Team began 3-year State run 20 years ago
Twenty years ago, the Blue Earth Area sports teams did not have to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. They were at the track, on the tennis courts and out on the golf course.
The baseball team was there, too, in the year 2000. In fact, they were on their way to the first of three consecutive State Tournament appearances.
Todd Schmidtke was the coach then and is still at the helm of the high school team.
“The end of the 1999 season really set the table for us,” Schmidtke recalls. “We won a lot of games at the end of that season. Then we went on to win the Sub-Section before bowing out during Section play.”
But Schmidtke had an inkling the 2000 team might have a good season.
“It was a lot of the younger guys on the 1999 team who were stepping up and making a difference,” he comments.
The Bucs started the 2000 season with five wins before recording their first loss. They ended up with a 7-5 South Central Conference record.
BEA advanced to the Section finals where they were matched up against Maple River in a game played in Schmidtke’s hometown of St. James.
The two teams battled to a 1-1 tie through seven innings to send the game into extra innings.
The Eagles scored one run in the top of the 13th inning but the Bucs came back with a run of their own when T.J. Stallman singled, stole second and scored courtesy of a Jake Frey single.
Finally, in the bottom of the 16th inning, BEA’s T.J. Schmidtke singled home the winning run. The victory earned the Bucs their first trip to the State Tournament in 27 years.
“I was so exhausted after the game,” coach Schmidtke remembers. “I had to walk up the stairs in the grandstand to do a radio interview with Norm Hall for KBEW and it was a hard walk.”
BEA lost their opening round at State to Jackson County Central 7-1.
“We bounced back against Perham and beat them 9-5,” Schmidtke says. “We knocked their pitcher, who was undefeated for the year, out of the game in the third inning.”
The win over Perham advanced the Maroon and Gold into the fifth place game against Byron. The Bucs won 12-5 to claim the consolation trophy and finish the year with a 23-6 record.
“We had a very good offensive team,” Schmidtke recalls.
Tyler Dressen finished the year with a .454 batting average, eight home runs and knocked in 30 runs. Jake Frey batted .311 with 27 RBIs. T.J. Schmidtke hit .442 and had seven doubles. T.J. Stallman drove in 34 runs while batting .414 and Aaron Wendt hit .375 with seven home runs and 36 RBIs.
When it came to pitching, John Roessler led the team with an 8-2 record. Wendt was 6-2 with a 1.83 ERA and T.J. Schmidtke finished 7-2 with a 2.78 ERA.
“We had a bunch of guys who just loved to play baseball,” Schmidtke comments. “It was the number one sport for many of them.”
The 2001 season began and the baseball team was determined to get back to the State Tournament, according to Schmidtke.
One of their season highlights was a win over New Ulm which was only the second time the Bucs had downed the Eagles in baseball in the previous nine years.
“We finished with a 9-3 conference record which put us in second place behind New Ulm,” Schmidtke says. “Our overall record was 20-7.”
The Bucs defeated United South Central in the opening round of the Section tournament 15-3.
They headed into the double elimination Section Championship undefeated but lost to the Faribault Academy Cardinals 4-2.
It now came down to one game with a trip to the State Tournament on the line.
Junior Lee Hodges fanned 10 Cardinal batters. In the third inning Hodges came to bat with Kurt Van Kley, T.J. Schmidtke and Aaron Wendt on base. Hodges drove the ball over the fence for four RBIs and BEA earned their second consecutive trip to State with an 8-0 victory.
The Bucs opened State Tournament play against Mora and fell behind by two runs early in the game but rallied for a 7-3 come-from-behind victory. Senior Wendt pitched his last game for BEA and gave up three runs on three hits.
Next up for the Bucs was the Luverne Cardinals.
“We played half an inning in the rain and Luverne took a 5-0 lead before play was halted,” Schmidtke said.
When play resumed, T.J. Stallman led off with a home run. The junior power hitter knocked another ball out of the park in his second at bat, but Luverne went on to win 9-3. The loss by BEA sent them into the third-place game against Hermantown.
T.J Schmidtke was on the mound. He had a shaky start and gave up a single and a home run in the first inning. However, the senior settled down after that and only gave up three more hits the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, the Bucs had their bats going and sent 11 batters to the plate in the first inning to take a 5-2 lead.
Stallman smacked his third home run in two games with two men on base to make it 8-2 in the third inning.
BEA won the game 10-3 and came home with the third place trophy.
Stallman and T.J. Schmidtke were named to the All-Tournament Team and Wendt was selected to play in the Lions All-Star Baseball Tournament.
“Once again we had a team who could hit,” coach Schmidtke comments. “Three guys, Stallman (.473), Schmidtke (.478) and Wendt (.404) hit over .400 and Hodges was close at .392.”
The pitching stats showed Hodges finishing with an 8-2 record and a 2.63 ERA. Wendt had a 1.36 ERA while posting a 5-2 record and Schmidtke finished 4-2 with a 2.22 ERA.
“Mike Lewis was a four-year starter at catcher,” Schmidtke said. “He did a good job of handling our pitchers.”
Four seniors graduated off of the 2001 team. They were T.J. Schmidtke, Wendt, Lewis and Rich Rasmussen but the 2002 team had six returning starters. It was also loaded with seven pitchers and three catchers.
“I think we have good depth everywhere,” Todd Schmidtke said entering the 2002 season.
The team finished second with a 9-3 record in the SCC conference for the second year in a row.
BEA began subsection play with a 3-0 win over Minnesota Valley Lutheran.
Next up was the Martin County West Mavericks. Jay Frederickson belted a grand slam and Andrew Arndt also homered to supply all the offense the Bucs would need. Hodges pitched a shutout and BEA cruised to an 11-0 victory.
They opened Section play with a 12-1 win over
Once again the Maroon and Gold entered the double elimination championship undefeated. Their opponent in 2002 was the Le Sueur-Henderson Giants who had one playoff loss.
LSH downed BEA 2-0 to force an elimination game but the Bucs would not be denied their third consecutive trip to the State Tournament.
Hodges took the mound and fanned 10 Giants while allowing only one earned run. Frederickson provided the big hit to give the Bucs a 3-0 lead and they went on to win 6-1.
“Heading into the State Tournament, every one of our starters was batting over .300,” Schmidtke shares.
BEA opened their quest for a State title with a 15-9 win over Paynesville.
Hodges pitched the first two innings and the Bucs built a big lead. Arndt and Tim Eisele both pitched in relief to preserve Hodges’ arm.
St. Anthony was the next opponent for BEA. The Bucs sent 10 men to the plate in the first inning to take a 5-0 lead on their way to a 10-2 victory and a chance to play for the State Championship.
As the Faribault County Register article from 2002 stated, “Everything that went right in the first two games went horribly wrong in the championship game.”
Rochester Lourdes shut out BEA so the Bucs finished in second place.
“You have to give Rochester Lourdes credit,” Hodges says recalling that game. “They had a great team.”
“They started their third-string pitcher,” he comments. “And he averaged throwing in the upper 80s and topped out at 91 mph.”
Hodges, Frederickson and Stallman were named to the All-Tournament Team and Stallman was also selected for the Lions All Star Baseball Tournament.
Hodges finished his senior year with an 8-2 record, a 2.02 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 69 innings. Arndt ended the year 7-1 with a 2.41 ERA and Eisele finished 5-2 with a 3.87 ERA.
“Playing baseball was ingrained in us when we were young,” Hodges says. “We grew up playing the game. We would get together in town and play pick-up games behind the old pump house in Blue Earth.”
Hodges remembers those teams being special.
“I have to give a shout out to Mike Lewis and Andrew Hartman. They were workhorses behind the plate,” Hodges remarks. “Then we had guys like Todd Rasmussen and Justin Schaible; they were quiet players who got the job done by doing the baseball stuff. They put a lot of pressure on the opponent’s defense. Our lineup was littered with those kinds of players.”
One testament to the quality of ballplayers BEA fielded those years was the fact Schmidtke could rattle off the names of 11 players who went on to play baseball in college.
Although those high school teams did not win the Minnesota High School League State Championship, their coach and many of their players did win two other state championships.
The Blue Earth Pirates town team, with many of those high school players forming the nucleus of their squad, won two Minnesota State Class C Amateur championships in 2004 and 2006.
But, that is a story for another day.