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Tom Mix, Published August 02 2012

Fergus overcomes high school heartbreak

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – Two months ago, many members of the Fergus Falls American Legion baseball team came within a game of qualifying for a state tournament only to come up short.

Fergus Falls High School’s loss to Roseau in the Minnesota Class 2A, Section 8 title game was a big motivator this summer for the Legion team, who on Monday defeated the Moorhead Blues 5-1 in the Division I, District 9 tournament championship game.

The win sealed a trip to the Minnesota Division I state tournament which starts at 10 a.m. today with Fergus Falls playing Winona at Lyons Park in Victoria, Minn.

“It was a pretty big heartbreaker for me and Zach (Rengel) being the only two seniors on the team,” Fergus Falls shortstop Peter Gaustad said of the Otters’ loss. “We got a few guys back from college for Legion and we wanted to make a state tournament and that is what we did.”

Fergus Falls has won the last four District 9 championships. This season’s squad is largely a new group of players, but Gaustad, Rengel and Nick and Luke Heck were the veterans who have played on the team the last three summers.

“That leadership has come up big with our newcomers,” Fergus Falls head coach Nick Lewis said.

Gaustad leads the team in batting average (.493), RBIs (30), and home runs (4). Rengel is Fergus Falls’ ace on the mound and tossed seven innings striking out five and allowing one run in the win against the Blues.

Nick and Luke Heck are Fergus Falls’ corner outfielders. Nick Heck is batting .294 and has 15 RBIs. Fergus Falls catcher Walker Heinen and infielder Austin Hanson have been key members of the team’s 2013 class hitting .386 and .338, respectively.

With a lot of turnover on the roster there was some concern on how well Fergus Falls would fare this summer.

“I was a little bit worried for the Legion year,” said Gaustad who is committed to play baseball at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls next spring. “We really stepped up and we have improved a ton.”

Lewis describes his Fergus Falls squad as weird and the team does have a unique, gritty side to it often organizing games of “one ball” before games and a new creation called “baskey” – a hybrid of baseball and hockey.

“We are not a team that isn’t going to score a whole bunch of runs,” Lewis said. “We are a team that is going to be scrappy and scratch and claw for our runs.”

The last two seasons, Fergus Falls has had to play decisive games against Moorhead to qualify for state.

“The last two years we have kind of got ourselves into a little bit of a hole,” Gaustad said. “We like to do it the hard way, but sometimes that is better for bringing a team together.”

Last year, Fergus Falls opened state with a win, but lost the next two.

“We got to stay relaxed, be ourselves and really enjoy the moment,” Lewis said. “Any time you have a bunch of new guys and new higher level of baseball it is really easy for them to let nerves and fears take over. … But as long as we have fun and stay weird we’ll be OK.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562