CLASS C ROUNDUP FRIDAY AT DELANO: Delano takes first step toward history

By Nick Gerhardt

Delano is trying to become the first team since Jordan in 2004 to win a state title as a tournament host. The Athletics took their first step Friday with a 4-0 victory over Spring Hill in Delano.

It’s all eyes on the Athletics for the 2023 state tournament as the No. 1-ranked team, a gaudy record and a team that reached the semifinals last year. Delano lost 10-8 to eventual champion Nisswa after spotting the Lightning a 7-1 lead after four innings. 

“Whether we’re one of the favorites, our mantra really is one game at a time,” Athletics manager Steve Eilen said. “I don’t even know who we’d be matching up with or the possibilities. We don’t look ahead to that. I’m not going to go that far. I know how tough this tournament is. We know what our goals are. It’s literally who we’re playing next. Our guys don’t look ahead to that.”

Delano, which won the 1988 state title for its only championship, certainly knows how tough the tournament is and how difficult reaching the state tournament can get. Delano can exorcize some postseason demons with this year’s tournament. In 2019, the Athletics captured the No. 1 seed for the Region 12 tournament but promptly lost their only two games in the region tournament, failing to secure a state tournament spot in a year they hosted the tournament with Maple Lake and Dassel.

On Friday, the Athletics avenged a 2021 first-round loss to Spring Hill Friday at Municipal Ballpark in Delano in front of a crowd of 1,332. Spring Hill escaped in 2021 with a 4-3, 11-inning win at Hamburg over Delano. 

“We felt like we let them have one a couple of years ago,” Athletics right fielder Toby Hanson said “It was a really close game and they’re a really good team. We felt like we could’ve played better. We felt like we owed them one this year.”

Delano (34-2) got a solo home run from Hanson in the fifth inning and Hunter Hart provided an RBI double in the second inning. Hart later scored in the inning after two wild pitches.

Hanson added an RBI sacrifice fly in the seventh inning to score Marcus Riewer, who reached on a one-out single, stole second and advanced to third an error on the throw to second, to make it 4-0.

The Chargers, who defeated Roseau 6-4 last weekend, couldn’t touch Athletics starter Max Otto. Spring Hill had three infield singles for the game. Otto went nine innings, allowed three hits, walked none and struck out 12 in the win. He threw 98 pitches for the game.

“He gets better as the game goes on and he’s kind of been that way all year long for us,” Eilen said. 

Last season, the Athletics advanced to the semifinals with a 6-5 walk-off victory courtesy of a Hanson home run against St. Patrick.

Reaching the semifinals showed the team that it can make a deep run. 

“After last year, we kind of got over that hump,” Eilen said. “It’s a young team but we’re more mature than what we have been. I think that shows.” 

Delano moves on to face the winner of Elrosa-Minneota next Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Delano.

“We expect to be here,” Hanson said. “We expect to make a run. To do it in your own home ballpark adds a little more pressure obviously. We try to enjoy it and come out and play our game.” 

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