Cass Lake-Bena Panthers nearing their goal
The Cass Lake-Bena baseball team opened the season with a 10-9 victory over Bagley. Following that narrow victory some of the younger Panthers scampered to play in a junior varsity game while the veterans met with head coach Ken Wittner to discuss this spring's goals and how best to achieve them.
"We talked for over a half hour and at the end the kids said they wanted to go to the state tournament," Wittner said. "I was glad to hear that but I told them that it would take dedication, hard work and about 25 wins to achieve that goal. As it turns out it will take 26 wins."
The players took their coach's words to heart. They have dedicated themselves to constant improvement and have continued to put in the time, work and effort required of a state-tournament bound team.
Today the Panthers find themselves only two victories from their ultimate goal. After winning the 8A East Sub-Section crown Thursday Cass Lake-Bena will take a 24-0 record into today's 1 p.m. game at the BSU diamond against Norman County, the runner-up finisher in the West sub-section.
If the Panthers win today they will tangle with either Fosston or Red Lake County 4 p.m. Thursday, again at BSU, for the Section 8A title and its reward, a trip to the state tournament.
"The kids are living a dream," Wittner said. "Everybody wants to be unbeaten and have the chance to go to state like we have now. Cass Lake-Bena hasn't been to state in baseball since the mid-1950s and the excitement within the community is awesome. This is a dream we don't want to wake from."
Reaching the section semifinals is no accident. CL-B's roster is filled with experience and the veterans know what it is like to be on the winning side of the scoreboard.
"Senior Tyler Trosen will pitch Tuesday," Wittner said. "Tyler is 9-0 this year and hasn't lost a game since the sub-sections during his sophomore year.
"Mike Hanson is 8-0. That's a great one-two pitching rotation and if we have an edge over our competition it probably is that we can throw quality starters every game."
The Panthers also boast a tight defense. They played errorless baseball in their two sub-section victories and normally do not give an opponent any extra outs.
Offensively CL-B used to rely on its power and, while the Panthers still can play long-ball, they also have refined their skills at moving runners and manufacturing runs.
"The 17-0 pounding we took at the hands of Northern Freeze in last year's section tournament showed us that you can't depend upon the 3-run homer," Wittner said. "Sometimes you need to slap it around the diamond and scratch for a run here and a run there.
"This year we have worked on that aspect of the game and I believe we are better prepared because of that coming into Tuesday's game."
Today's projected CL-B lineup will have Trosen on the mound, Mike Masten behind the plate, Jake Ellis at first, Chad Wittner at second, Hanson at third, Caleb Fisher at short and Brett Fredrickson, Nolan Goss and Taylor Humphrey around the outfield.
"Any one of the four teams can win the section championship," Wittner said. "You will have to bring your 'A' game to continue playing.
"I know I'm going to be nervous Tuesday because I'll be pulling for the kids to continue their season. And they are confident. They believe in each other and that's a huge benefit. They also believe in our program and what we are trying to do."
Section 8A Baseball
Today's Semifinals at BSU
Game 1: Cass Lake-Bena vs. Norman County, 1 p.m.
Game 2: Fosston vs. Red Lake County, 2:30 p.m.
Thursday's Final at BSU
Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4 p.m.