Week of Streaks
Saturday Night's All Right For a Fight
The Independent League’s top dogs over the past five years will square off in one of their two annual games this Saturday night. Brill enters the contest with a 4-0 record in Indy play, while the Knights (3-1) were upset by Spooner for their first league loss last Sunday afternoon. The two teams have made some noise and created recognition for the Independent League statewide in the WBA community, with a combined nine state tournament appearances since 2002, and eight of those occurring since 2005. The Knights (2006, 2008, 2009, 2010) and Millers (2005, 2007, 2008, 2010) have qualified for the state finals four times each in the past five and six years respectively, which on their own is more than the combined number of appearances by all other Indy teams from the past decade, with only Stanberry (2001), the Haugen Hornets (2003), and Grantsburg (2006) having survived to be one of the final eight teams alive in the WBA playoffs. Teams across the state have run into the two teams representing the tiny towns, often leaving defeated saying “I don’t know where the heck Haugen/Brill is, but they sure play good baseball.”
And so, the approximately thirty players will step on the diamond at the Haugen Ball Park Saturday night; some donning the white, red, and black of the hometown Knights, and the others sporting the red, white, and blue of the visiting Millers, for yet another rivalry game with Independent League title implications written all over it. Millers’ outfielder Kirby Brunclik attributes both teams’ playoff success in part to the competition in the league, and specifically between the two teams. "I think the competition between Brill and the Knights has been a big part of each team's success. We always look forward to the games against the Knights because we know we're going to gain valuable experience against a solid competitor. That experience helps us prepare for the post season, and I'm sure playing against us has made them better as well.”
Not only is the competition good, the atmosphere surrounding games between the two teams can be pretty intense. Hill compared it to a playoff game, “The two towns are so close to each other, and also to Rice Lake where many of us are from, so we get some pretty awesome crowds to these games, better than a lot of playoff games, actually.” Brunclik added, “The tradition of success we’ve both had, along with the proximity to our fan bases create a pretty intense atmosphere for a baseball game. I don’t think most teams get to experience this in the regular season.” The atmosphere might be taken to a new level Saturday night, as the Knights are formally celebrating their 2010 WBA State Championship. A sign has been hung in left-center field to commemorate their title, and during the game Saturday night raffles will take place every inning, along with free beer for the fans that come out to the ballpark.
It should be a good one, both teams have had success in big games, and both teams understand the significance of this one. “We know it’s only one game on a sixteen game schedule,” Knights catcher Derc Teschler said, “but this game is one of those sixteen that we circle every year the schedule comes out. They know it, we know it, everybody knows it. It’s going to be a fun night.”
With the folding of the St. Croix Ravens, some of the remaining players have started the search for a new team this offseason. Perhaps one of the biggest free agents coming from the Ravens is Kris Minor. Minor was a stalwart in the Ravens lineup during their decade of existance, and is a versatile player capable of playing any position. This is the first time he's tested free agency since his signing with the Ravens back in 1999, and a number of teams are clamoring for his services.
One of those teams is rumored to be the Haugen Knights, who are fresh off back to back Indy League titles and are also the defending WBA state champions after capturing their first ever championship last August. When asked about the possibility of MInor joining the Knights, veteran outfielder Erik Hill seemed to approve. "If we could somehow swing that it would be great for our team," Hill said. " I've gotten to know Kris fairly well after playing against him for a number of years, and he'd fit in great with this group. I'm not sure what position we'd have him in since our lineup has been pretty well set for a few years here, but you find something for a guy of that caliber."
The Independent League schedule is still in the works, but no matter what happens it will look a bit different than years past. The Ravens are out, and Exeland’s younger team is joining the league to keep the number of teams at twelve. There has been talk of division realignment, and the addition of an all-star game has been confirmed and is scheduled to take place in Hayward on July 20th.
Stay tuned to haugenknights.com for breaking news on Decision 2011.