Six seniors, good defense and good pitching lifted Waconia’s baseball team to an undefeated record in the regular season completed last week.
With the section tournament set to begin this week, the Wildcats have one of the best records in Class 3A at 19-0. That’s nine more victories than a year ago total.
“It’s a surprise. It’s crazy,” Wildcats coach Mark Grundhofer said last week. “I just keep shaking my head at it. You start talking about undefeated seasons. I’ve been doing this 22 years, and I’ve had some great teams. I have never come this close.”
Last season the Wildcats got off to a good start but lost four of their last six games and six of their final 10 to finish with a 10-9 regular season. As the fourth seed in the section playoffs, they won their first two games before losing twice and falling short of reaching the state tournament.
“I think we were 1-7 in one-run ballgames,’’ Grundhofer said. “We had a lot of growing to do last year. But, we don’t talk about last year too much. They know they are doing better.”
Grundhofer stresses that his team pitches well and plays good defense. That starts with the pitcher and catcher, extends through the infield with the shortstop and second basemen and into center field. Seniors such as catcher Alex Logelin, shortstop Justin Schultz, pitcher/center fielder Jack Stoddard and pitcher Dillon Whittaker hold down several of those positions.
Add third baseman Jake Hendricks and first baseman AJ Friedrich, also seniors, and it helps explain the Wildcats’ success this season.
“They grew during the season last year because most of these guys had on-the-job training last year with us as juniors starting,” Grundhofer said. “Then they grew some more in the summer. When they came back this year, they were ready to go.”
The six seniors have played together since fifth grade, according to Stoddard. “We’ve always been a very solid team,’’ Hendricks added.
Stoddard said half of the seniors were on vacation for Waconia’s first game, but once they came back, the victories started to pile up.
Stoddard and Whittaker, one of the state’s top pitching duos, have combined for 12 victories while posting a 1.48 ERA over 85⅓ innings. They also have combined to allow just over one baserunner per inning and to strike out nearly a batter per inning.
Stoddard and Hendricks, the team’s cleanup hitter, point to the May 2 victory over New Prague as momentous. Grundhofer gathered them after the game in the outfield and told them no team in school history had started 10-0.
From that point on, “something special kind of formed,’’ Stoddard said. “Once we hit that 10-0 record, we started thinking this is something that doesn’t happen very often.’’
Grundhofer said he knew the Wildcats would be better this season, but not dramatically better. Every season, he expects at least a .500 record and the team playing its best ball at the end of the season.
“Would I expect to be 18-0 as we’re standing right now?’’ he asked last week, before his team defeated Hutchinson. “No.”
Let’s Play Baseball ranked the Wildcats as the best team in Class 3A as late as a couple weeks ago. However, in recent weeks the publication has dropped them to No. 2.
“[The players] know about it,” Grundhofer said about using their ranking as motivation. “We don’t pay much attention to it.”