Sights set on state
The Carlos Cougars are back where they always seem to be – in a region tournament with a chance to make a run at state.
The Cougars made sure of that by becoming the first team from the Resorters East Division to punch a ticket to the Region 14C tournament on Sunday with a 12-9 win over Long Prairie. Carlos has been a perennial power in the area over much of the last decade and is eager to see what it can do in another region tournament as the Cougars try to get back to state for the first time since 2010.
“It feels good,” player/coach Aaron Noetzelman said. “It’s step two of our goals for the season. Step one is to win the league and then to get to regions. Just have to keep chipping away. We have to keep swinging the bats and pitchers need to keep throwing strikes. Our defense is always right there, so we feel we’ll have a good shot.”
The Cougars needed a couple come-from-behind wins over the weekend to secure their region spot. Carlos trailed Sauk Centre 3-0 early on Saturday before winning 12-7.
That set up a matchup against Long Prairie on Sunday after the Predators beat Alexandria in a 6-3 game. Long Prairie jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning against Carlos but couldn’t hold it.
“We never give up on this team and with our bats and the way we’re capable of hitting we always feel we’re in a game still,” Noetzelman said. “We scored 12 runs on a good couple pitchers here for Long Prairie and even our outs were hit pretty hard today.”
The Predators built that first-inning lead thanks to a two-RBI double from Taylor Kaiser and some help from the Cougars. Carlos had two errors in the inning and Ben Bruggeman struggled with his control on the mound. He walked two and two wild pitches with guys on third led to a couple runs.
Bruggeman settled down after that. He went five-plus innings and was credited with the win after allowing five runs on four hits and four walks. He struck out six and retired nine straight at one point, which allowed the Cougars to get back in the game after the bats got going. Jay Schueler threw 2 2/3 innings before Neil Jenzen got the save by getting the final four outs.
Bruggeman said he and the rest of the team were able to settle in after getting all the bad plays out of the way in the first inning. He knew if the Cougars were going to get back in it, that it started with him putting up some zeroes starting in the second inning.
“Everybody has been swinging the bat real well and hitting the ball,” Bruggeman said. “We’ve been putting the ball in play and making the other team’s defense work, so it felt like if we could hold them there and play a clean baseball game, no errors or walks, we would be able to turn out good.”
The Predators held the 4-0 lead until the third when Matt Hoelscher came to the plate with Gideon Burnham on first. Hoelscher turned on a pitch from Long Prairie’s Austin Host and sent it over the left field wall to cut the deficit in half.
“We talk about it all the time that in baseball it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Hoelscher said. “So you just got to chip away inning by inning. Being down 4-0 right away, good teams stay positive and find a way to claw back in it. Plus, a lot of us are veterans so we’ve been there before. I think the home run really helped the confidence that we could come back a lot sooner.”
That three-run third inning opened the floodgates for the Cougars. Carlos scored in the next four frames behind a balanced lineup that had 12 hits, was hit by pitches in four at-bats and drew four walks.
Hoelscher reached base in all four of his at-bats with a couple more singles and a walk to finish with three runs scored and three RBIs from the ninth spot in the lineup. Brad Nyberg hit a solo home run in the fifth inning that made it a 7-5 game after the Predators had cut it to one in the top of the frame.
Noetzelman had a double and a two-RBI single. Schueler reached base three times on a hit-by-pitch, a walk and a double to go along with two RBIs, while AJ Anderson had two hits, a walk and scored three times. It’s an offense that is clicking at the right time after scoring 30 runs over the last three games.
“We have a pretty tough lineup,” Hoelscher said. “If our pitching can throw strikes and we can make some plays in the field, right now we’re hot with our bats, so we feel like we can do some damage. That’s our goal.”
The Cougars can rest a little easier now going into the East tournament title game this weekend with a region spot wrapped up. Long Prairie will try to fight its way back through the loser’s bracket by playing Sauk Centre after the Titans ended Alexandria’s season with a 6-3 win on Sunday.
Carlos will try to get a higher seed in the Region 14C tournament by winning the East title game with one more win this weekend. After that, it’s on to regions again where it’s about taking the next step for a group that is hungry to get back to state.
“I think for seven years in a row we went to state and we’ve missed it the last couple years,” Hoelscher said. “Especially us older guys who know our time is coming to an end, we’d like to get back at least one more time and see what we can do. We thought we had a great chance last year and all of a sudden we got hurt…we feel confident. We just have to throw strikes and swing the bat.”
LONG PRAIRIE 400 010 310 – 9 9 1
CARLOS 003 314 10X – 12 12 2
CARLOS PITCHING – Bruggeman – W, 5IP, 4H, 5R, 4BB, 6SO; Schueler – 2 2/3IP, 4H, 4R, 2BB, 3SO; Jenzen – 1 1/3IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 0SO
CARLOS OFFENSE – Noetzelman – 2-4, 2B, HBP, 2 RBI; Schueler – 1-3, BB, HBP, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 runs; Ryan Severson – 0-3; Jake Tharaldson – 1-2, RBI, 1 run; Nyberg – 1-3, HR, BB, HBP, RBI, 1 run; Neil Jenzen – 1-5, 2 RBI; Bruggeman – 1-5; Anderson – 2-4, BB, 3 runs; Burnham – 0-3, HBP, 1 r un; Hoelscher – 3-3, BB, HR, 3 RBI, 3 runs
LONG PRAIRIE OFFENSE – Austin Kaiser – 2-5, 2B, 2 runs, RBI; Cody Steward – 1-4, BB, 2 runs; Duane Miller – 3-5, BB, 2 runs, 2 RBI; Taylor Kaiser – 2-5, 2B, 3B, 4 RBI, 2 runs; Tim Zastrow – 1-4, BB; Zachery Miller – 0-4; Joey Gaida – 0-1, 2 BB, 2 runs; Sam Ecker – 0-4; Austin Host – 0-3, BB