Summer rec baseball thrives in Spring Grove

Payton Leahy tags out Chatfield runner during Legion tournament win. File photo by S. Lee Epps
S. Lee Epps

The summer recreation baseball season came to a close with a home win over Houston for the 11 and under lads on July 31. That followed their previous road losses at Onalaska and West Salem (Wis.).

There were about 125 players participating from T-ball up through Senior Legion baseball this summer, according to Chris Strinmoen, who has now completed his eighth summer as director of the program.

"The class that just graduated (from high school) had just completed fifth grade. When I started, we had three levels: T-ball, Peewees, and Little League, and that was it.

"As numbers have grown, we've added more teams, more levels, to make sure everyone is getting a place to play. The trickiest class that we've dealt with is the boys currently going into seventh grade. There were 16 players in that grade alone this year. So trying to keep them all active and playing can be a juggling act at times."

This summer, there were eight age groups. The oldest Legion team (ages 19 & under) had a 4-3 record despite a youthful lineup that included several who also played with younger age-group teams. Individual statistics were in last week's Herald. 

The young Junior Legion (16 & under) boys   went 1-1-1. Most were young enough to also play on the 14 and under team (4-6, 2-6 league).

The 14 & under boys and the 11 & under guys (4-10) played in an evening league against mostly Wisconsin competition.

The 7th Grade & under Little League teams had a sixth grade roster, since the seventh graders were all playing 14U ball. Little Leaguers (5-14, 5-5 league) played the traditional daytime schedule in the Fillmore and Houston County League.

Youngest athletes were on the Peewee (completed second through fourth grades), Rookie (completed first and second grades, coach pitch) and T-ball (age four through completed kindergarten) teams.

"I feel it's important for players to try different positions at a young age," said Strinmoen. "We currently have quite a few varsity players who are comfortable playing many different positions. Not only is that helpful for a coach, but it also gives the player more options to crack starting lineups down the road."

The summer coaching staff included high school varsity assistant coach Blaine Storlie and current high school athletes: Carter Bratland, Chandler Bergrud, Logan Brumm, Caleb Nerstad, Isaac Griffin and Alan Michels.

"I feel our coaches have done a great job of managing all the kids that come through our programs each summer. We seem to get a lot of youth that return to our program every year, so that tends to be a sign that we are doing good things. 

"I really enjoy having current players and former players help me out. It allows me to be around them in a different setting, instead of being their coach. I can share stories with them and have lots of laughs. We tend to become a pretty close coaching staff. 

"My hope is to someday have some college baseball players (or softball players) that I've coached, so I can go support them. And ultimately would love to see some of my former players become coaches themselves. I think of all the coaches I've had, and my summer rec coaches were some of the most important ones that came into my life.

"I watch how our kids behave and act with each other, and I can say we truly have a bunch of great kids in Spring Grove. I'm always impressed by the respect and thank you's we get, and it's fun to hear "Hi, Coach" when they see me around town. Love the small town community athletic programs!"

11 & Under - Onalaska 16, SG 3

Onalaska scored 14 runs in a seemingly endless first inning and had the bases loaded in the final fourth frame before the game ended with the time limit. The home team scored 16 runs with only six hits.

The Lions had three hits, none of which contributed to their three runs. Reaching base with singles were Lyric Stadtler, Jacob Solum and Kolton Nerstad.

11 & Under - West Salem 14, SG 13

Spring Grove scored the first 13 runs, but West Salem scored the last 14. Each team crossed the plate 10 times in a wild second inning. West Salem trailed 13-10 coming into the bottom of the final fourth inning before posting the walk-off win.

Gabe Klug had a pair of doubles and a single while Solum belted a double and a triple. Travis Fisch and Nerstad also contributed doubles while Stadtler went 2 for 2 at the plate.

11 & Under - SG 8, Houston 2

The Lions out-hit the visiting Hurricanes 4 to 3 with Solum hitting a two-run home run and an RBI-triple. All four Spring Grove hits went for extra bases, including RBI-doubles from both Stadtler and Klug.

Stadtler, on the mound for the first three innings, struck out five while giving up only three walks and an infield single. Klug struck out two in one inning of relief.