Let’s face it, this spring stunk for sports fans - really for everyone, but let’s focus on the sports part.
The Twins were probably going to do well this year, we should have already seen the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals. Worst of all, fans and especially student-athletes have been deprived of the high school baseball, softball, golf, track and trap shooting seasons.
I’m sure things will turn around before you know it, but this pause on sports has forced some sports to look back on some of the more interesting things they have seen in their time. Our publisher and former sports writer Pete Mohs shared some of his memories in recent weeks, so I thought it was my turn.
I’ve been on the sports beat for the Patriots and Tigers for nearly 5 years, which I’ll admit isn’t a ton of time, but both schools have actually had quite a few memorable moments in that time. So I’m going to outline four of the moments that have stuck with me since I took over.
Pierzinski dominates the state meet
I have been writing professionally for the better part of 8 years across two publications, and I have seen some amazing performances - from a wrestler winning six consecutive state titles to a hockey player scoring 90-plus points in a 30-game season to a handful of triple-doubles in basketball and no-hitters in baseball and softball.
Reid Pierzinski just may take the cake.
In his senior year of track in 2018, the Patriot boys won the state championship, and he was the team’s only representative at the state meet. Therefore, he won the state championship by himself - a feat that had never been done before in Minnesota boys’ track and field.
He finished first in the 200-meter dash, the 110 hurdles and the 300 hurdles - and also finished seventh in the triple jump - en route to capturing the title all on his own.
After the meet, I remember boys coach Dave Guenther saying “There’s only one Reid-o.” I’m inclined to believe him, because one athlete winning the team state title by himself/herself is something I highly doubt I’ll see again. It is the most impressive performance I've seen in my career to date.
Patriots, Tigers at state softball
Most of the times I’ve gone to a major tournament game or meet - like a section or state championship - it has been to cover a single team that has made it that far.
The 2016 state softball tournament was particularly memorable because I got to cover both the Tigers and the Patriots, and both teams did fairly well.
In the case of the Patriots, “fairly well” is the understatement of my career. They made it to the state championship game before finally falling to Zumbrota-Mazeppa. On the back of pitcher Kathryn Miska - probably the best and most intimidating softball hurler I’ve had to cover - and a handful of girls who had a real knack for hitting the snot out of a softball, the Patriots were the state runners-up, which remains the best finish in school history.
Another noteworthy aspect of the Patriots’ state bid was infielder Haley Wiebolt. Before joining the softball team at state, she also led the girls’ basketball team to a state tournament bid, and went to state as an individual in tennis - all in the same school year.
For the Tigers, that week may not have been quite as successful, but they still ended up finishing sixth at the state tournament and finished with a record of 21-9
Their penultimate game - against Hayfield - was one of the most memorable games I have ever covered in any sport at any level. It was the final game of the day that I had to cover, and it went 10 innings with the two teams locked at 1-1 for most of the game.
It remained at that deadlock score until the 10th inning when PR-B rattled five hits to score four runs. Hayfield mounted a bit of a comeback in the bottom of the inning with three runs, but pitcher Miah Hansen - who pitched a complete game - held on for the 5-4 victory.
I didn’t get out of the softball complex in Mankato until after 10 p.m., and I had a nearly three-hour drive home, but I was so amped up after that game that I probably wouldn’t have gotten to bed any earlier if the game was played in Brainerd.
It remains one of the true highlights of my sports writing career.
Brady’s Bunch of golf accolades
Recent PR-B grad Brady Raph is quite the athlete.
On the basketball court, he established himself as a constant perimeter threat, with Tiger coach John Riewer calling him the best shooter he had ever coached.
On the links, his long drive and consistent putting made him a state-caliber athlete every year of his career.
As a freshman, Raph finished 16th at state. As a sophomore, he finished fourth.
His junior year state performance wasn’t what he hoped for, and the weather did not cooperate, but he still finished seventh overall.
One of the ultimate “what ifs” of my sports journalism career will be this spring. If COVID-19 hadn’t cancelled every sporting event since March, would Raph have had the chance to cap off his high school career with a state title? I am inclined to believe he had a better chance than just about anyone.
He is heading to Morris in the fall to play both basketball and golf, and I wish him the very best.
Miska’s perfect game
While all of the other memories I’ve listed deal with state-level competition, this one was just an ordinary Thursday, but man did it stick with me.
In their state tournament 2016 season, the Patriots took on the PR-B Tigers - again, state qualifiers in their own right and by no means a pushover team - in regular season play, and pitcher Kathryn Miska was in the zone in one of the most incredible ways I’ve ever seen.
The senior pitcher struck out 13 batters - which is more impressive considering she only faced 15 batters in total - on the way to pitching a perfect game in a 13-0 victory.
Complete-game shutouts are very impressive. No-hitters, even more so.
But to have no batters reach base safely, with 87% of them not even making contact, against a team that was good enough to make the state tournament is incredibly special, and something I may never see again in my career.
I hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane. Next spring, we’ll have some new moments to talk about.