed for the Tigers to go all the way.
Two years ago Delano finished second at state and last year took the consolation crown after a narrow defeat in the first round. Wolfe is the lone starter from the title game team, while Hanson, Muchenhirn and Mathisen gained state tourney experience last season. The rest are newcomers to the big show.
Paulson plans to start Muchenhirn against St. Cloud, and then go with Wolfe and Mathisen. The two had nearly identical outstanding seasons. Both pitched 47 innings and posted the same 0.89 earned run average.
Muchenhirn was 6-1 with 59 strikeouts and 21 walks. Wolfe was 5-1 with three saves with 53 strikeouts and 19 walks. Mathisen would work the third game, if needed. He was 5-2 with a 1.71 earned run average in 41 innings of work.
While the proven veterans helped power the offense, it was varsity newcomer Dean Halonen who posted the highest batting average of .400 along with collecting 22 hits.
Hanson and Wolfe were close behind at .378 and Muchenhirn hit .368. Both Hanson and Muchenhirn had 28 hits while Wolfe led with 31 hits. The other Tiger batting over 300 was sophomore Hunter Hart at .315 with 17 hits.
The coach talked about his starting lineup and top reserves, involving 18 players. He adds that every one contributed to the section title in one shape or another.
"Toby improved as our catcher," said Paulson about Hanson who was All-Tournament at state last year as a ninth-grader. "He has improved his mechanical skills and how he calls a game. Toby is bigger, faster, stronger and has improved in every area."
The coach adds how it helps that Hanson started in football and basketball, which he says is worth the weight in golf.
Starting at first base has been sophomore Christian Triplett, backed up by seniors Ben Jerdy and Scott Kliszcz. Halonen worked at second base.
Shortstop was shared by Wolfe, junior Adam Schleper and sophomore Justin Oja. Schleper primarily started at third base, backed by sophomore Damon Longstreet.
Starting outfielders included senior Eric Berglund in right, backed up by Muchenhirn and junior Kurtis Burley. Mathisen and junior Jon Dahl work in centerfield and sophomore Adam Kraft and senior Matt Lemke play in left field. Sophomore Hunter Hart is the designated hitter and backup catcher.
Strong pitching has been a cornerstone for the Tiger program in recent years. Paulson is the pitching coach who learned from some great mentors when he was a catcher at St. Michael-Albertville High, Anoka-Ramsey Community College and Grandview College.
Prior to each spring season, Paulson takes 30-plus players in grades nine to 12 and teaches them the basic mechanics of pitching, plus how to throw all of the pitches. The coach then watches to see who will stand out.
Other state tournament teams in Class 2A are Holy Family Catholic, who beat Delano twice this year, Cannon Falls, Roseau and Fairmont.