With an 11-9-1 record and four playoff games in the postseason, you’d never suspect that the Waconia baseball schedule was one of the worst coach Mark Grundhofer has seen.
“It was bad,” he said.
With rainy, snow, and whatever else fell from the sky, the Wildcats spent the first month and a half of practice in the gym. Games were postponed, reschedule, and postponed again, sometimes even being cancelled and scrapped from the schedule altogether.
“I had half a season to play 20 ball games,” Grundhofer said, crediting the Wildcats will a never give up attitude in the gym. “Six weeks inside and these kids never complained.”
With the troublesome early season, the Wildcats were faced with many double headers, something Grundhofer doesn’t favor, particularly away games.
“Away doubleheaders are tough, they always feel rushed,” he said.
Grundhofer said the team struggled to mentally separate the games of a double header, and dropped both games to Hutchinson and Delano on separate occasions.
The three games that were cancelled during the season, against Litchfield, Mound-Westonka, and New London-Spicer, Grundhofer said he felt the ‘Cats could have won.
“We had a great chance of winning those games,” he said.
The Wildcats kicked off the season by surprising Minnetonka in a 6-2 victory on April 16. Throughout the year, Waconia also picked up big wins over Holy Family (2-1 in 11 innings), Orono (15-4), Shakopee (13-1), Dassel-Cokato (16-5), and Annandale (12-1), among others.
The No. 8 seeded Wildcats won their play in game to the Section 2AAA tournament by defeating No. 9 Buffalo in a 5-4 game that took 10 innings to resolve on May 24. The ‘Cats lost to Minnetonka 9-2 later that night, but would bounce back in the lower bracket with an eight-inning 2-1 win over New Prague on May 27.
Tired from the New Prague game, the ‘Cats didn’t wake up until the sixth inning of their May 28 game against Chaska. Chaska won 4-1 and eliminated Waconia from the tournament.
“It was great playing four games instead of one and done,” Grundhofer said. “We were in every game.”
The Wildcats lose five seniors from the 2013 graduating class including Dan Butz, who was a four-year starter for the team and the lead off batter for the last two seasons. Butz leaves a hole on the mound and at third base.
“He’s just a good ball player,” Grundhofer said.
Another All-Conference athlete that graduated was Josh Lenz, who had a great season on the mound for WHS. Lenz plans to play college ball at Concordia-St. Paul next year.
“This year he came out and it was just lights out,” Grundhofer said.
Cole Hanson, Cody Clark, and Mitch Green all filled in positions for WHS and will also depart the team as seniors. Grundhofer said every member of this year’s team was important.
“We used everybody,” he said. “There were games I’d play all 14 kids.”
With their 11-9-1 record, the ‘Cats finished fourth in the Wright County Conference, something Grundhofer was pleased to see.
“I look at the teams that are above us and they’re good ball teams,” he said.
The Wildcats stayed in every ball game this season because of the stellar players on the mound.
“The pitching staff was phenomenal this year,” Grundhofer said. “We were in every ball game because of our pitchers. It was a treat to watch.”
Despite the departure of regular pitchers Butz and Lenz, Grundhofer has a solid foundation of pitchers remaining in Jacob Herd, Blake Pistulka, Roch Whittaker, and Jacob Stevenson.
“There’s my pitching staff right there next year,” Grundhofer said.
Nick Hukriede will return as catcher next season, along with Hunter Baumann, Cole Sawyer, and Tommy Gove, who should be back from injury.
This season, Lenz pitched 40.2 innings for WHS and was 5-1 overall in his starts. He struck out 62 batters throughout the season and only allowed 13 runs (11 earned) on 21 hits.
Herd threw 26.2 innings and gave up eight runs (seven earned) on 22 hits. He struck out 15. Butz threw 19 innings, giving up seven runs (six earned) on 25 hits, with nine strikeouts.
Butz led the Wildcat offense this season with a .423 batting average. Stevenson (.371) and Whittaker (.356) both batted well above .300.
Grundhofer has no regrets from the season, except for wishing it had lasted longer.
“This is a group I’d like to play another 2 months with,” he said.
Contact Melissa Marohl at firstname.lastname@example.org