Amateur baseball: Buttermakers hope to finish the job, get to state
BY LES KNUTSON
HADLEY -- There’s no grass on the infield and the outfield slants from left field to right, but Laurie Mahon Field on the eastern edge of Hadley (population 62) has hosted amateur baseball games over the past three decades, and today (Saturday, Aug. 12) the place will again be filled with enthusiastic fans as the Buttermakers -- revived in 1986 -- will host the Windom Pirates in the second round of a three-game series.
After the booming voice of Hadley rooter Mark Zinnel -- standing on the cemented concession stand area higher than the Buttermakers third-base dugout -- announces the starting lineups and the National Anthem is played, the first pitch will be tossed at 2 p.m.
A victory by Hadley today will send the Buttermakers back to the Class C state tournament for the third consecutive time. A win by the Pirates would even the series at a game apiece and force a decisive third game at Mahon Field on Sunday, also at 2 p.m.
“We love the challenge,” declared Windom player-manager Nick Kulseth, a three-time state champion as a high school wrestler for the Windom/Mountain Lake Cobras a bit more than a decade ago. “We’ve had our backs up against the wall before and responded, so we’ll be ready to play.”
The Pirates have won 17 of 28 games this summer including a pair of playoff victories over the Ruthton Royals (13-0 and 8-4), which advanced them into the eight-team Region 13C tournament as the seventh seed. Playing against the second-seeded Pipestone A’s, Windom won the first game (4-1 in 10 innings) and the third game (2-1), both at Pipestone to win the series. In between those two low-scoring victories, a 9-1 loss on their home field at Island Park put the Pirates in a must-win situation for Game 3.
“We’ve had to win before and we did,” said Kulseth, who plans to start Collin Lovell on the mound today. “When Collin’s pitched, our games have been low-scoring.”
After winning the series against the A’s, the Pirates tangled with third-seeded Fairmont and lost a pair of one-run decisions (5-4 and 2-1) to the Martins.
“We helped them out too much,” Kulseth said about the two losses to Fairmont. “Our pitchers gave up just one earned run, but we had eight errors which led to six other runs.”
In Windom’s 6-1 loss to Hadley in the first game of the third-place series at Island Park Wednesday night, the Pirates had four early errors (two in the first inning and two in the third), but only surrendered one unearned run during that time. As the game progressed, Windom’s defense improved, but the Pirates were not able to get runners on base against Hadley’s Lucas Henning, the team’s drafted pitching ace from the Worthington Cubs.
Kulseth indicated that the Pirates will again play without centerfielder Drake Borsgard, who has been sidelined for the past three games with injured ribs. “He is a tremendous centerfielder and we really miss him out there,” Kulseth said. “Drake was playing well before the injury.”Buttermakers continue playing as teammates
Hadley has a rich tradition in amateur baseball, going back to four state tournament trips in the 1940s (’40, ’42, ’43 and ’45). After playing as Lake Wilson during much of the 1970s and 1980s, the Buttermakers were reformed in 1986 and Myron Bennett has been a key component ever since.
“I started playing with Hadley in ’86 and became a co-manager (with Andy Monson) in ’92 before becoming the team’s manager the following year,” said Bennett, now in his 25th summer in charge of the Buttermakers.
Bennett noted that several combinations of players have been teammates for a long time. He’s also proud of the dedication of the entire team to keep Hadley’s tradition going.
“We have 23 guys on our roster and I’d say that at least 20 of them show up for every home game,” he said. “The support for one another is really strong.”
Leadoff hitter Joe Larson (centerfield) and slugger Nick Bruning (shortstop) were high school teammates at Murray County Central in Slayton in the early 2000s and played baseball together at both Iowa Lakes Community College (Estherville, Iowa) and the University of Sioux Falls during their first years with the Buttermakers. They were both on Hadley’s 2003 state tournament team and have been consistent performers for years since, including playing key roles for Bennett during back-to-back state-tournament runs in 2015 and 2016.
Likewise, battery mates Sam Erickson (Class of 2013) and Trent Carlson (2012) were recent high school teammates at MCC and have played together for years.
“Trent has caught while Sam pitched for quite a while,” said Bennett. “They know each other well and think the same way.”
Erickson, who has a 7-3 record in 10 starts for the Buttermakers this summer, will start today’s game and Carlson will be back behind the plate.
“Trent will be catching today,” Bennett said. “We had Blake (Rogers) catch Wednesday when Henning pitched, because they are cousins and have worked with each other through lots of years (at Worthington High School, the Wilmont Cardinals and at Morningside College). But with Sam pitching today, Trent will be back behind the plate.”
A power hitter, Rogers will return to third base today and will be joined in the infield by Bruning, the ever-versatile Derek Lieser (second base) and Max Zwart (first base).
Chris Halbur (left), Larson and Kellan Johnson (right) will patrol the tilted outfield for the Buttermakers, while Nate Wieneke will DH for Erickson.
Eric Wieneke and Alex Petersen are among the top reserves which Bennett feels he can utilize at any time.
“Our dugout is usually full and we have a lot of guys ready to contribute,” he declared.
Bruning (seven), Halbur (three), Zwart (two) and Rogers (two) have combined for 14 Hadley home runs this season, while Erickson and Edgerton’s Luke Drooger have been the pitching workhorses.
“I think that Sam and Luke have both started 10 games for us and have been about equally efficient,” Bennett said. “It’s Sam’s turn today and Luke will be ready, too.”
If there is a Game 3, Drooger would likely get the call.
For Windom, which has not been to the state tournament since 2009, today’s game is a must win.
“We’ve lost out to Hadley in the playoffs four years in a row,” remembers Kulseth. “We sure would like to change that by playing a good all-around game today.”
An interesting note to the series is that four of the players -- Henning and Rogers, along with Windom’s Sam Huska and Devin Nielsen -- all played together at Morningside (Sioux City, Iowa) this past spring.
“All four of them are good friends and get along great together,” summed up Kulseth, who has managed the Pirates since 2011.