Knights Take Home Title
Knights Prepare for WBA Playoffs
A year ago the Haugen Knights were one win away from attaining the WBA's biggest prize. This year they have their sights set on a second chance.
The Knights return to the WBA playoffs hoping to reach the state tournament for the fourth time in five years. The first of those trips came back in 2006, when a young team surprisingly made it through the semi-finals before bowing out in the first game of the state finals against the Eau Claire Bears. Last year's trip ended against the same team, although this time it was in the title game. The names are mostly the same, and on paper the average age may appear young, but this squad is a talented, battle-tested group that has gone 10-4 in the WBA playoffs over the past four seasons. Instead of simply competing among the elite in the Indy league, the expectations have been raised and talk of winning the whole thing isn't out of the question. Centerfielder Andrew Mau made it pretty clear by saying, "It's always nice to win the league, but I think most guys on our team have higher expectations to do well in the playoffs. I know that's been on my mind all year, making it back to title game and winning it this time."
Getting there however, won't be an easy road. The Knights cruised to a 14-2 record this summer on their way to wrapping up a second consecutive Indy League title, but seemed to stumble late in the season, dropping some non-league contests and bowing out of the Indy League tournament by losing in the first round against Stanberry. The Knights have struggled to get all of their regulars together on the field at once, with travel schedules and various events conflicting with many weekends. When asked about the Knights body of work this year, rightfielder Erik Hill said, "I guess you can look at a couple different ways. You can say we're not playing as well as we were last year - or you can say that for the most part we really haven't played up to our potential, and still managed to go 14-2. I like to look at it somewhere in between, we've yet to play our best ball, but now's the time to do it if we really want to make a good run here in the playoffs." Knights pitcher Dan Lindsey agreed, saying, "We've won as many games as we have because of good preparation, and as long as we take care of that, now that we've got our full lineup together I like our chances."
The Knights will look to bring their "A-game" to Rib Lake this weekend, with their first playoff contest against the Interwald Woodticks of the Dairyland League. The first pitch is scheduled for 3:00pm on Saturday, with the winner facing off Sunday at 3:00pm against the winner of the Taylor County/Menomonie game, which follows the Knights/Woodticks game Saturday.
The Knights seem to be ready to go, as they've amped up the preparation and have been messaging each other non-stop during the week. "This is what we play all season for," Taylor Soltes said, "we have a great time during the regular season, but when playoff time rolls around it takes the intensity to a whole new level." Derc Teschler added to that, saying, "This is a battle-tested group of guys. We've been here enough times that we know what to expect and what we need to do. If and when things get a little crazy, we'll be ready."
As local hip-hop duo Badger 4 Beaver alluded to in their hit song this spring, the summer of 2010 is supposedly "Knight Time." We'll find out this weekend.
Story and quotations provided by Haugen Knights beat reporter Paul Clayson
The Stretch Run
As June comes to a close, the Haugen Knights sit atop the Indy League at 9-0, with a two game gap between them and three other Indy teams tied for second with two losses. While the Knights seem to be on cruise control, they're staring down the barrel of a loaded Indy League schedule for their last seven games. Here's a quick peek at who they have left:
Spooner Cardinals (9-2) - Playing good baseball and ranked #9 in most recent version of statewide WBA Power Rankings
Cumberland Islanders (1-7) - On the surface appears to be a cakewalk but many of the Islanders losses have been close games
Stanberry Giants (6-5) - The Knights face the Giants twice yet this year, who have knocked off the Brill Millers and Haugen Hornets
Haugen Hornets (8-2) - Fierce rival who ended the Knights bid at a perfect regular season last year, also received Honorable Mention status in WBA Power Rankings
Brill Millers (5-4) - Another big rival who may have found their stride with a 10-3 win at St. Croix last weekend
St. Croix Ravens (7-2) - Seem to have taken the step from talented middle of the pack team to serious Indy title competitors
So yeah, the Knights have some serious ball to play the rest of this year. The first of those games is this Saturday, against a Spooner team who has played very well this year, and appears to be more consistent than Spooner teams of the past. Both teams have solid pitching options, with the Knights likely to go with either Dan Lindsey or Travis Thompson. Spooner will likely counter with Tom Suave, Josh Villela, or Jeremy Blumquist, all reliable arms.
The stakes of the game are pretty big. If Spooner can knock off the Knights, it will leave only a one game gap between the league leaders and those trying to become king of the hill. However, if the Knights continue their winning ways, they'll jump to 10-0 and knock one of their big three competitors down a notch in the Indy title chase.
Either way, the Knights will immediately pack up their stuff after the Spooner game, and hit the road for Cumberland and the second game of their Saturday doubleheader. Will they have enough juice left to get a league win against a scrappy Cumberland team? No better way to find out than to play America's game on America's weekend. A happy 4th of July and happy baseball to all.
Haugen Knights @ Brill Millers - May 23 1:00pm
On Sunday, two Indy League titans clash in an early season matchup with league title implications. The last three league titles belong to the Knights and Millers, with the Knights taking the title in 2007 and 2009, and the Millers winning the league in 2008. In addition to their league success, Brill advanced to the WBA state tournament final four in 2007 and 2008, while the Knights also reached the final four in 2008 and lost in the WBA title game in 2009's state tournament.
The Knights won both regular season contests last year, an 8-3 early season win in Brill and a 5-4 ten inning thriller in Haugen the last game of the regular season.
The Millers started this regular season with a strong performance against Seeley last weekend, winning 15-5. The Knights had to rally twice to defeat the Hayward Hawks, coming from behind in the bottom of the ninth to grab a 9-8 victory.
While Sunday's game won't decide the league title, it will give one of the teams a leg up in the Independent League title race - a race they've both won in recent years.
Hayward Hawks @ Haugen Knights - 1:00pm
May 16, 2010
The Haugen Knights open up their Indy Title defense season against the Hayward Hawks, a team looking to turn the tables a disappointing 2009 campaign. Hayward looks to improve on last year's season by adding a pair of newcomers, Kyle Cummings (UW-Stevens Point) and Jason Nowak (Stanberry Giants), to Hawk veterans Jay Poplin, Keith Heinz, and Mark Berquist. The Hawks opened up their Indy season last weekend with a 4-2 win in Stanberry.
The Knights return all of their Indy title squad from last year, with a solid lineup 1-9 anchored by Travis Thompson, Dan Lindsey, and Andrew Mau, solidifying the Knights in the middle of the field and the batting order. The Knights are the favorites again to win the Indy title, but face a tough road against the usual suspects (Haugen Hornets and Brill Millers) as well as a handfull of teams in the middle of the league looking to crack into the top three.
-Gametime is 1:00pm at the Haugen Ballpark
-Weather forecast is sunny and 65 degrees
-Knights own a 40-4 record in the past three Indy seasons, one of those four losses came @ Hayward 4-0 in 2008.