CLASS B & C ROUNDUP SATURDAY AT LITCHFIELD: Lightning striking again for Nisswa

By Ryan Simonson

It’s easy to overlook little old Nisswa. It’s not thought of much as a baseball haven. Nobody even really knows where it is, it’s just “up north” somewhere — a little resort town tucked in between all those lakes. The kind of place you stop for ice cream on the way to the cabin.

Their home ballpark is 80 miles from teams like Freeport and Foley, on the southern end of their geographically expansive Victory League. The field itself is far from remarkable. Bearing the uninspired moniker “Nisswa City Baseball Field,” it’s a crispy, sandy diamond boxed in between a parking lot and an outdoor hockey rink and encircled by rusty old chain link fence. It features no grandstand, concessions, or much ambiance at all. 

The best place to view a game is from the lawn outside Ye Old Pickle Factory bar that sits just beyond the center field fence, where a healthy contingent of Lightning fans line up in their lawn chairs, sipping cocktails on steamy summer afternoons. The scoreboard isn’t visible, but the left fielder will kindly keep you updated if you ask. 

Nobody seems to think about the Nisswa Lightning until August rolls around, even a year removed from their 2022 state championship run. Coming into the 2023 tournament, few prognosticators had them ranked higher than No. 5, despite the Lightning not losing to anyone but 2022 runner-up, the Buckman Billygoats. 

Nobody was paying much attention to the Lightning in 2022, either. They didn’t seem to really be on anyone’s radar as the top seed out of Region 8C and barely raised an eyebrow when they slid past Raymond or New Ulm. When they unceremoniously dismissed popular championship pick Jordan 14-2 in eight innings during the elite eigh round, then stormed through Delano to punch their ticket to the title game, folks finally started paying attention. And when they left Faribault with the MBA championship trophy, hardly anyone seemed surprised.

But winters are long in Minnesota and sleepy little places like Nisswa fall out of folks’ recollection, being so far away. People forget about guys like former NDSU standout and Cincinnati Reds farmhand Jeremiah Piepkorn, or slugger Nate DeChaine, or the rest of a lineup that hit .437 with 31 home runs in league play. And so, entering this year’s state tournament,  the Nisswa Lightning had to remind everyone.

After bulldozing Carver in seven innings and handily beating Cannon Falls, Nisswa found itself in a Sweet 16 rematch with the New Ulm Brewers, who they defeated 4-2 in Faribault on their way to the 2022 title. 

Facing New Ulm’s Mitch Bockenstedt, the Lightning got on the board in the bottom of the first inning, when a walk, a balk, and a Piepkorn single put them ahead 1-0. 

The game quietly sauntered along for a few innings after that, with Nisswa starter Carter Dox and Bockenstedt trading empty frames until the Lightning crossed home again in the bottom of fifth, when third baseman Aaron Jenkins was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force a second run across. 

New Ulm threatened in the sixth, with a Cole Ranweiler leadoff double, but he didn’t get farther than third base. 

Nisswa added two more in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run homer by Kody Ruedisili. 

Still pitching into the ninth, Dox seemed to be running out of gas. He walked the leadoff hitter and despite a pair of strikeouts, found himself with the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate, when he was replaced by Pierz Lakers draftee Chad Weiss, who coaxed a foul popup to first base to end the game and send Nisswa back to the quarterfinals. 

On Sunday afternoon  in Litchfield, Nisswa will face Buckman in a rematch of last year’s Class C championship game and everyone will be paying attention. 

Minnetonka 16, St Patrick 0

One of the most highly anticipated games of the weekend failed to live up to the billing. 

Minnetonka started right-hander Wyatt Nelson on the hill against St. Patrick’s Ryan Friedges. For two innings the game was a stalemate until Minnetonka broke it open with two runs in the third on a Joe Shallenberger double to score two.

Minnetonka added five more runs in the fourth, including a two-run homer by Mason Nadolney that knocked the wheels right off the St. Patrick wagon. Friedges was chased for Zak Endres, who worked a scoreless fifth, sixth and seventh before St. Patrick made another pitching change and all hell broke loose, with nine Miller runs ending the game by mercy rule after eight innings. 

Minnetonka’s Wyatt Nelson with a one-hit, 10-strikeout complete game shutout, facing one batter over the minimum, with Kal Brohmer reaching twice for the Irish on a walk and their only hit. 

Minnetonka advances to face Air Freight Unlimited in the final four on Sunday. 

Air Freight Unlimited 8, Moorhead Brewers 2 

After wins over former “Class A” teams St. Anthony and Hopkins, Moorhead arrived in Litchfield expecting to face Air Freight’s highly touted ace Graham Laubscher, but Air Freight had other plans. Saving its horse for a potential matchup with Minnetonka, Air Freight opted to put surprise starter Willy Coborn on the mound to face the Brewers’ David Ernst.

Air Freight took an early lead with a leadoff double by Matthew Enck, who scored on a single by Kyle Halverson. 

The Brewers made hard contact on Coborn in the early frames, but could not find hits, loading the bags in the third, but banging into an inning-ending double play. 

The game remained 1-0 until the fourth, when Air Freight pushed three more runs across, Moorhead struggling to make solid contact against Coborn.

A two-run homer by Tommy Cummings made it 6-0 Air Freight and brought Elias Harris to the mound for Moorhead. 

The Brewers scored two runs on a Spencer Flaten single and chased Coborn in the seventh, but Air Freight bounced right back with two runs of its own and put Moorhead down quietly in the ninth for an 8-2 win. 

Air Freight advances to face Minnetonka in the final four. 

Check out additional content below