Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
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Two young softball teams got the spring season going in the area on Monday night as Hancock and West Central Area battled in Barrett under sunshine and near 55 degrees. They couldn’t have asked for much better conditions on March 27 on a day when the bats were ahead of the pitching in a 23-5 win for the Knights in five innings.
SOFTBALL WCA vs. Hancock, 5 p.m.
Players from the Parkers Prairie baseball team gathered down the third-base line at Target Field after a 4-2 loss in last year's Class A state championship game and talked more about being happy with second place than disappointed in not taking first. The Panthers had every reason to be proud after a 22-3 season that even they admitted they didn't see coming. They were one out away from finishing as champions before Springfield rallied with two outs to tie the game in the seventh before eventually winning in 11 innings.
A Gophers basketball season that had its highs and lows ended abruptly with a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament to Middle Tennessee State on March 16. Since then, I've seen reactions both on Twitter and in the media that a first-round loss in the tournament somewhat diminishes what this team accomplished this winter.
This is a look at how some area athletes are doing at their respective colleges or in their athletic careers. Similar pieces will run periodically through the fall, winter and spring seasons. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any more detailed information on the athletes listed or the names of other athletes who are playing college sports that you would like to see included in future publications.
The West Central Area boys basketball team handed out its season awards on Tuesday night after an 11-15 record overall. The Knights lost nine of those 15 games by five points or fewer and actually outscored their opponents on average. They put up 55.4 points per night and allowed 53.8. "No matter what kind of adversity we faced, these guys were extremely close and always supported one another," WCA head coach Kraig Hunter said of this group.
The Brandon-Evansville boys basketball team was a member of two conferences this winter season and had four players total named to all-league teams among the two. Junior point guard Taylor Bitzan and junior forward Darrin Wibstad earned the honor as All-Little Eight Conference team members. Bitzan averaged a team-leading 12.6 points per game this season. He added a team-best 81 assists and 44 steals, while also grabbing 5.6 rebounds per game.
Alexandria first-year swimming and diving coach Kathy Walker was named the Coach of the Year for Section 5A in boys swimming and diving. Walker guided the Cardinals to a second-place finish at the section meet this past season. Perennial power Sartell-St. Stephen finished first in the meet with 531 points, while Alexandria tallied 353 points. Melrose-Sauk Centre was third with 302. The section coach of the year honor puts Walker into the running for the state coach of the year award that will be announced at the end of April.
Brandon-Evansville girls basketball coach Dick Simpson was driving home late at night from a scouting trip in New York Mills this past January. The Eagles were the Chargers' last regular season game on Feb. 24, and this was a chance for the 66-year-old Simpson to get a look at them with B-E having the night off. Halfway through the hour-long trip back to Brandon, he looked down at the outside temperature gauge on his vehicle.
Alexandria native Brady Swedberg had to pause a bit when he first saw that the chance to lead the Cardinal boys golf program was available this January. Swedberg, an assistant golf professional at the Geneva Golf Club, had just taken over the Osakis boys and girls golf programs a year earlier. With that came a commitment to those kids that he was apprehensive about backing out of.