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Veteran lineup has Braves expecting improved season

Senior Al Pietila returns to lead the Menahga baseball team after earning Park Region Conference honors last season. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Charlie Dormanen is counting on a veteran Menahga baseball team to make another deep run in the Section 5A tournament.

For the second year in a row, the Braves ended the season by winning three games during the Section 5A playoffs. Menahga entered last year's section tournament as the No. 4 seed in the West and finished the season with an 11-13 overall record.

Nine players return from that team hoping to improve on last year's section seed and sixth-place finish in the Park Region Conference with a 6-8 record.

Being counted on to lead the Braves this season are seniors Isaac Anderson, Matt Horsma, Canton Matson, Mitch Peterson, Al Pietila, Graham Skoog and Charlie Steidler-Thompson; and sophomores Lars Keranen and Thomas Litzau. Pietila earned all-conference honors while Anderson and Peterson received all-conference honorable mention honors.

The Braves are looking to improve on a .281 team batting average with Pietila (.372 average, 27 runs, 14 stolen bases), Peterson (.292 average, 17 runs, 12 RBI), Anderson (.288 average, 13 runs, 15 RBI) and Steidler-Thompson (.279 average, nine runs, 13 RBI) leading the way.

Pietila (6-2 record, 3.52 ERA in 53.2 innings) returns as the Braves' top pitcher while Peterson, Anderson, Skoog, Matson and Keranen also saw some time on the mound last spring.

Looking to provide depth are freshmen Jonah Howard, Cory Haataja and Devan Harsha-Leritz; eighth graders Charlie Hodge, Jack Pietila, Ed Salmen and Jared Tolkkinen; and seventh graders Ivan Anderson and Nolan Haataja. That group has to fill in for last year's all-conference senior duo of Charles Haataja (.329 average, 14 RBI, 3-8 record, 1.37 ERA) and Joe Keranen (.403 average, 12 RBI, 23 runs).

Defensively, Peterson, Matson, Keranen, Horsma, Harsha-Leritz, Haataja, Howard, Hodge and Tolkkinen will compete for outfield spots with Steidler-Thompson, Al Pietila, Skoog, Matson, Litzau, Salmen, Jack Pietila and Haataja competing for infield positions. Isaac Anderson, Hodge and Ivan Anderson will handle the catching duties while Litzau and Hodge will also see time on the mound.

Parkers Prairie (12-2), Wadena-Deer Creek (10-4), Ottertail Central (10-4) and New York Mills (9-5) topped the conference standings last season while Hinckley-Finlayson won the Section 5A title and placed fourth at the state tournament. Parkers Prairie was the state Class A runner-up.

"We have made it deep into the section tournament the last two years," said Dormanen. "Hopefully our experience and senior leadership will get us back there this season."