The Cretin-Derham Hall baseball team is back this season with a vengeance. The Raiders, who hold the record for most state high school baseball championships (11) and most state tournament games won (43), haven’t returned to the state tourney since capturing the big-school title in 2007.

This spring, CDH has been a dominant force on the field. As of mid-May, the Raiders were 13-2 overall and ranked as the top team in the state. They 10-runned strong Suburban East foe East Ridge twice, while also beating league rivals Stillwater, Roseville, White Bear Lake, Park, Forest Lake and Irondale. They topped Woodbury 8-0 on April 26 and came from behind to beat Mounds View 6-4 at Target Field three days later.

CDH baseball
CDH teammates gathered at the mound to support starting senior pitcher Trey Gnetz as the team reset and the Raiders went on to beat Forest Lake 3-2 on May 8. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“That (Mounds View game) was the best game we’ve played this year from top to bottom” said first-year CDH head coach Buzz Hannahan.

The Raiders’ only losses were an out-of-character 17-4 setback at home against Park in their rematch on May 3 and a 4-3 squeaker to Mounds View when they met again on May 10.

There are no guarantees in baseball, but it’s a good bet that it’s going to take a very good team playing their very best ball to keep CDH from getting back to state this year.

Hannahan, who has 10 seniors on this year’s team, said the 2023 Raiders have been a joy to coach. They can pretty much do it all—hit, hit for power, run, throw and field. “This team is special. They’ve embraced the school’s tradition,” he said.

“If we play good defense behind our pitchers, we’ll win a lot of games,” said coach Buzz Hannahan.

Strong arms aplenty

When it comes to pitching, CDH has some serious depth. Senior Jack Taxdahl, who is expected to play at the University of Minnesota, pitches and catches well. In fact, Hannahan compares him to a past CDH great.

“You have to go back to when Joe Mauer was here to find somebody as good as (Taxdahl),” Hannahan said.

A 1994 CDH grad, Hannahan was a star for the Raiders baseball team. He went on play at the University of Saint Thomas, and then was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies where he spent eight years for their organization. Mauer, a six-time all-star for the Minnesota Twins, graduated from CDH in 2001.

P.J. Jones gives the Raiders a 1-2 punch on the mound. Jones, a junior, plays first base when he’s not pitching and is a solid hitter at either the cleanup or No. 5 spots in the order. He has tremendous power and is eventually headed for the University of Maryland.

Senior Justin Benjamin is a transfer from Minneapolis South who has earned a lot of playing time as both a pitcher and outfielder. Senior Trey Gnetz is a good pitcher and second baseman with pop in his bat. Sophomore John Henry Kohorst is a hard-throwing lefty for the Raiders.

Hannahan likes his pitching staff not because they throw that hard, though they all have decent fastballs, but because they can mix in breaking balls and keep their pitches over the plate.

“If we play good defense behind our pitchers, we’ll win a lot of games,” he said.

All-around athleticism

Senior shortstop Colin Scanlan has good range and is a versatile hitter. Senior third baseman David Verdeja combines great defense with being a tough out at the plate.

And according to Hannahan, his outfield is defensively as good or better than anybody’s in the state. “It’s phenomenal,” he said.

Anchoring that group is junior Jake Quinn, who can cover a lot of ground in center. He also hits for power and is committed to play at the University of Minnesota. In left is senior Ryan Warford, who combines a good glove with a strong bat. Playing right is Benjamin when he’s not on the mound, or junior Lucas Ackland, who also can pitch. 

One big reason why the Raiders are so tough is their all-around athleticism. “Our pitchers are unique in that they can all play multiple positions,” Hannahan said.

Providing depth at catcher is Andy Brown, who has great potential and is the team’s only freshman. “He’s like gold,” Hannahan said. “He has a great arm and his bat is a big plus.”

At the start of the year, Hannahan said that this year’s squad was the best one the Raiders have had since the school’s title-winning years, first under coach Dennis Denning and then under coach Jim O’Neill.

At this point in the season, there seems to be little reason to change his mind.

— Bill Wagner


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