CLASS OF ITS OWN: Air Freight claims Class B state title after claiming 2021 Class A crown

By Nick Gerhardt

Photo via: RK Photography

Air Freight Unlimited doesn’t worry about much on the field. The team usually doesn’t have to worry with ace Graham Laubscher and a lineup that can produce in each spot.

That mentality served Air Freight well Sunday as it defeated Shakopee 4-2 to claim the 2023 Class B state title at Saints Field in Dassel in the first year of a merged Class A and B field of teams.

Sam Kulesa drove in two runs in the third inning with a double off the wall in left center field while Kyle Halvorson knocked in a run with a double one batter later to give Air Freight a 3-1 lead. Halvorson later drove in a run in the fifth inning to score Kulesa for a 4-1 lead that held up to give Air Freight Unlimited its second title. Its first came in 2021 in Class A. 

“I think it means a little more because it was both classes combined,” said Kulesa, who joined Air Freight this season “It was a lot of fun this year. I think the championship is just the cherry on top.”

Air Freight’s lineup consists of mostly former and current University of St. Thomas players, including Graham Laubscher who became the talk of the tournament — before, during and after the tournament.

Laubscher set a new state tournament record for the most strikeouts in one tournament earlier in the day against Minnetonka in a 5-2 victory. He struck out 21 Millers hitters, a lineup that put up 24 runs in two games in the tournament. Laubscher struck out the first 10 batters he faced and finished the game with 55 strikeouts for the tournament. After 164 pitches in that game, he returned to pitch the eighth and ninth innings against the Indians Sunday night. Laubscher promptly struck out the first three batters he faced and then two more in the ninth before a grounder to short ended the game. Laubscher tallied 60 strikeouts for the tournament, eclipsing the previous record of 54 set by Brian Jenneke with Glencoe in 1998 when the tournament had double elimination.

Laubscher earned Fred Roufs MVP honors after going 3-0 with one save in 29 innings pitched. He had an ERA of 0.93, allowed just three earned runs and walked four while throwing two games of 21 strikeouts. He struck out a mere 13 Northfield hitters in an opening round 2-0 win before striking out 21 in a 4-1 win over the Minneapolis Angels the next weekend.

“Everything he throws moves and you don’t know where it’s moving to,” Air Freight manager Dusty Wilhelmy said. “He works very quick, which all the fielders appreciate standing behind him. He’s a gamer. You can’t say anything better about the kid.”

Shakopee grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning after Tom Keohen and Alex Broholm walked. Kolin Williams singled to score Keohen against Air Freight starter Jack Schnettler.

After Air Freight pulled ahead 4-1 in the fifth inning, the Indians halved the lead in the seventh inning. Justin Winterfeldt doubled to score Steve Boldt, who reached on an error with two outs. That’s as close as a resilient Shakopee team making its first state tournament appearance since 2018 got. 

The Indians became the surprise of the tournament after rallying from a 5-0 deficit to beat Plymouth 7-5 in the first round. Shakopee knocked off Stockmen’s Irish 5-1 the next weekend and beat the Minneapolis Cobras 6-4 to reach the semifinals. Against Cold Spring, the Indians rallied from three deficits to come up with an 11-8 win after a five-run eighth inning.

“A to make it to state was a great experience and B to make the run that we did was pretty cool,” said Shakopee catcher Dominick Schelper, who went 2-for-4 against Air Freight. “It was pretty awesome for [the younger players] to get the whole town ball experience with the fans and the atmosphere.”

Joey Connelly, a University of Minnesota-Crookston pitcher who struck out 13 hitters against the Plymouth Hit Dawg in five innings of relief, started for Shakopee and went the first five innings. Connelly allowed just three hits, but walked five. Thomas Wilkie threw three innings of no-hit ball in relief.

The Indians tallied six hits in the game against Air Freight, which finished with just three. But four errors and seven walks by Shakopee gave Air Freight ample opportunity. Two of the four runs Air Freight scored were unearned. 

“We were just real opportunistic,” Laubscher said. “We have so many clutch guys on our team. Whenever someone needs to step up we always have that guy that seemingly does so. It’s fun to be on that team.”

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