LOOKING BACK: Dundas enjoys nail-biting run to 1998 title

By Nick Gerhardt

news@mnbaseball.org

By 1998, only two members from Dundas’ 1988 state championship team remained on the roster, which makes the Dukes’ run to the 1998 Class B title all the more interesting.

Dundas claimed its third state title in club history and the first of back-to-back state championships after the Dukes claimed the 1999 title, too.

Dundas escaped by the skin of their teeth in nearly every game of the 1998 state tournament in Chaska and Hamburg. Dundas won four of the five games in its last at-bat and played in four one-run games, including both championship games against Chaska. The one game the Dukes won by more than one run came in the second round when they beat Marshall 4-1.

After losing to Cold Spring twice to decide the 1996 title and again to the Springers in 1997 to reach the championship, Dundas felt 1998 was its year.

“Every one of those games was just close,” Nelson said of the 1998 tourney. “At the same time we had the feeling that this was our year. We’d been second and third … no more goofing around. We’re going to go in and win this thing and we did.”

Nelson assembled a roster of players from the Northfield area, south metro, MIAC and added some key draftees to gear up for a run at the title. Only Nelson and Robert Weber remained from the 1988 championship team. 

The Dukes, who finished with a 43-9 overall record, also had an ace on the mound in former Boston Red Sox pitcher and townball legend Dana Kiecker. Kiecker helped lead Dundas to a 2-1 win over Rochester in the third round with 5 1/3 innings of one-hit ball before he pulled a groin muscle and exited the game.

“Rochester was the game where [Nelson] always wanted me to pitch because they always had a competitive team,” Kiecker said. “I always welcomed that challenge because they had some aggressive hitters so I threw strikes early and we had a great fielding team. … I told them I would keep it in the yard, you go make the plays. It was fun to watch.”

Kiecker ended his professional career in 1992 and made his way to Dundas, in part, because Nelson knew Kiecker’s older brother Brock. Kiecker continued to play amateur ball until 55 and also spent time playing for Air Freight Unlimited and New Market. 

Ryan Beckers came on to throw the final 3 2/3 against Rochester and allowed one run on four hits. Beckers later threw in both games against Chaska but the Dukes got a big lift from Chad Krueger, a draftee from Red Wing.

Krueger earned the win in relief against Miesville in an 11-10 win to send Dundas to the title game after allowing two runs, one earned, on four hits in one inning. Krueger came back the next day to throw three innings of one-run ball in the first game against Chaska and another four innings in the second game where he allowed four unearned runs on five hits.

The deciding game featured two Chaska grand slams and two home runs by the Dukes in a 12-11 victory. Scott Howard tied a state record for five base hits and his final hit of the game scored pinch runner Jeremy Fuchs to win the game for Dundas. Tim Thull led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and Chet Meyer singled to score Thull from first base after Chaska’s right fielder mishandled the ball. The Cubs walked Matt Farley and Brice Pleschourt to load bases before Howard singled off Mac Zachow to left field.

Howard played at the University of Minnesota and started batting as a switch hitter that summer though he’d never hit left-handed. He figured it out in short order and singled in his first left-handed at-bat with the Dukes and collected the championship-winning hit batting left-handed.

In a game that featured four home runs, the one that Thull robbed made the biggest difference. In the sixth inning, Ryan Beers, who hit a grand slam in the fifth inning, hit a ball deep to center field that drove Thull to the wall where he made a leaping catch to take away a two-run home run with Dundas holding an 8-7 lead

“Our defensive plays were more exciting than the home runs we hit,” Thull said.

A NEW HERO EVERY GAME

In Dundas’ 2-1 over Rochester, third baseman Aaron Erickson singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth and the bases loaded. Joel Magrane scored on a wild pitch an inning earlier after the Dukes failed to execute a squeeze.

Dundas met rival Miesville in the semifinals and had beaten the Mudhens four previous times that season. Miesville fans and players didn’t think the Dukes could beat them five straight times.

Dundas led 10-6 heading to the top of the ninth before Miesville rallied to tie the game after an error allowed the inning to continue. 

But in the bottom of the ninth, Scott Bauer hit a leadoff home run to right center field that ended up being costly. Teammate Matt Farley had convinced a neighbor to attend the game in Hamburg and parked behind the outfield fence in right center field. Bauer’s home run shattered the back window of the vehicle and provided a story for years to come. During the game Pleschourt was the story with three home runs and five RBI.

“They were a major team in our league that we played against all the time,” Pleschourt said. “We knew their players really well. The first two I hit were off of Bill Frederick and he’s been a competitor over the years. He’s got a lot of baseball history. … He left a couple of balls up and I was able to get them out of the park. I know he wasn’t happy about it. I think I had hit one off him in the years past. To actually hit a third in that game was a huge part in my career.”

Pleschourt’s third home run of the game also netted him a free trip. As part of the outfield advertising in Hamburg, a sponsor placed stars on a board behind the outfield fence. If a player hit a star, they’d receive a free trip to anywhere in the continental United States. Pleschourt hit a star in the right center field power alley on his third home run and used the trip to take a trip with his wife to visit her mother in Spokane, Washington.

Erickson won MVP honors after batting .526 for the tournament, going 10-for-19 with a .640 on-base percentage. He also earned the victory in the championship game when he retired Chaska’s Eric Welter for the final out of the top of the ninth. Welter lined out to second base to end the half inning and finished 3-for-6 with four RBI after going 3-for-5 with two RBI in the first game.

CUBS APPEAR IN FIRST TITLE GAME IN 11 YEARS

Chaska put together an impressive run to reach the championship by rallying through the loser’s bracket following a 4-1 second-round loss to Hamel. The Cubs won six straight games to force a winner-take-all second championship game against the Dukes. Chaska defeated Jordan for the first time in 14 tries to meet Miesville with a spot in the state championship game on the line. The Cubs won 8-5 and then knocked off Dundas 7-6 in the first championship game. The Dukes led 6-5 into the bottom of the ninth before Welter and Tim Holzhueter hit back-to-back two-out doubles to tie the game. Tom Schleper, a draftee catcher from Shakopee, won it with a single to left center field. The Cubs appeared in their first championship game since 1987 and finished the year with a 30-10 record.

“They were a phenomenal team,” Thull said. “They had a long road to get there.”

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