[email protected] The stakes were high for the Hastings Hawks on Saturday in Red Wing. Hastings had the early 1:00 p.m. game in a win or go home scenario, their opponent, the Sharks of …
The stakes were high for the Hastings Hawks on Saturday in Red Wing. Hastings had the early 1:00 p.m. game in a win or go home scenario, their opponent, the Sharks of Stewartville- Racine, a team they defeated the previous weekend. The winner of this game was scheduled to take on the winner of the 4:00 p.m. game, Cannon Falls vs Rochester.
The Hawks jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Cory Wolters walked then stole second. the next two batters were unable to reach base safely which brought up the designated hitter, Ben Bundschu. Bundschu hit a solid single to score Wolters.
In the second inning, rookie Jake Sandquist had a quality at bat forcing the Sharks pitcher to eat up nine pitches before he hit a single up the middle. The Hawks bench erupted with cheers for their catcher. Jason Greeder got on with a single as well after fighting off 10 pitches of his own and returning the Hawks to the top of the lineup. Wolters hit the third straight single of the inning and Manager Shawn Matson sent Sanquist home from second.
“We were just trying to win game one, advance at all costs,” Matson explained. “I knew Squantch had enough speed to make it home and extend our lead.”
Sandquist did indeed make it home giving the Hawks a two-run lead in as many innings.
Defensively, the guys were clicking playing solid defense behind this year’s ace, Will Lavin. Lavin went seven innings walking only three and striking out eight. His performance on the mound earning him the player of the game mug as chosen by the other players even though he lobbied against it, more on that later.
Both teams settled in nicely until the fourth when the Sharks cut the lead in half to make it 2-1. Offensively, the game became a little slow with both pitchers working the zone and stifling many batters. Then the ninth inning came. Hastings brought in their closer, Andrew Kemper, into the game in the eighth and he cruised through that quickly, the ninth, not so much.
With two outs, the Sharks batter hit a weird bouncer off home plate that squirted toward the front of the home plate dish like it was a bunt. Sandquist hustled to grab it and make the throw down to first base for the final out of the game when the ball took off foul. The spin of the ball was weird, and it just went foul. At the time, it looked like a good thing because the play at first would have been very tough to make. The next pitch should have been called strike three, even the fans in the house agreed, but it was not. One more to win it and the batter drove it to center for a single.
With the go ahead run at the plate, Matson pulled his outfield in slightly to prevent any extra base hits, a decision that would backfire. The next Sharks batter crushed a fly ball over Jake Biermaier’s head in left field. Biermaier nearly made a tremendous grab short of the warning track but could not reel it in. With the lead runner rounding third and the batter rounding second, all of a sudden Biermaier threw his arms up indicating the ball went out of play for a ground rule double.
The home plate umpire was walking down the third base line telling the runners to keep going and play it out while he also explained to the Hawks bench that he and his infield partner would sort it out, but it had to be done the right way. The infield umpire went out to left field by Biermaier to confirm what happened, but for the moment, Stewartville-Racine had the late 3-2 lead.
The ball had found the one and only hole under the fence in the complex and rolled out of play. It was easily five feet past the fence, so a ground rule double was called. With that ruling, the runners returned to the bases. The lead runner at third and the other at second, with two outs.
Before the first pitch to the next batter was thrown, Lavin was on the bench telling the team, “If we end up winning this game, the fence gets the mug, I don’t care what anyone says.”
That got a laugh out of the guys, and they returned to the game. Kemper took a breath and went to work. This batting sequence went down much more normally that the previous two. With the final pitch being a strike, Hastings won the game 2-1 to advance to the night game and a chance at state.
Cannon Falls ended up being the victor over the Rochester Roadrunners, 5-0, setting the stage for the fourth meeting this season between the two teams. Jordan Jeske got the start for Hastings and Nick Drinken for the Bears. Cannon Falls took the lead early in the game and never looked back. Drinkin pitched lights out against Hastings giving up only one hit for the complete game shutout, ending the Hawks season with a 5-0 win.
Hastings finished the year 15-17 which had Matson excited. “I gotta say it’s probably as much as the last two years combined, I would think at least. And you know the guy the guys, the players they, they made it super easy on me this year the team really came together. This group of guys is, you know, a lot of the younger Hastings guys have been kind of, they’ve been together for a while. Then, they show up to the park and they play the game the right way. They play hard and to have fun, they’re all just a good solid group of guys and they molded well with some of them some of our older guys. And I think that was key to our success this year.”
A successful year indeed. The previous seasons have not been easy on Matson, managing through COVID last year and basic struggles the few seasons before had the Hawks in single digit wins and finding themselves bounced from the first round of the playoffs. This year was a welcome change for Matson and the veterans of the team.
“I already have been looking forward, excited for next year already, just because I know that the guys are all gonna go off to college, they’re gonna continue to grow and become better players. That’s gonna help us for next year and then down the road,” Matson said with a smile.
He hopes the non-college guys come up with a good workout plan for the off season to keep themselves healthy and active. He may even look for a winter facility they can get together at just to knock the rust off and keep building the team camaraderie.
With the playing season over, now the managers and the board shift into offseason mode. Planning the park clean-up day to shut down Veterans Park for the winter, looking at next season, building the schedule and hopefully fundraising for the next big improvement. The Hawks work hand in hand with the City of Hastings Parks department to maintain and update their home field. Vets is the only field in Hastings that can support an amateur team, but Vets can do so much more, and it does.
HYAA plays most of their 14-year-old and older games at Vets, and the High School plays a few games out there each year. Overall, the Hawks are about 20% of the games played there, but they do the majority of the field maintenance including most of the mowing and infield work.
There are updates badly needed at the park. The top five things are: the backstop, scoreboard, lights, pitching mound and home plate, and batting cages/bullpens. Just that list of stuff is over $200,000 of updates. Add the dugouts, field fencing and a controlled entrance with a fence around the perimeter of the park, the field could use nearly $500,000 of TLC.
This year, the Parks Department was looking to do some repairs to the backstop, several thousand dollars of repairs in fact. The Hawks asked the city to put that order on hold to see if they could come up with a better solution that includes a full backstop replacement with netting and a cement wall. Many of the pieces for that are falling in line to happen before the start of the next season, but there have been some hiccups along the way.
Number one is finding an engineer to draw the official backstop plans; number two is finding a concrete company that has the wall forms to pour the wall in place. The netting needs are known, and a company is ready to produce and install those. Another company is ready to make the needed poles, the city is ready to remove the old backstop and excavate the spot for the new one, the plan just needs final numbers, and the cash needs to be raised to fill in the gap of what is already available.
For the scoreboard, that’s pretty straight forward. It’s going to take $31,000 to replace what is there with the same thing. Sounds simple right? It’s only $31,000. There is a major contributor looking for a partner to work with on the replacement and that can be ordered.
Lights are also pretty straight forward. The existing poles are good, so it would be replacing the wiring, fixtures and control system with current LED technology. The LED’s could save the city nearly $5,000 a year in energy use over the nearly 40 year old fixtures that are there currently, plus the cost savings of having to fix them each year. Unfortunately, the cost to replace the lights is around $130,000.
The mound and home is around the $10,000 mark and that could be accomplished in a few weeks’ time if a donor came forward for that. Batting cages are about as tricky as the backstop. Those would require some basic engineering and further planning to put in.
Yes, the season is over for the Hawks players, but the board has some work ahead to get some improvements made at Vets. If you are interested in joining the Hawks board, or would like to discuss a donation for helping with the field improvements, email [email protected] hastingshawks.com