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Published June 17 2010

Minnesota State High School baseball tournament: ‘New’ Otters make it back to state

Fergus Falls’ baseball team is back at the state tournament, but this year’s return trip has the feel of a first time for these Otters.

Only two players are back from the squad that took second in the Minnesota Class 2A tournament a year ago.

“A few of them were with us, but not very many of them played,” Otters coach Mark Aho said. “We were a little surprised to get back there, but we expected this group to be playing at this level at the end of the year.”

Only Alex Hench and Spencer Kidder are making a return trip to state after seeing playing time at last year’s state tournament.

Fergus Falls should recognize its first-round opponent. The Otters take on La Crescent at 12:30 p.m. in St. Cloud, Minn., in today’s first round.

La Crescent was the team that downed Fergus Falls

5-3 in last year’s state title game.

“There are only two guys with experience from there last year, but I think watching what those guys did last year helped us,” Fergus Falls sophomore Pete Gaustad said. “It was an advantage just being around those guys.”

The Otters also have the advantage of playing in the Central Lakes Conference – a league loaded with Class 3A schools. Brainerd is one of those teams, and the Warriors are in the Class 3A tournament.

“We’ve played a tough schedule, and I think this has readied us for this,” Aho said. “We rely on pitching and defense, and you have to have those things once you get here.”

Four starters – Gaustad, Kidder, Darin Stanislawski and Zach Rengel – have carried the load for the Otters. That quartet has pitched all but five of the team’s innings this season.

“The four of us pitch, and not many relievers come in,” Gaustad said. “We pitch every game and all game, and that’s a huge advantage for us.’

Stanislawski (5-1, 2.39 ERA, 63 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched) will likely get the start in the opener against La Crescent.

Offensively, the Otters share the wealth. Fergus Falls has scored 172 runs this season, and six different players have at least 15 RBIs on the season.

Gaustad leads the team with a .439 batting average, but Dan Revering (.390), Hensch (.342) and Kidder (.325) can all hit. In all, the Otters have six regulars hitting over .300.

“The guys in the middle of the lineup have shared the responsibility of getting key hits,” Aho said. “One game Revering is hot. The next game (Boyden) Lee will get hot, or Gaustad.

“It’s tough to score runs down there (at state), but you have get those key hits.”

This majority of this group might be new, but the expectations are still the same. Gaustad said the team is focused on getting back to the same spot as last year’s team.

“We’ve been hot lately, and our season has gone kind of how our games go,” Gaustad said. “We don’t do much early, and then pour it on in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. By then teams are like ‘What the heck?’

“We want to go down there and keep this going. We want to put on a show down there.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kerry Collins at (701) 241-5548