Personal connections keep Brownton moving forward

By Eric Kraushar

ScoreMonster contributor

* Photo courtesy of Jim Wellbrock

McLeod West High School shut its doors in 2010, the last remnants of the school district that once served the communities of Brownton and Stewart. Declining enrollment and a main campus building that in its final year was half-condemned. 

Students went in each direction, most south to Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, some east and west to Glencoe-Silver Lake and Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, a few north to Hutchinson.

A once feeder program for the Brownton Bruins amateur baseball team, just two former Falcons remain in the starting lineup – longtime outfielder Deryk Randt and second baseman Taylor Schuette. Friday’s starting nine included alumni from seven different high schools, many in surrounding communities, except for one.

It’s not every day that Brownton, with a population of 731 in 2020, finds a starting shortstop who bats third in the lineup. Scott Finberg, a Stillwater Area High School graduate, who played collegiately at Minnesota-Crookston, is just that for the Bruins.

“He’s a beast,” said teammate Ryan Grams.

After moving to Brownton in January, the hometown of his college girlfriend, Erika, Finberg has found a home with the Bruins after playing Class A ball with Stockmen’s Irish.

“I would come out there and watch the Bruins play and it was a whole different atmosphere than anything else I was used to. I love it. It’s absolutely crazy how many fans show up. It’s more than players’ families and wives. People from the town, people that just love baseball. The guys had been asking me to play with them. They were bugging Erika to get me on the team,” Finberg said.

Brownton last qualified for the state tournament in 2016, just the second time since 1991, and just the third time in a half-century. The Bruins reached the title game in 1966 and were third in 1967.

Ironically, their last state win before Friday came on their home field, Barney Tadsen Field, in a 3-1 upset of the Jordan Brewers. A large rainstorm on opening day shut down the field in Hutchinson, with Brownton stepping up to the plate to rescue the state tournament the first weekend in 2016.

Brownton reached this year’s tournament with a victory over Green Isle in the Region 7C tournament. It was Grams who went the distance, as he has so many times in his town team baseball days, first with Plato, then with Glencoe and the past 10 years with Brownton.

It was Grams’ first season with the Bruins that he connected with his wife, Kayla, the daughter of Brownton manager Doug Schuette. 

Grams and Taylor Schuette, brother-in-laws, each had bases-clearing doubles in the third and eighth innings to lead Brownton to a 7-3 win over neighboring Gaylord in the opening round of the Class C State Amateur Baseball Tournament in Dundas July 19.

Grams found an 0-2 fastball to his liking to give the Bruins a 3-1 lead. The advantage grew to three when Finberg sat on a first-pitch breaking ball, hitting a towering shot into the left-field trees, a wild celebration at home plate ensuing.

“It’s a feeling that is hard to describe. You know you got it all. I’m rounding first base, and I couldn’t help but smile. It’s the best feeling. It was a ‘let’s go’ moment, for sure,” Finberg said.

Gaylord drew within one at 4-3 in the eighth inning, Grams stranding the tying and potential go-ahead runs on second and third base. After the game, manager Doug Schuette asked, “how do you take a guy like him out?” You don’t. 

Taylor Schuette, a veteran of the Bruins club for two decades, came up with one of his biggest hits in his career, a three-run double to the base of the left-center field fence that made the ninth-inning decision easier, a more comfortable 7-3 lead.

A double play, started by the slick glove of Finberg, the third time his strong arm was on display in the game, moved Brownton to the second weekend. Grams finished with 155 pitches.

“He’s an ageless wonder. He’s our Captain Clutch,” Finberg said of Grams, who scattered eight hits, finishing with four strikeouts, holding his cousin, Collin, self-described as a “brother,” to a 1-for-4 night atop the line-up for Gaylord. “In the regular season he played okay, but in the post-season, that’s his time, he finds a whole new gear.”

“(Ryan’s) on the Bruins board. He’s the first guy to volunteer for everything, field work, whatever. He’s always there. He’s definitely a guy you want on your team. Every team needs a guy like Ryan,” Finberg added.

Grams has played in 12 of the last 13 state tournaments, drafted in 2018 with the Young America Cardinals when they reached the Class C final four. He’s hoping to make a similar run with Brownton this year.

Next up is a return to Dundas, a meeting with Region 1 champions Isanti at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28.

For Finberg, his first small-town state tournament experience eclipsed any expectations he had, further assuring him of his decision to move to McLeod County.

“I had lost the love of the game for a little bit and this team brought it back. I love it,” he said.

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