All it took was one victory to send Belle Plaine’s baseball program down a different path.
It came in last year’s season opener in the four-team Belle Plaine tournament, when the Tigers beat Minnehaha Academy 9-7.
“Beating a well-rounded, accomplished team like Minnehaha Academy gives you a sense of pride,” Tigers senior pitcher/infielder Nathan Herman said. “They were the favorite to win the state tournament. It was an eye-opener to how much talent we had on our team.”
Senior pitcher/infielder Brody Curtiss echoed Herman’s sentiments, saying, “That got us thinking we could beat really good teams.”
What transpired was something few could have envisioned: the school’s initial state tournament appearance.
“It was incredible,” Herman said. “When we were 10- and 11-year-olds, we kept saying, ‘We’re going to be so good when we’re older.’ We finally put it all together to get to the state tournament. It was a big accomplishment.”
Belle Plaine wound up as the Class 2A runner-up, losing to Minnehaha Academy 5-1 in the final. The Tigers finished with a school-best 25-2 record.
“A 25-2 season doesn’t happen by coincidence,” Herman said. “But losing that game was the toughest loss I’ve ever experienced. It’s a tough way to end the season.”
That setback is motivation for this year’s squad.
“Last year’s run really showed this year’s group what can be done,” Belle Plaine coach Pat Schultz said. “It was very special, and everything clicked for us throughout the year.
“It’s tough for any team to make the state tournament and play at Target Field, but this year’s group is ready and willing to take on the challenge.”
The Tigers only have three starters back — Curtiss, Herman and senior outfielder/pitcher Jonathan Schmidt — from that state tournament group.
“Losing 12 seniors and six starters from last year’s team, we have a little more uncertainty heading into this year,” Schultz said. “We have a lot of guys we think can play, but we are still trying to figure out how they will fit together. We will really need guys to step up in our middle infield, outfield and catcher for us to reach our goals.”
The first week of the season took on a look a lot like last season. The Tigers topped Minnehaha Academy 3-2 in the championship of the Belle Plaine tournament.
“We didn’t hit the ball as well as normally do, but we made up for it by making plays in the field,” Curtiss said. “We have a lot of confidence right now. Hopefully, that continues all season.”
Belle Plaine’s tournament also included two other state tournament participants from a year ago in East Grand Forks (Class 2A) and Hinckley-Finlayson (Class 1A). The Tigers shut out Hinckley-Finlayson 4-0 in the semifinals.
“We have the potential, athleticism and talent to get back to Target Field [the location of the four state championship games],” Herman said. “We have the mind-set of being a very good team again.”
With the ultimate goal being that of taking the next step, winning a state championship.
“You always look up to the older kids when you’re young,” Herman said. “You always want to be better than the class before you.
“We want to bring a state championship to Belle Plaine. That would be huge for our baseball program.”