The Wright Call
By Dave Wright
Here are the scores of the first 10 games of the season for a local team: 17-8, 17-3, 14-0, 16-1, 12-2, 10-0, 19-0, 25-3, 11-1 and 14-3. Pick the dominant team from one of the following:
- A freewheeling softball squad.
- A very good lacrosse outfit.
- A touch football team.
- None of the above.
The correct answer is D.
Those are the results of the first 10 games of Highland Park’s baseball season. The slugging Scots took the field with gusto in their opener against Minnehaha Academy on April 13 and haven’t looked back. Head coach Chris Steenberg was optimistic about the upcoming season in March, but even he is surprised how his team is scoring runs.
“We thought we’d have some bats because we had a good crew coming back,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who’ve been together since they were sophomores. They blend together very well.”
On May 10, Saint Paul Academy slowed the Scots’ swingers slightly, but Highland still claimed a 5-3 victory to improve to 11-0 overall.
A year ago, the Scots also broke out fast, scoring in double digits nine times in a blazing 13-3 start. Unfortunately, things went south at the tail end of the season when Highland fell to Saint Thomas Academy and Holy Angels in the Section 3AAA playoffs.
When practices commenced for 2023, the Scots were like many teams–confined for weeks to working out indoors. “We were pretty limited in what we could do in our field house,” Steenberg said. “We could only make one 90-foot fielding play, so we practiced a lot of footwork.”
The rest of the time, the team practiced hitting in a batting cage and worked on pitching.
“We thought we’d have some bats because we had a good crew coming back,” said coach Chris Steenberg. “We have a lot of guys who’ve been together since they were sophomores. They blend together very well.”
Scots are hitting and pitching well
Both facets of the game seem to be going very well. As this was being written, the Scots were hitting .444 as a team and were in first place in the Saint Paul City Conference with a 3.5-game lead over second-place Central. Highland won the first contest with the Minutemen 11-1 on May 8 and has already clinched its first City crown since 2018, Steenberg’s initial year at the helm.
The Scots’ pitching has been superb, allowing just eight earned runs in 11 games. Asking a coach to single out a player who has stood out during a streak like this is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. Steenberg paused when queried on this point, but then said senior Shea Landa has been a prime factor this spring. As this was being written, Landa was hitting a gaudy .690, going 20 for 29 with four stolen bases and no strikeouts.
On the mound, Landa has been just as fierce, having allowed just two earned runs in 20.1 innings. He held the Minutemen to just two hits and fanned 11 batters in the May 8 triumph.
“He’s exceeded expectations,” Steenberg said. “He does things that rub off on other players.”
But Landa is not alone in making the lives of opposing pitchers miserable. Junior Pete Douma is batting .645, going 20 for 31 with 15 walks and a team-high 25 RBI. Sophomore Michael Wilkelius and senior Alex Jonata also are averaging .500 or better at the plate.
Taking it a game at a time
Those are impressive numbers, but Steenberg has been exhorting his players to leave them all aside when they take the field. Due to the inclement weather early on, Highland was to play seven games in nine days beginning with its game against Central.
This is the time of year when things come to a head quickly for high school sports. Accordingly, the Scots have a few challenges ahead of them in short order. There’s the rematch with the defending City Conference champion Minutemen on May 16 and the season finale against a solid Two Rivers team on May 22.
The road to the state tournament is a treacherous one. To get it done, Highland will have to get by Two Rivers (9-4) and defending section champ Saint Thomas Academy (10-3), as well as Bloomington Kennedy (8-3) and Holy Angels (8-2). The Section 3AAA tournament runs from May 27-June 7 in Richfield.
For now, Steenberg is taking the one-day-at-a-time approach. “We need to stay focused,” he said. “But we do have guys who can play.”
Transfer portal comes to Summit Avenue
As the University of Saint Thomas preps for its third season as a NCAA Division I athletic entity, one thing has become clear: The university, and most notably men’s basketball head coach John Tauer, is adapting well to the changing landscape.
It wasn’t that long ago that a school heralded its recruiting class and started the process of how to meld the newcomers with the returning crop. As the Gophers have found out, that’s no longer the case as players opt out early for greener pastures looking for either more playing time or NIL (name, image and likeness) money.
It didn’t take long for the same thing to occur on the Saint Paul side of the Mississippi.
In mid-April, UST men’s hoops saw a major defection when freshman Andrew Rohde, the team’s leading scorer in 2022-23 and one of the top first-year players in the country, left for the University of Virginia. Rohde will hope to find his way into playing for a program that won 25 games last season and was a fourth seed in the NCAA tournament.
UST won 19 games last year with a team that had two seniors and two graduate students. Rohde’s departure left another opening for playing time. Enter 6-foot-4 guard Raheem Anthony, who was a first-team D3hoops.com all-American and led the MIAC in scoring with 24.6 points per game for Saint Mary’s. Anthony played four seasons for the Cardinals and will be a graduate transfer at UST. He joins Tauer’s son Adam, a 6-foot-4 guard from Cretin-Derham Hall, and Hayden Tibbits, a 5-foot-11 sharpshooter from Class AAAA state title winner Wayzata.
Saint Kate’s golfer earns NCAA selection
As the MIAC sports season draws to an end, one Saint Catherine University student has earned an impressive honor. Sophomore Kyra Venne was named the conference’s women’s golfer of the year. The Woodbury native was the medalist at the league’s recent golf tournament, finishing at 3 over par in the 54-hole event. Her consistent play earned her a trip to the NCAA Division III meet in mid-May. After two rounds, she was tied for 35th place among the individual golfers, but didn’t get to a third round when the NCAA was forced to stop play due to an unplayable condition on one of the holes.
Dave Wright can be reached at email@example.com.
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