- by Manager Mike Schultz
The Belle Plaine Tigers Amateur Baseball team has enjoyed a pretty good last decade and because of this, came into most of those seasons with lofty expectations. Belle Plaine has made the state tournament in each of the past six years and in eight of the last nine. In those seasons, just making the state tournament wasn't enough to make the season a success – rather, playing well and winning games in the state tournament was. Much of this success was due to a pretty constant core group of players. After the Tigers lost in the second round of the 2014 Class C state tournament, a large portion of that core group left the team for a myriad of reasons, including: family demands, time constraints and new dogs.
In 2015 the Tigers started the season without four of their best hitters and four of their top pitchers from the previous year. They also added five high-school players to the roster, along with several players just out of high school. To say expectations were much lower for the 2015 season would have been a gross understatement. I think at the beginning of the season not even the biggest of homers probably would have placed a bet on Team Tigertown to make the State Tourney; only the players and some board members thought it was possible.
The Tigertown Express did not disappoint all those who predicted a decline, finishing at 11-20 overall and 5-6 in the River Valley League. They started the season 0-4 and bottomed out on June 16 with a 2-11 record after getting no-hit by the Prior Lake Jays’ Tyler Edwards. From there, El Tigre sort of caught fire and finished with an 8-8 record the rest of the way. Not a great record, but three of those wins were in the playoffs which was good enough for (arguably) a 17th-place finish at the state tournament.
Los Tigros’ playoffs started in the friendly confines of Tiger Park against the Arlington A's. Derek Dahlke got the start on the mound and ended up collecting the win, chucking seven scoreless frames. Josh Terrio threw the final two innings and gave up no runs. Dylan Nyberg paced the hitters with a pair of knocks.
Next up for your Tigers were the Saints of St. Peter and their ace Matt Lewis. Newcomer Ben Wagner got the start on the mound in this contest and threw five-plus innings to garner the win in this state-qualifying game. Josh Terrio again came in to pitch and earned a save the hard way – by throwing four innings of scoreless baseball. Derek Dahlke had the big hit, a two-run shot in the first inning that gave your hometown nine a lead they wouldn't squander. A couple veterans who stuck around combined to add a run in the third inning, with Travis Latzke getting hit by a pitch, stealing second and scoring on a single by Pat Schultz. Belle Plaine held on for a 3-2 win and an improbable trip to the state tournament.
In the opening round of the tourney Team Tigertown matched up against the Hadley Buttermakers and came away with a 3-2 triumph. Derek Dahlke got the start and the win by tossing six innings of scoreless ball. Josh Terrio and Gaylord draftee Trevor Vaubel combined to throw the final three innings to secure the victory. Nyberg hit his team leading fifth home run in that game, a two-run bomb, with Pat Schultz adding the third and final RBI of the game.
The Hampton Cardinals derailed the Tiger Train the following weekend, handing them an 11-1 whooping in 7 innings. Tiger draftees Vaubel and the New Ulm Kaiserhoff’s Nick Dewanz both pitched in that game and we would like to thank them for their presence during the state tourney.
A lot was made this season about how young the Tigers would be and how much talent was lost from the previous year. The youngsters didn't disappoint, with many of them playing key roles throughout the year. What wasn't talked about as much was the veterans that hadn't played much in previous years due to the talented players ahead of them. Terrio, Nyberg and Tyler Hartmann were the three players that benefitted most from the increase in playing time.
Nyberg led the team with five homeruns, the highest home run total for El Tigre since former (and always) Tiger Tim Huber belted as many in 2011. Terrio ended up being the closer and did not disappoint in that role, collecting three saves with an ERA of 2.41 while also manning right field throughout the season. Hartman was a stalwart in left field and in the lineup as well, working from the No. 8-spot in the lineup to the No. 2-hole over the course of the year. He ended the season with a .253 batting average, good for third-best on the team.
Overall team stats aren't yet available, but when they do come out they will show an overall increase in the team ERA and a decrease in the team batting average for a fourth straight season. That streak also coincides with Mike Schultz taking over the managing duties. Some might say that decrease shows poor managing; others might say that he is doing more with less, as the Tigers have made the state tournament all four of those years. Derek Dahlke finished the year with the best ERA at 2.32, and Pat Schultz again led the team in batting average after a two-year absence from the top spot, finishing at .339.
Although the year didn't end with a state championship – which is always the ultimate goal – numerous young players got lots of great experience and several veterans got their chance to play and delivered. In 2016 the Tiger Train will roll on with even more high-schoolers and maybe even a departed veteran or two returning to the team. Any vets will be welcomed back with open arms, as once a Tiger always a Tiger, Tiger.