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Baseball: New head coaches see potential for Menahga this spring

Three starters return as Paul Funk and Cody Pulju take over the program.

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Quincy Jantz is one of three starters returning to lead the Menahga baseball team for the 2023 season.
Vance Carlson / Park Rapids Enterprise

Despite graduating six starters, new co-head coaches Paul Funk and Cody Pulju are expecting another successful season from the Menahga baseball team.

“We see a lot of potential throughout the program. We know that Menahga has a really strong baseball tradition that dates back many years with numerous high quality players and coaches over the years. We are eager to take the reins and try to develop the program further and get back to being a very strong and competitive program for many years to come,” said Funk. “There is a lot of support in the community for the future of Menahga baseball with a very well-run Cal Ripken program for the youth, and we wanted to step in and ensure that the countless hours and time spent on those kids translates to success throughout all levels of the baseball program.”

Leading the Braves to a 10-4 record in Park Region Conference play and a 14-7 overall record last season were the senior crew of Ivan Anderson, Nolan Haataja, Ethan Hendrickson, Aaron Pietila, Henry Salmen and Liam Torola. Haataja received Section 8AA honors and was joined on the all-conference team by Pietila.

Offensively, Pietila batted .365 (23 for 63) with 16 runs, 13 stolen bases and eight RBI. Haataja hit .329 (23 for 70) with 21 runs and 15 RBI. Anderson batted .297 (19 for 64) with 17 RBI and 10 runs. Salmen hit .279 (17 for 61) with 10 runs and seven RBI. Hendrickson hit .266 (17 for 64) with 14 runs, 12 stolen bases and 10 RBI. Torola hit .212 (11 for 52) with 15 runs and 11 RBI. Leading the pitching staff were Haataja (5-3 record, 2.10 ERA in 46 ⅔ innings and nine appearances), Salmen (1-0 record, 4.46 ERA in 11 innings and five games), Pietila (1-1 record, 5.25 ERA in 10 ⅔ innings and six appearances) and Torola (1-0 record, 6.30 ERA in 6 ⅔ innings and three games).

Returning to lead the Braves this spring are three starters: seniors Quincy Jantz and Isaiah Usher and junior Brayden Aho. Jantz earned all-conference honors while Usher received all-conference honorable mention honors.

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Jantz hit .367 (22 for 60) with 11 RBI and 11 runs scored, Aho batted .280 (14 for 50) with eight RBI and six runs, and Usher batted .255 (12 for 47) with eight RBI and seven runs. Aho went 1-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 22 innings and six appearances, Jantz had a 3-0 record and 1.21 ERA in 17 ⅓ innings and three games, and Usher pitched 14 ⅔ innings and had a 2-1 record and 3.34 ERA in five appearances.

Also back after seeing some varsity time last spring are seniors Shawn Hendrickson (2 for 16, five runs) and Reino Salmen (three runs). Looking to fill the other starting spots and providing depth are juniors Jed Skoog, Tom Pietila, Michael Andersen and Bodie Berttunen; sophomores Jonas Lusti, Alvin Slamen and Colin Becker; and freshmen Fordyce Johnson, Dean Torma and Tyrell Aho. Freshmen Matthew Martin, Blake Myllykangas, Chris Davis, Chris Kicker and Liam Day could also see some varsity time.

A year ago, the Braves averaged 5.9 runs a game while allowing 3.9 runs a game. Menahga had a .287 team batting average with a team ERA of 2.96. Wadena-Deer Creek won the conference title with a 14-0 record while New York Mills went 12-2. For the Section 8AA tournament, Menahga received the No. 3 seed in the North and lost to No. 6 Thief River Falls 5-2 in the opening round.

The new co-head coaches are looking for the Braves to once again contend for the conference title and make a longer run in the playoffs.

“Some expectations for this season include seeing growth and player development as the season progresses. We truly believe we have a real opportunity to finish near the top of the conference and compete for a conference title even without having a lot of players with varsity experience,” said Funk. “A major focus we are really working on is honing in on the fundamentals of the game and building the culture of our program. An expectation of winning and detailed preparation should allow us to compete with whoever we match up with each day. We hope to be playing our best ball by the end of May and make a push as deep into the postseason as possible.”

1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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