CLASS C ROUNDUP SUNDAY AT DASSEL: Courtland’s 78-year journey delivers Cubs to Dassel

By Ryan Simonson

It was a typically balmy August day in southern Minnesota. The farmers of Nicollet County went about their daily tasks uninterrupted and down at the creamery it was business as usual. But in downtown Courtland, a buzz was in the air. Folks were ecstatically sharing the news in-between sips of coffee at the diner. Excited chatter was overheard at the service station on Hwy. 14. In the taverns, the beers were pouring and glasses clinking in celebration. There was revelry to spare all around the town of about 250 generally well-mannered folks. The boys would all soon be coming home from overseas and the Courtland baseball club was headed down to Albert Lea to play in the Class A State Tournament. 

It was 1945, and it was the last time a Courtland ball club made it to the big show. 

In the years since, a few things have changed, many have stayed the same. The population of Courtland has swelled to over 700. The creamery is still standing. There is no longer a diner, though the town still has two bars. The Courtland baseball club disappeared for the better part of two decades, but made a return in 2015, and for the first time in 78 years it punched a ticket to the state amateur baseball tournament. 

Since their reemergence in the Tomahawk East League, most summers have been a struggle for the Cubs. Less than 10 miles from New Ulm’s historic and immaculate Johnson Park, with its lush grass and cozy grandstand, Courtland’s ballpark has a skinned infield, a modest covered bleacher and diminutive dimensions. Through their first six seasons, the newly-formed Cubs posted a humble .117 winning percentage, lurking in the league’s cellar. But since 2021, things have been on the up-and-up for Courtland and this year the Cubs finally broke through, taking Region 2C by storm and entering the 100th annual state tournament as the region’s top seed.

The Cubs gathered in the first base dugout at Dassel, watching the shoe beer-guzzling perennial tournament entrant Maple Lake Lakers run through a sharp infield/outfield. Despite being the higher seed and home team on the scoreboard, the Cubs gave the appearance of a rag-tag mercenary outfit. Noticeably young and dressed in T-shirt jerseys that refused to stay tucked in, Courtland made the Lakers, in their stylish black-and-white trimmed yellow v-necks and crisp white pants, look like a professional operation. The Cubs had been idle during the tournament’s first weekend, having earned a bye, while the Lakers had battled through an 11-inning dogfight with Union Hill to advance. Maple Lake looked the part, but Courtland had something to prove and nothing to lose. 

Cubs starter Jackson Bode seemed to be in control of things in the top of the first and was poised to put the Lakers down in order before Maple Lake starting pitcher Hunter Malachek sliced a triple to the gap and was promptly driven home by Donnie Mavencamp. 

In the home half of the inning, Courtland punched right back, with catcher Cade Bushard drawing a walk and flashing the aggressive baserunning that would be the Cubs’ offensive signature throughout the game–stealing second before being plated by back-to-back hits from Nolan and Jaden Drill.

In the third inning, still tied 1-1, Bushard singled sharply, but was then cut down attempting to steal second on the first pitch to Nolan Drill, who then delivered a bases-empty triple that echoed loudly off the outfield wall. He would be stranded at third. 

Destiny seemed to be on the side of the Cubs with Bode continuing to escape trouble, keeping the score knotted at one into the fifth inning, until a sacrifice fly by Ben Clapp put the Lakers ahead 2-1. Undeterred, the Cubs came alive in the sixth. Robust but surprisingly nimble left fielder Nolan Drill singled, then stole second and third base before Teddy Giefer launched a two-run moonshot to open up a 4-2 lead for the Cubs and send the sizable blue-clad crowd into a frenzy. 

The Courtland momentum was short lived, however, as the Lakers plated four runs, all with two outs, in the seventh inning, to take a 6-4 advantage. Maple Lake wouldn’t look back after that, scoring twice more in the ninth to win 8-4  and put the Courtland Cubs’ 78-year dream back to bed for another season. 

Maple Lake advances to face the Sartell Muskies on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 4:30 p.m. in Delano. 

Bird Island 5, Blue Earth 1

With Atwater draftee Josh Kingery on the mound, Blue Earth faced a tall order in their second-round matchup. The Pirates came out swinging, though, with Brandyn Olsen scoring on a single by Lee Hodges in the top of the first. Draftee from Belle Plaine, Derek Dahlke, kept the Bullfrogs off the scoreboard until the fourth inning, when a Shawn Dollerschell sacrifice fly tied the game 1-1.

The Frogs added another run in the fifth and two more in the sixth when Pirates right fielder Hunter Bleess came up short on an attempted diving catch, resulting in a two-run triple for Braeden Tersteeg.

Another run for Bird Island in the seventh and a dominant, 14 strikeout performance by Kingery sealed a 5-1 victory for the Bullfrogs. 

Bird Island advances to face Waconia on Saturday, Sept. 2, 11 a.m. in Dassel

Avon 2, Hibbing 1

Making their first ever appearance in the Class C tournament after years in Class B, the Region 10C champs and lone representative of the Mesabi Range Hibbing Miners faced Region 8 staple Avon, fresh off an impressive win over Red Wing. 

Hibbing starter Matt Erickson kept the Lakers guessing for 6 1/3 innings, surrendering only four hits. Unfortunately for the Miners, two of those hits were long solo homeruns launched by 6-foot, 7-inch Avon right fielder Carter Philippi, the game-winner coming on an 0-2 pitch.

Dominic Austing and Reese Gregory allowed just one Hibbing run on six hits, striking out nine. 

Adding to the drama of a pitchers’ duel, each team lost a would-be run when deep drives bounced off the turf warning track and out of play for ground rule doubles, stranding runners at third base. 

Avon advances to face St. Martin on Friday, Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m. in Dassel.

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