Sauk Rapids breezed throught the 2011 State Class B Tournament by beating the Austin Greyhounds 2-1, Chaska 5-2, Mankato Twins 8-7 in 12 innings, and the Burnsville Bobcats 12-1 in a run-rule seven inning game. They had plenty of pitching depth, with four different pitchers (Bryce Gapinski, Nick Anderson, Scott Geiger and Jeff Hille) winning a game apiece. "We could have played three more games and been all right the last day," said Jon Wippler, one of the triumvirate that runs the Cyclones along with Greg Bemboom and Jeff Hille.
The Cyclones ended the season 36-4 losing only to Blue Earth, St. Louis Park, Freeport, and Isanti. All of their losses were by one run and two of them came in the Shakopee Tournament. They have beaten their number one nemisis the Cold Spring Springers seven times in a row and have played in the state title game three of the last five years. So this is a very stable group of players.
When I asked if they spent their off season partying and attending banquets, Bemboom said that not much of that was going on. The most exciting thing was, "We ended up sending a jersey and team photo to the Town Ball Tavern." So the Cyclones will be on display for the next year at the Twin's Town Ball Tavern.
"Repetition, it eventually works in your favor," said Bemboom of the reason that the Cyclones have defeated the Springers lately. He said that they have seen Femrite so many times that they aren't intimidated anymore. "We were 0-30 against the Springers from 1994-2009," said Wippler. "We started seeing him (Femrite) all the time. We literally saw him five times one year. Now when we face him, we expect to beat him," said Wippler. "Not that he's not capable of shutting us out, cause he definately is, but now guys get pretty good licks off him."
The Cyclones look to the 2012 season with optimism. They have everyone returning with the exception of Class B Tournament MVP Jeremiah Piepkorn. Piepkorn is living in Northern Minnesota and has opted to play for Nisswa this year. The Lightning play in the Victory League and lost to Isanti and the Mankato Mets in last year's Class C StateTournament to finish 5th or 6th.
Otherwise everyone has indicated that they are returning. That includes current St. Cloud State shortstop Travis Cariveau, who will play the same position for the Cyclones. Jason Hoppe, currently at Minnesota State, Mankato, will move to second and fill in as a pitcher. The pitching staff will also return with the only question mark being Nick Anderson. He had some off-season problems at St. Cloud State and is now pitching for Mayville State. If he is not drafted, he will be back helping the Cyclones.
John Nemec, catcher, Nate Swan and Paul Schlangen, OF, and the former MVP and versitile Scott Geiger will all be back to carry on the recent Cyclone tradition. Gapinski, now pitching at St. Thomas where he is 6-0, will also be back and is undefeated as a Cyclone. "He is probably 26 or 28 and 0," estimated Wippler.
There is a good chance that Andy Henkemeyer, currently playing for the Gophers, will come back and play for them again this year.
As it seems to happen in many communities, when the baseball gets better so does the field. Sauk Rapids has been on an improvement kick and the results will make a big difference in the coming years.
"We just got lights, about a month ago. This will be the first year that we have lights on the Sauk Rapids field," said Bemboom. He added that they have done a lot of renovation lately, including a new outfield fence with a batters' eye built into it. They also moved their warm-up mounds to the outside of their foul-line fences.
The Section 7 tournament got a little tougher this year with the addition of the Granite City Grays, Marshall and the St. Cloud Snappers. With the Springers hungry to return to the State Tournament their work will be cut out for them.
"I don't ever think it will be easy. This year is going to be difficult, because you wanna beat the State Champ. You think you can just show up to the ballpark and beat everybody and it does not work like that," said Wippler. I think we better be ready to rock, because everybody is going to be ready to beat us."