A team with a season record of 6-13 isn’t typically viewed as successful, but when three of those wins came in the section tournament and gave the Mayer Lutheran baseball team a shot at the section final game, it’s a pretty good year.
The Crusaders finished the regular season 3-11 and last in the Minnesota River Conference, with victories over LeSueur-Henderson, Sibley East, and Belle Plaine. The regular season was a series of conference doubleheaders after the original schedule was scrapped due to the seemingly never-ending snow, rain, and muddy fields.
It was in the Section 4A tournament, however, that the Crusaders really seemed to find their stride. Seeded No. 7, the Crusaders easily defeated No. 10 PACT Charter in a 12-2 game. They surprised No. 2 New Life Academy with a 12-2 win in five innings. Mayer Lutheran then kicked No. 3 St. Agnes down to the playback bracket, before facing No. 5 Heritage Christian.
Heritage Christian, in turn, defeated Mayer Lutheran 2-1, despite a 14-strikeout game thrown by LHS senior Tanner Luebke on June 3. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, their luck would run on June 4 as they faced St. Agnes once again to stay in the tournament. The Aggies took down LHS 2-1 to advance to the section final game. The Aggies would then upset Heritage Christian twice to take the Section 4A title and the state tournament entry.
Pitching was a continuous strength of the Crusaders all season. Mayer Lutheran’s top two starters, Tanner Luebke and Cole Buttenhoff, “just both pitched outstanding for us,” head coach Dave Lane said.
He added that the defense was relatively solid, but too many close games were lost because of errors.
“We had a little bit of a tough time winning the really close ones,” Lane said.
Over the season as a whole, the Crusaders struggled slightly at the plate, especially when it came to bringing runs home. Weeks of indoor practice meant hours of hitting in the cage off a pitching machine and Lane said it took the Crusaders awhile to readjust to being outside against live pitching.
“Obviously it would have been nice it we had hit the ball just a little better, we probably four more ball games, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do about that,” Lane said.
The Crusaders say goodbye to seven seniors this season. Luebke will be missing from the mound and “obviously that’s going to hurt,” Lane said. The other end of the plate will be hurting too, as senior catcher Lincoln Biermann also graduates. Aaron Luehrs, who covered second base and shortstop and batted cleanup in the order, will leave a whole in the infield, while outfielders Phil Burfeind and Josh Parrish will also be gone. Jacob Struble, who dabbled at first base, and Michael Limmel, who often pinch ran, will also be missing from next year’s lineup, leaving Lane with smaller incoming junior and senior classes than he’s seen in awhile.
“We just have really small numbers,” he said, adding that some newer varsity members may have to step in and play before they’re ready. “I think they’ll come around. Hopefully by the end of the year they’ll be seasoned and hopefully we can do this all over again.”
Returning for LHS next year, however, will be a core of players who earned their varsity stripes this season including Buttenhoff, Joel Burfeind, Chase Anderson, Mitchell Baumann, Sam Schlueter, and Jack Chmielewski, among others.
Lane said this year’s team was truly enjoyable to work with.
“It was a great bunch of guys, we just had a lot of fun,” he said. “I would have loved for them to have finished the season off and go to the state tournament, but it wasn’t to be.”
Cole Buttenhoff was the team’s All-Conference award recipient, while Tanner Luebke was All-Conference Honorable Mention.
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