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Amateur Baseball: Aces reload for another state run

Red Wing's Aaron Johnson delivers a pitch during a game last season. Johnson went 7-4 overall for the Aces with 100 strikeouts in 104 2/3 innings.

The Red Wing Aces made the Class B Amateur state tournament last season for the first time since 2006.

With their deepest pitching staff in years, the Aces should see little drop-off, co-manager Andy Gibart said.

"I think we will have a leg up this year because of our pitching," he said. "This is probably our deepest pitching staff. That's going to be our focus this year. We're hopefully going to be dominant."

Red Wing's pitching staff had a combined E.R.A of 3.51. Aaron Johnson was a definitive top starter for the Aces last season, going 7-4 in 104 2/3 innings with three saves. He finished the season with a 2.47 ERA and struck out 100 while walking just 22.

"Aaron truly was an ace last year," Gibart said. "He's been throwing every day. He's ready to go."

Gibart went 9-4 with a 2.61 ERA in 98 2/3 innings.

On offense, Adam Thygesen got Red Wing rolling early in the season while the rest of the lineup struggled. He finished with a .337 batting average, 29 RBI and 25 runs scored out of the leadoff spot. In the middle of the order, catcher and co-manager Jimmy Bohmbach hit .304 with a team-leading 30 RBI, nine doubles and two home runs. Steve Boldt finished with 12 stolen bases, had a .286 batting average, three triples and four home runs. As the team caught fire in the second half of the season, so did Bohmbach, Boldt and Zach Laffey, who hit .296 and had a team-high 12 doubles and eight home runs.

"It's no coincidence that once Jimmy and Steve started hitting in the middle of the order we started winning some games," Gibart said. "We do have some flexibility at the bottom of the order; as long as our middle of the order is producing we do have some flexibility."

While the middle of the order returns, Red Wing will be without center fielder and former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Chris Guetzlaff, who decided to end his playing career. He hit .255 with nine doubles, 21 RBI and had eight stolen bases.

"He took a year off and then came back last year," Gibart said. "He's the old wily vet and he's just hanging it up. He came back for the one year and had a great time."

The Aces will have plenty of options in the outfield to replace for Guetzlaff as Boldt, Mike Stegora, Zach Laffey, Dave Jenson, Alex Quiding and Josh Thygesen will all be fighting for playing time. The competition for third base is expected to be the final puzzle piece for Red Wing.

"The biggest thing is can we stay healthy and can somebody step up at third base and can somebody seize an outfield spot," Gibart said. "It'll be some good competition for that. No reason the rest can't be good enough to win games."

The poor Minnesota spring also creates an issue for amateur teams that count almost exclusively on outdoor fields for practice. But with the host of arms available at his disposal, Gibart said he isn't worried about another slow start this year.

"We're building off such a great end to last year," he said. "With our (defense up the) middle of Jimmy, Zach (Garner), Adam and Steve in center, we're very solid defensively. Our batting order is going to be pretty steady."

The Aces were 25-19 last year and endured a seven-game losing streak from May 18-June 3 before catching fire in the final month of the season. Red Wing has made 28 appearances in the state tournament.

"It was an interesting year," Gibart said. "We were the last seed in the section tournament. But it was a completely different feeling. We were hot at the end of the year. We felt like we were a state tournament team. Unlike past years, we were able to prove that. We had some pretty darn good records, but we couldn't get out of the section tournament.

"We knew we were talented enough and able to do it with our pitching, clutch hitting and playing good defense. It was such a treat to be able to manage a team like that. We're a team of mostly Red Wing guys. It's a proud moment when we can actually play in the state tournament."

Last week's storm caused damage to the Red Wing Athletic Field's grandstand, but the Aces hope to host the Minneapolis Angels Friday.

"We're coming back from a great run at the state tourney and we expect that to carry over this year," Gibart said. "We expect our pitching to really dominate. We're looking forward to having a great start of the year and really not losing many games."

Chris Harrell
Chris Harrell is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The Daily Caller in Washington, D.C. For updates on local sports, follow Chris on Twitter at @RECHarrell.
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