For a team that won a conference title, a section title and a school-record 23 games — and set another 13 school records along the way — the defining moment for the Lakeville North baseball team’s 2014 season didn’t come at the peak of its success.
Instead, it came after the Panthers knew their ultimate goal could not be achieved.
Ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the season, the Panthers’ Class 3A state-title hopes were dashed on June 13 in a 2-1 semifinal loss to Mounds View, the eventual repeat state champion.
That game ended about 2 p.m.; they had to regroup and play crosstown rival Lakeville South at 5 p.m. in the third-place game.
“We just reminded the kids that winning shows something of your character and losing shows all of it,” Lakeville North coach Tony Market said. “We wanted to see how much character they had.”
The result: Lakeville North 12, Lakeville South 4.
“It put a cap on the whole season,” senior catcher Ben Jensen said, referring to his team’s third win over the Cougars this season. “It just showed that we can battle through any adversity, whether it’s physical, mental, whatever. I think it sums up this team.”
An amazing season
While disappointed to not win a state championship, Jensen said that, looking back, his team should be proud of what should go down as one of the best seasons in Lakeville history — even dating to before the North-South split.
The Panthers pitching staff set team records in strikeouts (215) and ERA (1.52). The offense set a new mark in on-base percentage (.435). Four individual single-season records were set: Nick Dorfman threw 10 complete games, Dalton Lehnen won 10 games, and center fielder A.J. Sayer walked 27 times and scored 40 runs.
Dorfman and Lehnen earned all-state honors.
“Going into the season, we knew we had a special team,” said junior shortstop Angelo Altavilla, who hit .402 with a team-leading 37 RBI, 11 doubles and four home runs. “We had some pretty high expectations.”
In 2013, the Panthers made what they described as a surprise run to the state tournament with a young team built around juniors and sophomores. That experience shaped this year’s squad, Market said.
Pitching is “the name of the game” in high school baseball, Market said. With senior hurlers Dorfman and Lehnen, the coach’s only question mark heading into the year was offense.
“Then we hit great in Florida [over spring break] and really scored a lot of runs early in the year,” Jensen said.
The team grew as the spring wore on, Jensen said. The team doesn’t name captains and, Jensen said, that leads to a unique atmosphere in which everyone expects to step up and lead at one time or another.
“It was definitely one of the closest-knit, fun teams I’ve ever played on,” Jensen said. “I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”