By Mike Sticha
The Dakota-Rice-Scott (DRS) League was formed in 1948. While a variety of teams have come and gone throughout that time, the league is made up of Elko, Faribault, Lonsdale, Montgomery, New Market, New Prague, Prior Lake Mudcats, Shakopee Coyotes, St. Benedict, St. Patrick, Union Hill, Veseli, and Webster. In 2018, for the first time ever, two DRS League team’s home ballparks will be state tournament sites, as New Prague and Shakopee host, along with third site Jordan.
This will be an exciting time in New Prague and Shakopee and for the DRS League as a whole. While many DRS League teams have made successful runs in the state tournament, with hopes to do so again in 2018, the three top finishes in the history of the league include: Elko (Class C champions 2008), Lonsdale (Class C secondplace 2002), and Union Hill (Class C second place 2006).
Elko – State Class C Champions – 2008
Elko is the only team in the DRS League to have ever won a state championship, doing so in 2008 when the tournament was hosted by Shakopee and Chaska. At the time, Elko was a Class C team, and was no stranger to the state tournament, having made it in ’85, ’91, ’94, ’95, ’97-’00, ’04, ’05, ’07 and ’08. After the championship season, the Express made the transition to Class B and have made the state tournament in Class B in ‘09, ‘14, and ‘17.
The 2008 team was managed by Terry Fredrickson, who has been manager since 1976 and is recognized in the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame (2015). The championship game was held in Shakopee, with Elko facing off against Sauk Rapids, which was coming off a Class C second-place finish in 2007.
For 2008 team member Corey Grisim, the most important play of the tournament came in the semifinal game versus St. Stephen. In the sixthinning of a scoreless game, with a runner on third, one out, a St. Stephen batter smashed a line drive up the middle. Elko infielder Tony Gabriel saved the day.
“He was sprawled out as far as he could,” Grisim said. “It looked like he was five feet off the ground, parallel to the ground and makes a game saving catch. If that ball goes through we probably don’t win.”
In fact, Corey’s grandpa and Elko patriarch Myron Fredrickson called it the best catch in Elko history. For Gabriel, great defense was the norm. In 55 games that season at second base, he only committed oneerror. Later in the semifinal game, Grisim and Gabriel both reached base after being hit by pitches and Ash Larsen knocked them both in. Elko went on to win that game 2-0.
The Championship game saw Elko come back from early 1-0 and 2-1 deficits versus Sauk Rapids. After seven innings the game was tied at 2, but Elko scored three late runs; two in the eighth and one in the ninth to beat Sauk Rapids 5-2. Tom Popp, a draftee from Lonsdale had a sacrifice fly in the eighth, followed by a Tres Humerickhouse RBI single, which gave Elko a 4-2 lead. A Josh Thom bases-loaded walk in the ninth forced in a run, making it 5-2. Nick Worm, a draftee from Montgomery, picked up the win after he pitched eight innings, allowing two runs on nine hits. Tournament MVP Brian Muell got the save. Muell, a hard-throwing lefty, also picked up the win over St. Stephen in a five-hit, 11-strikeout performance.
Manager Terry Fredrickson credits the team success to a deep pitching staff, led by two dominating starters, Muell and Josh Roiger.
“We have always had some good pitching, but never two dominate guys like them on the same team,” Fredrickson said. “They gave us a chance to win any game we were in.”
The championship was special for the team, but also the fans and town of Elko.
“In the offseason, talk about baseball always seems to include the championship season,” Terry Fredrickson said.
Elko 2008 Team Photo: Team Photo
Lonsdale – Class C Second Place – 2002
Until Elko won the state championship in 2008, Lonsdale and Union Hill – more to come – laid claim to the highest finish at state for a DRS League team, when it took second place in 2002. The Aces had previously made the tournament in ’55, ’58, ’67, ’69, ’73, ’76, ’78, ’79, ’81, ’82, ’84, ’85, ’88, ’96-’98, and ‘02, with subsequent trips in ’03, ’05, ’06, and ’09.
As he is today, Darrell Vosejpka was Lonsdale’s manager in 2002 when the tournament was held in St. Cloud and Cold Spring. His team was hot as they came to the end of the state tournament, winners of 14 straight games, including five straight in the state tournament. Lonsdale faced Granite Falls in the championship games (both games were held at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud), needing to win just once to take home the championship in the double-elimination format. The Aces held an early 2-0 lead in Game 1, and later came back for a 5-5 tie, but two late solo home runs by Granite Falls led to a 7-5 defeat.
Game 2 of the day got off to a rough start, as Lonsdale went down 4-0 after two innings and was down 7-0 after six innings. The Aces were able to tack on two runs in the eighth inning and two more in the ninth inning, but they wound up losing 7-4.
While it wasn’t the outcome Lonsdale had hoped it still held positives.
“Obviously it left a bitter feeling about the whole experience, but I think it helped fuel us over the next few years to try and get back to that place to have another chance,” 2002 team member Brian Vosejpka said. “Overall, I think that the runner-up finish was a validation to us that we were one of the best teams in the state and has created so many great memories to discuss amongst ourselves as we’ve gotten further away from 2002.”
The 2002 team had a great mix of young and veteran talent, including many players from the Montgomery-Lonsdale High School team that won the 1999 state Class A championship and was Class AA runners-up in 2000.
“The reason that all worked is because of our love for the game and how well we got along with each other,” Brian Vosejpka said.
“We finished the year 29-10 and I knew we had something special with this team,” manager Darrell Vosejpka added. “The fan base was great the whole season, including the playoffs and state. Packed house for the championship games in St. Cloud. This team was a manager’s dream with outstanding pitching, defense, and hitting.”
Lonsdale 2002 Team Photo: Team Photo
Union Hill – Class C second place – 2006
Union Hill rounds out the DRS League top state tournament finishes when it took home second place in 2006, with the tournament hosted in Red Wing and Miesville. Union Hill made the state tournament in ’73, ’89, ’91, ’92, ’94, ’96, ’98-’00, ’02, and ’06. Since, the Bulldogs have gone another four times: ’07, ’12, ’13, and ’17.
In 2006, Union Hill was managed by Sean O’Neill, who is the current DRS League Secretary. The Bulldogs were 6-1 in the state tournament leading up to the championship game, with their loss coming versus Sobieski. But Union Hill battled through the loser’s bracket and avenged the loss by beating Sobieski on the final weekend. After a victory over Rochester, Union Hill faced Blue Earth for the championship, which was held in Miesville. Blue Earth was unbeaten in the double-elimination format, and Union Hill needed to beat Blue Earth twice to take it home.
Blue Earth took an early two-run lead, with the Bulldogs getting a run back in the fifth inning. Blue Earth plated two more runs in the eighth inning, and while Union Hill loaded the bases in the ninth inning, it couldn’t get the runners across, falling 4-1.
While the Bulldogs had many talented teams before 2006, the team had specific characteristics setting them apart.
“Composure, leadership by veterans, tight bonds and friendships (on and off the field) were key,” O’Neill said. ”We had fun together; viewed everyone as our enemy. We had a great season, but things really clicked in the postseason where we went 11-4 and were 7-1 in elimination games.”
Current Union Hill Manager, and a major contributor on the 2006 team, John Masberg agreed: “We had a good mix of veteran players. We had draftees that contributed and were a great fit, including Jeremy Wieland (New Market), Tim Nesvig (Gaylord) and Dan Novak (Veseli). We had a pretty solid bond throughout the entire season and we worked through some very tight games in the region and state tourney. We battled weather delays, cancellations, and reschedules.”
The second-place showing certainly boosted expectations in Union Hill going forward.
“It sets the bar higher for everyone,” O’Neill said. “Anything short of state is disappointing.”
Union Hill 2006 Team Photo: Team Photo