By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
Albertville and St. Michael are used to being attached at the hip when it comes to competitive sports teams. In amateur baseball, things were no different. That is until the two teams merged in 1996 to form both the Villains and the Saints.
North Star League rivals Albertville, Elk River and Rogers have yet to test St. Michael when it comes to challenging for the North Division. The Saints are coming off a perfect 6-0 division record a year ago before losing both games in the super-section playoffs.
“I think state is an easy goal,” said Saints head coach Mike Freske. “The way they switched Class B this year, our first goal is to get the No. 1 seed in the section.”
The St. Michael Recreation Center will be the home site to the Section 8 tournament held the first two weeks in August. Eight teams will compete at sections with only two advancing to the super sections in mid-August.
“We made it to the super section last year and went 0-2, so obviously we want to improve on that,” Freske said.
After dropping two of its first three games, the Saints have reeled off five wins in a row to improve their overall record to 6-2. One of its highlight wins came in a 16-5 victory on June 5 over the Villains.
Starting pitcher Blaine Barthel struggled early, but pitched five innings to earn his first victory of the season. The game was highlighted by Saints outfielder Roman Collins’ four hits and four RBI’s. Brady Jacobs also connected for the team’s first home run of the season with a 3-run shot over the left field fence in the seventh inning.
“Barthel is still working out the kinks a bit, but he’s one of our top pitchers,” Freske said. “The home run by Jacobs should help with his confidence. He’s a young kid and it should help get him to where he wants to be.”
Albertville comes into the season with question marks. After a 3-3 league record a year ago, the Villains come into the season with a lot of new faces.
Albertville does return NSL Most Valuable Player Jeff Jarvis to the outfield. Jarvis led the NSL with a .423 average, 19 RBI’s and 22 hits. Also providing a solid 1-2 punch on offense is third baseman Shane McLaughlin, who finished second to Jarvis with a .413 average.
“We got a lot younger this year,” said veteran catcher Jason Sokolowski. “We have about a 50-percent turnover from last year. We have a lot of talent. But we are kind of a Jekyll and Hyde type of team.”
The pitching is led by veteran starters Todd Klaers and Paul Schumacher. Mitch Roberts, Matt McNeil and the return of Drew Bebus – who returns to the team after a stint in Afghanistan – also bring experience to the mound.
“Our goal is to be above .500,” Sokolowski said. “If we split against everybody and beat Rogers twice, that’s what we’re shooting for. We’re young.”
The Villains (5-5 overall) are next in action at 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday at Rogers.