CLASS B & C ROUNDUP AT DASSEL: Destiny brings upstarts Veseli and Chisago Lakes together

By Ryan Simonson

Bill Dunker is no stranger to the Minnesota state amateur baseball tournament.  As a standout pitcher for Jackson, Eagle Lake and then St. Patrick, Dunker made trips to State every year from 1997 to 2021, either with his own team, or as a draftee. Following the 2021 season, he decided to hang up the spikes and call it a career, retiring as a member of the St. Patrick Irish. But townball wasn’t through with Bill Dunker. Before New Year’s 2022, news broke that he would be returning to the dugout as the manager of the Veseli Warriors.

Dunker’s second season managing the club, had not been kind to the Warriors. They entered the Region 3C tournament as the sixth seed (out of seven teams) and lost their opening game to Lonsdale. With regional powerhouses New Market and St. Patrick now in Class B and with two league rivals banned from playoffs, the region had been stripped of a tournament spot, and was now sending only three teams to State. Someone forgot to tell the Warriors that they were supposed to pack up and go home. After rattling off wins against St. Benedict, Montgomery, and winning a rematch with Lonsdale, Veseli suddenly found themselves with a state tournament bid for the first time since 2002. 

Enter Chisago Lakes. The Bulldogs play in the oft-overlooked Eastern Minny league, Region 1C, and have only been active in their current incarnation since 2014, after a hiatus. The last time a Chisago Lakes team had made state was 2006. The Bulldogs entered their regional tournament as the fourth seed in a field that sends only two teams to State. Much like the Warriors, they had finished their league play strong and fought their way through the playoffs to earn the second regional seed. 

The two young, overachieving ballclubs meeting in the opening round of the tournament seemed to have been scripted. 

“We started playing good baseball in the middle of July,” Dunker said, “We’ve learned lessons along the way, we’ve grown up. I’ve got a team that’s averaging about 20 ½ years old.” 

When asked about what making state meant to the Veseli players and fans, he said, “I was able to stand back while the team celebrated the final out the other day and just kind of take it in. To see the joy, the smiles, the pride … grown men with tears in their eyes. It’s the kind of feeling that’s been around Veseli.”

Chisago manager Steve Budke echoed Dunker’s sentiments. 

“This is a different ball club this year,” he said, “A lot of the guys who have been around playing some good ball just finally started to realize how good of ballplayers they are. We were saying for the last couple years once you break that seal we’re gonna be a different team, and I think we did that.” 

When discussing what his club’s new success has meant to the Chisago Lakes, he said, “You can tell. This week just felt a lot different around the community. People that we hadn’t heard from congratulating us… it’s meant a lot for these boys.”

The game delivered on all the promises of these storylines. Veseli came out aggressive on the basepaths, stealing a bag and plating a run in the top of the first. 

The Bulldogs counter-punched with two runs on three hits to take a 2-1 lead after one. Veseli catcher Mac Olson made a huge sliding catch against the backstop to help end a Chisago rally in the fourth, then delivered an RBI single in the top of the fifth to open a 3-2 lead. 

Again, the Bulldogs would answer back with a double by Reed Marquardt and RBI single by Alex Wilkey, and after five the game was knotted up 3-3. 

In the sixth, Bulldogs catcher Adam Brown hit a two-out squeaker on the left side of the infield. His hustle out of the box forced an erratic throw that put Chisago Lakes up 4-3, and it never looked back, with Isanti draftee Phil Bray taking the mound to slam the door in the final frame. 

When asked what it would take to win a tournament game and advance, without hesitation, Dunker answered, “We have to pitch, play defense, execute, and somewhere we’re gonna need a two-out hit. It’s the same case for every team in the tournament, and it doesn’t change for us.” 

Unfortunately for Veseli, it was the play of the Chisago Lakes Bulldogs that best matched that description on this day. 

The Bulldogs advance to face the Fergus Falls Hurricanes on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.

Elrosa 4, Hadley 3

In the second rollercoaster game of the day, the Buttermakers and Saints took turns scoring on throwing errors, with Elrosa opening a 2-1 lead after four. In the top of the fifth, Hadley’s Brent Hokeness launched a two-run bomb to give the Buttermakers a 3-2 lead. 

The Saints tied it at three in eighth, setting up a dramatic two-out RBI single by shortstop Jackson Peters to give Elrosa a walk-off win.Hadley’s Tucker Sorenson and Elrosa Draftee Brett Engelmeyer (Greenwald) dueled for the majority of the game. Sorenson struck out 8 and held the Saints to two earned runs in 7 1/3 innings, and Engelmeyer struck out 5 through 5 innings before yielding to Cold Spring draftee Cole Fuchs and winning pitcher Payton VanBeck.

The Saints advance to play Minneota on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 4:30 p.m. 

Dundas 6, Highland Park 1

The Dukes opened the first inning with a leadoff homer by Carson Jones, followed by a single and a two-run nuke from Kyle Hrncir, and were leading the Beavers of Highland Park 3-0 before an out had been recorded. 

The Beavers closed the gap with a Dylan Gausmann single to score Brady Steenson in the second, but were never able to recover after another Dundas home run by Nate Van Roekel. Steenson was 2-2 in the game with a double. 

The Dukes advance to face the winner of Coon Rapids/Minneapolis Cobras on Sunday, Aug. 27 at 1:30 p.m.  

Moorhead Brewers 1, Saint Anthony 0 (10 innings)

Brewers pitcher David Ernst is the whole story.  The Moorhead starter threw a two-hit, complete-game shoutout. To conclude the evening, though, he drove in the winning run with a single in the top of the tenth inning, then returned to the mound to slam the door by striking out the side. Denver Blinn also had two hits for the Brewers and scored the game’s only run.  

Bennett Wiggins went the distance for the Hogs on the other side of the ball, striking out six while scattering nine hits. Ryan Bernardy and Nicho Roessler had St. Anthony’s only two hits. 

Moorhead advances to face the Hopkins Berries on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 1:30 p.m.

Check out additional content below