Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.
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Seven of the top 10 girls' golf teams in Minnesota, and the top six golfers in the state, all came down to Mississippi National Golf Links on Tuesday. And when the final scores were added up, the Wingers were queens of their home course, winning the Winger Invitational for the first time since 2011.
CANNON FALLS — When Brady Braaten bears down, few pitchers in the Hiawatha Valley League are harder to bat around. Days after throwing a no-hitter against St. Charles, the Pine Island right-hander took to the mound again Thursday to lead the 16th-ranked Panthers against ninth-ranked Cannon Falls.
RANDOLPH – When eighth-grade pitcher Morgyn Otte takes to the rubber for Randolph, there's another eighth-grader in front of her in catcher Megan Erickson. Behind her in the infield is freshman Mackenna Otte and sophomore Andrea Splichal. In center field, a junior in Skyler Turek. There is plenty of age discrepancies on the Rockets' softball team. But success and a desire to help the school win a fifth straight Southeast Conference title has a way to erase the age gaps.
WANAMINGO — Between the shaggy infield slowing down balls and making life tough on the middle infielders, along with the pitching arm of Kenyon-Wanamingo’s Mathew Houglum, Cannon Falls had to change things on the fly. “It took a while to adjust to everything,” said Bombers’ starting pitcher Andrew Egge. “But, we got it rolling.”
PINE ISLAND — Behind the Pine Island dugout sits the hard work the Panthers' coaches have set up in hopes of boosting the team's bats. “It's an area we really wanted to improve and we thought, 'All right, we need to think outside the box. What are we going to do to do that?'” said head coach Kim Jones. “So we're going to have these hitting stations so we can get a lot of girls through and get a lot of reps.”
As a first-year head coach four seasons ago, Pine Island boys’ basketball coach Jim McNamara had a talented freshman waiting in the wings in Broc Finstuen. But McNamara wasn’t about to just hand over the reins to the youngster. “We kind of knew right from ninth grade, and even the summer before that, that he was going to be a special player,” McNamara said. “We decided early on to have him start with some JV and prove he deserved it.
This year’s lineup is a dichotomy Red Wing girls’ golf coach Mark Herzog isn’t used to. The longtime head coach has both his most experienced lineup, followed by his most inexperienced lineup. Leading the helm for the Winger girls is senior Stephanie Herzog, followed by sophomores Sophia Yoemans and Leah Herzog. Stephanie and Yoemans have been on varsity since seventh grade while Leah made the cut as an eighth-grader.
Both Brodie Smith and Tyler DeFore were looking for that first hit. Going into the bottom of the seventh tied 3-3 with Mankato East Saturday at the Red Wing Athletic Field, Red Wing's No. 2 and 3 hitters were a combined 0-for-5 going into the final frame as Smith stepped into the batter’s box. But Smith had a game plan and ripped a leadoff triple into the left-center gap.
There’s an air of familiarity surrounding the Red Wing baseball team this spring. Familiar faces are dotted around the dirt and grass of the baseball diamond, with seven starters returning from last year’s 14-9 squad. And, there’s that familiar hunger for the team after reaching the Section 1AAA final four and not advancing to the state tournament.
The foundation is there for Red Wing girls’ track and field team to repeat the success of 2016. The Class 2A True Team champions and runner-ups in the Big Nine Conference last spring, the Winger girls bring back quality runners in the distance events. Elise Leise, Elayna Meyer and Jasmyn Armstrong all return from the team’s state-qualifying 4x800-meter relay while Grace Johnson is back after a fifth-place showing in the 1,600 at the Big Nine meet, followed by a strong fall in cross-country.