John's Journal
Big Day in Softball: Richfield Pulls Shocker, Strikeout Record Falls6/2/2010
The first big “Wow!” moment of the spring tournaments took place Wednesday evening in Richfield, on a softball diamond tucked in between the mammoth Best Buy headquarters complex and a giant Richfield water tower.

The towering story of Class 3A softball is the Richfield Spartans, who were seeded seventh in the Section 6 tournament and came out of the loser’s bracket Thursday to defeat No. 3 seed Armstrong twice and earn a trip to next week’s state tournament in North Mankato. The scores were 2-1 in an eight-inning first game and 3-0 in the finale.

Richfield began the postseason with a record of 10-11, but they will take a 17-12 mark into the state quarterfinals. The Spartans will meet Mounds View or Maple Grove at state; those teams will decide the Section 5 title on Thursday.

(For photos and video from the Richfield-Armstrong games, see the MSHSL Facebook page.)

Meanwhile, down south in Austin, the state record for career softball strikeouts changed hands. Hope Lutheran senior Felicia Meyer broke the record by striking out 15 in a 3-0 victory over Rushford-Peterson in the loser’s bracket final. Hope Lutheran's season then ended with a 4-0 loss to Class 1A, Section 1 champion and state qualifier Blooming Prairie. The career strikeout record had been 1,178, set by Lindsey Predovich of Virginia from1998 to 2003. Meyer's new record is 1,196.

The Richfield-Armstrong matchup drew a large crowd to the field at Richfield Middle School, as well as television coverage from cable Channel 12 from the northwest suburbs. With TV cameras on top of both dugouts, the games had a big-time air, and the play lived up to that level.

Among the stars for Richfield were junior pitcher Carly Klass and sophomore catcher Bry Guyton. Klass pitched all 15 innings to get the two victories and Guyton was big at the plate. She knocked in both runs in the first game, hitting a two-out RBI single in the first inning and doubling to drive in the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning. She blasted a solo home run over the left-field fence in the second game. Earlier in Game 2, Richfield’s Kalie Johnson had smacked a two-run double.

The day’s action began with a strange scene: a shovel was brought out so the pitching rubber could be moved. The home plate umpire stepped off the distance between the rubber and home plate – doing so from each end of the rubber – and determined that the rubber was not squarely facing home plate. It didn’t take long for some dirt to be moved and the rubber corrected.

The bleachers behind the plate were full for both games, which took nearly four hours to complete. Lots of people sat in lawn chairs, a few watched from inside the batting cage that runs down the left-field line and the real sun lovers sat beyond the outfield fence, basking in the sunshine.

The day not only started with a strange scene (the pitching rubber being moved), it ended with another odd sight. After receiving their gold medals and section championship plaque, the Richfield players posed for photos. For a few snapshot they all held their index fingers in the air – signifying “We’re No. 1!” – but then the Spartans held up seven fingers ... signifying their seeding. Nice touch.

MEANWHILE, technology was flying around the state during Wednesday’s action. Winona Daily News reporter Jake Wanek – on the softball scene in Austin – altered me via Twitter that Meyer had broken the strikeout record. Also in Austin, one of my spies -- who goes by the code name D3 Photo Guy -- Tweeted me that Hastings had defeated Rochester Mayo to go to state as the 3A, Section 1 champion.

And colleague Joel Alvstad, sports editor of the Cottonwood County Citizen in Windom – writing via old-fashioned email, which seems so 2008 – sent a preview of Thursday’s Class 1A, Section 3 track championships in Montevideo. He wrote in part …

“The girls100-meter hurdles field includes upwards of six girls who could all find their way to the state meet via qualifying standard. How good is the girls' hurdle competition in Section 3A? The defending state champion in the event, Bree Woelber of Pipestone, is seeded FOURTH at the section meet, and the defending fourth-place state medalist, Kaitlin Feil of Mt. Lake-Butterfield-Odin, finished second in the sub-section to her own teammate, Jennie Romsdahl. I may be biased, but I think year in and year out, Section 3A proves it is one of the best overall track sections in the state. It should be a fun meet in Montevideo, provided Mother Nature cooperates....”

Mother Nature sure was on our side Wednesday. Let’s keep it rolling …

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Weather Update: Softball in Austin Postponed6/1/2010
Hope Lutheran softball pitcher Felicia Meyer is six strikeouts away from the state career record, but a new mark will not be set today (Tuesday) because weather concerns in the area have caused the games in Austin to be postponed until Wednesday.

Hope Lutheran will meet Rushford-Peterson at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the loser's bracket of the Class A Section 1 tournament at Todd Park in Austin. The winner will meet Blooming Prairie in the championship round at 7 Wednesday.

The career strikeout record is 1,178, set by Lindsey Predovich of Virginia from1998 to 2003.
Tell Me Where To Go6/1/2010
With section tournaments in several sports hitting high gear this week, I'm trying to decide where to spend my time in the coming days. Tuesday's rainy weather moved some events back, and I'm looking at a wide open slate of action on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

I've started a discussion thread along these lines on the MSHSL Facebook page. Tell me which section competition deserves to be visited by the FSM (Friendly Media Specialist) and why. I'm looking for exciting, intriguing matchups -- no matter the sport -- and I'm willing to let you passionate prep fans have a say in where I go.

I know I'll be at the state adapted softball tournament at Coon Rapids High School on Saturday, but Wednesday-Thursday-Friday are open to suggestions. So go to Facebook, land on "MSHSL" and make your pitch.

Wherever I end up going, I'll shoot some video, snap some photos and file reports for John's Journal.

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn
Hope Lutheran: Tiny Numbers, Huge Heart5/28/2010
WINONA, Minn. -- I was standing in one of the five classrooms at Hope Lutheran High School on Thursday, chatting with Tammy O’Laughlin and Angie Meyer, two of the five full-time teachers at the school with an enrollment of 37.

Question: How big is the senior class?

Answer: There are eight seniors.

Question: How many of those eight are going on to college?

Tammy and Angie started naming names. “Jamie, Felicia, Christine …” They quickly went down the list, naming all eight kids, all of whom are going to college.

Yes, Hope Lutheran is a tiny school that’s housed in the basement of a Lutheran elementary school and has no athletic facilities of its own and lacks lots of other things that people in most schools take for granted. But Hope Lutheran, which opened six years ago, has something that goes beyond brick and mortar and enrollment and numbers.

Hope Lutheran -- where everybody knows everybody by their first name – has family.

“Our school began as a dream for a few families who wanted their children to continue their Christian education in a high school setting,” said Meyer. “Their dream has become a reality but not without countless hours of work, as most of our school is run through volunteers.”

Meyer is typical of the staff at Hope Lutheran. Her duties include teaching physical education and health classes, working as an athletic administrator, head volleyball coach and assistant softball coach. Her husband, Kevin, is the head softball and boys’ basketball coach and their daughter, Felicia, is a senior pitcher who is 31 strikeouts away from the career state record.

Softball has become one of the hallmarks of Hope Lutheran. The Patriots are 17-2, ranked sixth in Class A and hoping to make the school’s first appearance in a state tournament. I watched Hope Lutheran squeak out a 2-0 victory over Lewiston-Altura on Thursday in a Section 1 East subsection game. The Patriots will meet Rushford-Peterson on Saturday at Todd Park in Austin as the tournament moves into double-elimination.

(For photos and video from Hope Lutheran, see MSHSL on Facebook.)

The eight seniors graduated on Friday, with the ceremony held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. Right next door is St. Mark’s elementary school, with Hope Lutheran tucked in the basement. There are no plans for a larger space at this point.

“However long God wants us here, that’s how long we’ll be here,” said O’Laughlin, who teaches math and physics.

The school opened in 2003 with only a freshman class and added grades every year. This year’s seniors are the third graduating class. Sports offered are softball, volleyball, baseball and boys’ and girls’ basketball. All coaches are volunteers. Four Hope girls play hockey at Winona High School and the Patriots have a cooperative agreement for football with St. Charles High School, although the only football player from Hope is ninth-grader Brady Meyer … yes, he’s the son of Angie and Kevin (who is a volunteer assistant coach at St. Charles.)

Home games can be an issue, since Hope has no gym or athletic fields. Volleyball games are played at St. Mary’s University and the softball team’s home field is in the small town of Rollingstone (insert your own Mick Jagger reference here), 11 miles north of Winona. The Rollingstone field is postcard-worthy, set in a shady city park with a huge bluff serving as a backdrop behind center field.

But the field was built for youth baseball, meaning there is a pitcher’s mound. Softball pitchers throw from flat ground, which is not an issue this season. But next season the pitching rubber will move from 40 feet away from home plate to 43 feet. That means the mound will either have to be removed for the softball season or the Patriots will have to search for another home field.

During Thursday’s game, Kevin and Angie Meyer coached, Felicia pitched and Brady watched. Angie’s mother, Marcia Youngs, and her husband Jim worked in the concession stand, where their dog Gypsy lounged.

Cell phone signals are weak or nonexistent in Rollingstone. A local fan, watching someone staring into his phone, offered this advice: “The only place to get a signal is downtown, by the stop sign.”

After the Patriots defeated Lewiston-Altura, I asked Hope Lutheran senior first baseman Christine Klug about the softball team’s role in publicizing the school.

“It’s kind of too bad,” she said. “We’re so blessed to have such good coaches and such a good softball program, but it’s too bad people don’t know more about our school.”

Earlier Thursday, Christine and her fellow seniors, whose school year had already ended, played a prank on the underclassmen and teachers. The staff and 29 students walked to Godfather’s Pizza for a buffet lunch – yes, the entire school went out for lunch together. While the school was empty, the seniors removed all the desks and chairs from the classrooms and stacked them in the narrow hallway. They also wound giant rolls of shrink-wrap plastic around several vehicles.

It was all in fun and everybody got a big laugh out of it. And later in the day, virtually every student and parent was in Rollingstone, cheering for their team.

“A lot of people in Winona don’t even know what Hope Lutheran is,” Angie Meyer said. “But when you have a vision, it’s amazing what you can do.”

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn


A Cool School, A Softball Game and Lots of Dead Bugs5/27/2010
I spent Thursday on the road, which is one of the best parts of my job. I visited a high school that most people in Minnesota – including some in the school’s hometown -- know nothing about.

I’m not going to give too much away (because there’s a story in the works), but the school is tiny enough to fit into a basement. This school also has a crackerjack softball team, and I watched the team play on Thursday in one of the nicest ballpark settings in the state.

On the way home I stopped for gas and cleaned off the windshield, but after about 10 minutes of driving -- as the sun was setting – another couple hundred insects had sacrificed themselves on my windshield.

All in all, it was a great day for being on the highways of Minnesota. Keep an eye on this space … the result of Thursday’s travels will be posted at some point Friday.

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn