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Pitching staff leads Braves to 12-9 record

Isaac Anderson received Park Region Conference honors as the starting catcher for the Menahga baseball team this spring. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

A 1-0 loss to Sebeka in the first round of the Section 5A playoffs epitomized the season for the Menahga baseball team.

The Braves pitched well all season, sporting a 2.94 team ERA. That pitching staff allowed 100 runs, but only 57 of those were earned as 52 errors led to 43 unearned runs. However, Menahga struggled with consistency at the plate, averaging 4.7 runs a game and sporting a .285 team batting average with only three starters hitting above .300. Menahga scored three runs or fewer in 10 games, going 3-7 in those contests. Despite a lack of offense, Menahga managed to finish with a 12-9 overall record, including a 9-5 mark to tie for third place in the Park Region Conference standings.

Menahga started the season with a 9-3 record. The Braves opened the season with a 3-0 conference win over Sebeka and followed with a 3-2 victory over Nevis, a 3-1 loss to Frazee and a 7-2 win over Bagley to finish third at the Park Rapids Wood Bat Tournament.

After conference wins over Pillager (2-1), Wadena-Deer Creek (8-5) and Sebeka (7-3), the Braves dropped back-to-back conference games to New York Mills (5-2) and Parkers Prairie (11-5).

The Braves defeated Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale 14-2 in five innings in another conference game, topped Walker-Hackensack-Akeley 4-3 and defeated Pillager 6-3 in another conference game before dropping conference games to Parkers Prairie (11-1 in five innings) and New York Mills (13-3 in five innings).

After sweeping a conference doubleheader from Ottertail Central by scores of 10-7 and 11-1, the Braves lost to Nevis 9-5 before ending the regular season with a 6-0 win over BHV, a 10-0 loss in six innings to W-DC and an 8-0 loss to Pine River-Backus.

Parkers Prairie won the Park Region title with a 13-1 record while W-DC followed at 10-4. Menahga and New York Mills tied at 9-5 with Pillager (7-7), BHV (5-9), Sebeka (2-12) and OTC (1-13) rounding out the conference standings.

Going 12-8 during the regular season gave the Braves the No. 2 seed in the West for the Section 5A tournament. Sebeka, the No. 7 seed, avenged two losses during the regular season with a 1-0 victory to end Menahga's season.

Pillager defeated W-H-A for the Section 5A title while Parkers Prairie defeated Ortonville to win the Section 6A title. Parkers Prairie went on to capture the state Class A title while Pillager went 0-2 at state.

Leading the Braves this season were seniors Al Pietila, Isaac Anderson, Mitch Peterson, Matt Horsma, Canton Matson, Charlie Steidler-Thompson and Graham Skoog; sophomores Tom Litzau and Lars Keranen; freshman Cory Haataja; and eighth grader Ed Salmen. Those 11 players played in at least 12 games this spring.

Pietila was named the Park Region's Most Valuable Pitcher and earned all-conference honors after leading the Braves with a .493 batting average (34 hits in 69 at bats, including five doubles, two triples and two home runs), 19 runs scored and 18 stolen bases while adding 13 RBI in 21 games. Pietila was also the Braves' top pitcher, going 6-2 with a 0.99 ERA. In 49.1 innings, Pietila allowed 14 runs (seven earned) on 33 hits and 18 walks while striking out 69. Pietila started eight games and had four complete games with one shutout.

Peterson earned all-conference honors after batting .365 (23 for 63, including four doubles, five triples and two homers) with a team-leading 19 RBI in 21 games. Peterson also scored 14 runs. On the mound, Peterson went 1-1 with one save in eight appearances, including one as a starter. Peterson pitched 17 innings and allowed 16 runs (10 earned) on 16 hits and nine walks with 14 strikeouts for a 4.12 ERA.

Anderson was an all-conference catcher who hit .222 (10 for 45, including four doubles) with four runs and five RBI in 17 games.

Horsma received all-conference honorable mention honors after batting .320 (8 for 25) with five runs and four RBI in 12 games.

Matson was an all-conference honorable mention player who hit .205 (9 for 44, including four doubles and one homer) with 10 runs scored and three RBI in 21 games.

Litzau received all-conference honorable mention honors after batting .274 (17 for 62, including two doubles) with nine runs scored and eight RBI in 21 games. Litzau also made seven pitching appearances, including four as a starter, and compiled a 4-1 record with one save. Litzau pitched 28.1 innings, allowing 19 runs (six earned) on 23 hits and eight walks with 26 strikeouts for a 1.48 ERA. Litzau threw one complete game.

Steidler-Thompson played in 17 games and batted .351 (20 for 57, including four doubles) with 14 runs scored and 10 RBI. Steidler-Thompson also pitched 8.2 innings, posting a 4.04 ERA in five relief appearances.

Skoog started five games and went 1-2 with a 6.15 ERA. In 13.2 innings, Skoog allowed 16 runs (12 earned) on 15 hits and 22 walks while striking out six. Skoog also played in 20 games in the field and hit .170 (8 for 47) with five runs and five RBI.

Keranen started all 21 games and hit .220 (13 for 59, including two doubles and a homer) with six runs and nine RBI. On the mound, Keranen made eight pitching appearances, two as a starter, and went 0-2 with two saves. Keranen pitched 13.1 innings and gave up 17 runs (14 earned) on 18 hits and nine walks while striking out 10 for a 5.25 ERA.

Haataja hit .214 (6 for 28) with three runs and two RBI in 16 games.

Salmen batted .222 (6 for 27) with four runs in 18 games and made two relief appearances.

Receiving team awards were Pietila (MVP), Peterson (Offensive MVP), Steidler-Thompson (Defensive MVP) and Keranen (Most Improved Player).

Also seeing some varsity time were freshmen Jonah Howard (nine games); eighth graders Jack Pietila (three games), Charlie Hodge (three games) and Jared Tolkkinen (one game); and seventh graders Ivan Anderson (three games) and Nolan Haataja (three games).

With seven seniors graduating, the Braves will have several key positions to fill next spring. However, Dormanen sees potential for the Braves in the future.

"We started the season with great hitting, defense and pitching and as the season went along, players missed games for other events and we got out of our hitting groove. It's hard to win when you don't score any runs," said Menahga head coach Charlie Dormanen, who is retiring after serving 21 years in the Braves' baseball program. "We do have some talent in the lower grades, but we'll be rebuilding next year with seven seniors graduating."