A Look Back Down the Tracks
July 3, 2011
A 35-Year Overview of Proctor Baseball
by Max Mercy
It may have been 35 years between state tournament appearances, but there was a time when Proctor's baseball teams were consistently among the best in the area. Starting with an improbable section championship after a 4-10 regular season record in 1976, the Rails rode a decade-long wave of success. From 1977-1987, the Rails won 113 games to 76 losses, had three conference championships, and played in three section finals.
Proctor fell into a dry patch starting in the late 1980s that stretched into the 21st Century. The Rails hit rock-bottom 10 years ago, posting a 1-17 record in 2001.
There has been a gradual state of improvement over the past 10 years. The 2004 squad posted the school's first winning season in 11 years, and first playoff win in nine years. In 2007, Proctor made the section final four for the first time since 1986. The Rails were back in the final four in 2010. In 2011, Proctor was finally able to reclaim the section championship.
Sophomore pitcher Dale Nikko pitched every inning of the playoffs for head coach Dave Anderson in 1976, winning four games and throwing two shutouts. It happened to be the first year the Minnesota State High School League divided baseball into two classes, AA and A. The new format worked to Proctor's advantage. Under the old format, there would have been more playoffs games and Nikko would not have been able to pitch every game. Proctor defeated Aurora-Hoyt Lakes 9-3 in the first round, captured the sub-region championship with a 7-0 win over Virginia, defeated Grand Rapids 2-0 in the semifinals, and beat Duluth Denfeld 2-1 in the section championship game. Proctor lost to Little Falls 2-0 at Wadena in their only state tournament game. The new format worked well for the region, however, as Babbitt won the state Class A title.
The 1977 squad, led by first-year head coach Rich Petersson, looked for a return trip to the state tournament. Behind Nikko's pitching, the Rails won the LSC for the first time (the conference formed in 1975), and earned their second consecutive sub-region championship. Nikko suffered his only loss of the season as the Rails were tripped up by Cambridge in the section semifinals, a 3-2 loss in nine innings. Nikko finished the season with a 10-1 record and a 1.72 ERA. The team's 14-4 overall record stood as the school record for wins until 2010.
The Rails won their third consecutive sub-region championship in 1978, Nikko's senior year. This time Nikko's classmate Mike Grover was the dominant pitcher, posting a 6-1 record and a minuscule 0.52 ERA. Grover had 19 strikeouts in a 7-1 first-round playoff victory over Cloquet, and Nikko threw a three-hitter in a 5-1 win over Duluth Central for the sub-region title. Grover led the way in a 5-1 win over Hibbing in the semifinals, with a two-run home run, three RBI, and a 10-strikeout pitching performance. Nikko got a final chance to bring the Rails back to the state tournament, but was stopped by Grand Rapids in the section championship game by a score of 2-1. Proctor finished with an 11-6 record.
After a 7-6 record and a first-round playoffs loss in 1979, the Rails were back to their winning ways in 1980. They won the LSC for the second time in school history, with a perfect 9-0 record in conference play, and were 12-3 overall. They won their fourth sub-region championship in five years. Jason Malec got the Rails' playoffs drive started with a 12-strikeout no-hitter in a 2-0 first-round win over Duluth Central. Malec was the winning pitcher in relief of Nik Peterson in the sub-region championship game, a 6-4 win over Cloquet. Proctor lost in eight innings to Grand Rapids in the section semifinals by a score of 5-4.
In 1981, the Rails were again 9-0 in conference games to earn the school's third LSC championship. Proctor was 13-3 in the regular season but was stunned by a 1-0 loss to Cloquet in the first round of the playoffs.
The 1982 season saw pitcher Ray Miles set the school record of 100 strikeouts in a season as he led the Rails to their fifth sub-region championship in seven years. Proctor beat Duluth Central 7-5 in the first round of the playoffs and downed Cloquet 10-4 for the sub-region championship. Jay Anderson threw a two-hitter with 14 strikeouts as Proctor defeated St. Francis 7-3 in the semifinals. Grand Rapids won their sixth consecutive section championship with a 7-3 victory over the Rails.
Petersson's first sub-.500 record in seven seasons occurred in 1983, as the Rails dipped to 6-12 and lost to Chisago Lakes 5-2 in the first round of the playoffs.
In 1984, Proctor again had a losing record, 8-10, but won key playoffs games to reach the section championship game for the fourth time in eight years. Proctor defeated Duluth Central 4-3 in eight innings for the sub-region championship, and beat Duluth Denfeld-Morgan Park 7-4 in the semifinals. The Rails were shut out 10-0 by Grand Rapids in the section championship. Grand Rapids completed an eight-year dynasty as section champions in 1984. They were finally dethroned by Duluth East in 1985. Proctor would not return to a section championship game for another 27 years.
In 1985 and 1986, PHS hovered around the .500 mark, going 8-8 in '85 and 10-9 in '86. Proctor defeated St. Francis 11-7 in the first round of the 1985 playoffs, but lost 3-2 to North Branch in 10 innings in the second round. The Rails reached the section final four in 1986, having defeated North Branch 3-2 and Princeton 8-1. They lost 4-1 to Cambridge in the sub-region championship, but qualified for the final four in a double-elimination format. Proctor lost in the semifinals to Duluth Central by a score of 6-5 in 10 innings. It was the last section final four appearance for 21 years.
The Rails enjoyed a 13-5 overall record in 1987. They beat Chisago Lakes 7-4 in the first round of the playoffs, but lost to Cloquet 2-1 in 13 innings in the second round. It was the last season in which the Rails were above a .600 win percentage until 2010.
Petersson coached for three more seasons after 1987, all with losing records, including a career-low 3-11 campaign in 1989. After 14 years as the Rails' head coach, Petersson called it quits after the 1990 season. He has the most wins in PHS baseball history, with 131 wins compared to 110 losses, a .544 win percentage. Guy LeBlanc was the head coach from 1991-1995, followed by Jim Bordson from 1996-1999. Tim Rohweder was the head coach for ten years, 2000-2009. He has the second-most wins as a PHS head coach, with 68.
The 1992 team ended in a three-way tie for the LSC championship with a 6-3 conference record, but were 8-9 overall. The 1993 team was 9-9, the only PHS team without a losing record in a 16-year period, but they lost 2-0 to North Branch in the first round of the playoffs.
Proctor won first-round playoff games in 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1995, but did not win a playoff game between 1996-2003. The nadir occured in 2001, with the one-win season. Ironically, the win came in a tournament against St. Agnes, the eventual Class A state champion.
Proctor won first-round playoff games in 2004 and 2005, but the biggest breakthrough came in 2007. The Rails defeated International Falls 7-6 in the first round, and Crosby-Ironton 9-6 in the second round to qualify for the section final four for the first time in 21 years. They then beat Greenway 2-1, but lost to eventual section champion Hinckley-Finlayson 8-6 in eight innings and were crushed by Duluth Marshall 16-7.
Kyle Wojtysiak took over as head coach for the 2010 season. The team posted a 15-7 record in 2010, setting a new school record for wins in a season, and qualified for the final four. In 2011, the team set another new school record for wins, with a 22-4 season. The Rails have now made the final four in three of the last five years, and won a state tournament game for the first time in school history.
The dry patch is over. How long will the Rails ride the new wave?