Home Run

August 15, 2011

Athletic News, Currents Magazine

Home Run

Warriors baseball team one win short of Division II World Series title

By Grant Wall

Winona State head coach Kyle Poock ’83/’97 thought from the beginning of the 2011 season that his Warrior baseball team was capable of accomplishing special things. He watched the Warriors reach the NCAA Regional Tournament in 2010 and saw a team that was largely coming back the following season.

A run to the championship game of the NCAA Division II World Series in 2011 might have been a bit much to predict, but Poock knew he had a talented core of players who could do special things on the field.

“I felt like after watching us play and compete in 2010, we had a pretty good chance,” Poock said. “I thought that if we stayed healthy and got some big innings out of our pitchers we had a chance to get back to the postseason, and once you get there anything can happen.”

Offensively the Warriors were balanced. There was speed at the top in the form of Tony Mueller, an All-NSIC performer who entered the season as a likely prospect to be selected in the Major League Draft. There was power, with senior Joe Kley and junior Adam Gemuenden capable of driving pitches out of any park. And there was a mix of experience – seniors Jared Anderson and John Magge – to balance out young talent scattered through the WSU lineup.

Winona State also had a stable of arms, led by the emergence of junior Kodey Simon as a true ace. Mueller gave the team one of the top 1-2 punches in the region at the top of the rotation.

“In some lineups, once you get past the five or six hitter you can kind of relax,” Poock said. “All of our guys can hit the ball and we knew we could get runs from all over the lineup. If you look back at our season, we had guys step up almost every weekend.”

The Warriors proved Poock correct during the regular season, posting a 32-14 mark heading into the conference tournament. The team won three out of four games in back-to-back weekend series against league contenders Augustana and St. Cloud State, cementing the team in the conference title hunt until the regular season’s final weeks.

Once at the NSIC Tournament the Warriors advanced to the title game, setting a tone of good play and showing the ability to play through delay and distraction, a skill that would prove to be very important as time went on. Both the conference and regional tournaments were interrupted multiple times by inclement weather, with the Warriors sitting through long delays and an almost constant change in their schedule.

“We tried to remind everyone that school was out and we could put all our focus on baseball,” Poock said. “This is a group of mentally strong individuals. They have their heads on straight and knew what they had to do. They weren’t going to let anything disrupt their pursuit of that goal. They had great chemistry all season and really liked being together.”

Through it all the team persevered and when it beat Nebraska-Kearny 3-1 in the regional final, the Warriors found themselves bound for Cary, North Carolina, and their first ever trip to the NCAA Division II World Series.

Once there Winona State quickly showed it belonged on the biggest of stages. WSU won three consecutive games over teams ranked in the top-ten nationally, including a shelling of Mount Olive’s Carter Capps, the NCAA Division II Pitcher of the Year.

The victories earned Winona State a date with West Florida in the National Championship game, and while the Warriors fell short of their ultimate goal, it was a ride everyone associated with the team will never forget.

“This was the experience of a lifetime,” Poock said. “You never know if you are going to get another chance to be involved in something like this. Our guys did a great job of playing baseball and representing themselves. It was an unbelievable experience for everyone.”

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About Winona State University

Founded in 1858, Winona State University is a comprehensive public university with more than 8,500 students. The oldest member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, Winona State offers 80 undergraduate, pre-professional, licensure, graduate, and doctorate programs on its three campuses: the original Main Campus in Winona, the West Campus in Winona, and Winona State University-Rochester.

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