Four Minnesotans make the final cut for Team USA

Written by Bob on September 5th, 2012

“I am very proud that the four of us from our area made the team. It is pretty special that we can represent Team USA together.” – Michael Lewis, Team USA


Brent Meshke, will wear the USA uniform of the Junior Men’s Fastpitch National Team.

LAKE CRYSTAL and AMBOY, MN – Most American fastpitch softball players can only dream of wearing the uniform with the big, bold, red-white-and-blue USA embroidered across the front. But for Brent Meshke, his dream has become reality.

Meshke has made “the final cut.” The 18-year-old pitcher and shortstop is now officially a member of the USA Junior Men’s Fastpitch National Team.

“When I found out my reaction was, ‘wow,’” said Meshke from Lake Crystal, Minn. “It was a relief. I have been working to be a member of the team since I was 10 years old.”

And now comes the payoff. A trip to Parana, Argentina to play in the most important tournament of his young fastpitch career: the IX International Softball Federation (ISF) Junior Men’s World Championship, November 1-10.

But Meshke isn’t the only Minnesotan on Team USA. Jake Dalton, 19, Spencer Yackel, 19, and Michael Lewis, 17, also made the final roster. And this makes it even sweeter. Meshke, Dalton and Yackel all are from Lake Crystal. While Lewis lives in Amboy, about 25 miles south of Lake Crystal.

So the thrill was heightened when all four learned they had made the team.


Spencer Yackel, Team USA member from Minnesota.

“I was extremely happy when I found out I had made the team,” said Yackel. “But it’s even more awesome that we ALL made the team. Brent, Jake and I have played together since sixth grade. It’s cool to know that some of the best softball players are all from the same area.”

And most likely some of the best athletes on Team USA.

    ALL-AROUND ATHLETES

All four starred on their high school teams, playing football, basketball, wrestling and baseball. Meshke captained his baseball and basketball teams, leading Lake Crystal to runner-up in the 2011 state baseball tournament. Dalton and Yackel were right along side him, with Yackel earning all-state honors in baseball, and all-conference in wrestling.

Though all four exceled in high school sports, they still found time for fastpitch. The difference between baseball and fastpitch? It’s all about speed, says Yackel.

“Fastpitch is so much faster than baseball,” he said. “You always have to be ready for a play because something is always happening.”


Jake Dalton of Lake Crystal, a Team USA member.

    GETTING STARTED YOUNG

Meshke started playing fastpitch when he was 8. Dalton at 14. Lewis at 9 and Yackel when he was 12. They’ve gone on to do some pretty amazing things on a softball diamond.

“Together we were 2009, 2010 and 2012 (Amateur Softball Association) national boys’ fastpitch runner-up,” Meshke said. “And in 2011, we were the (ASA age 18-Under) national champions.”

Just how did Lake Crystal, Amboy, and neighboring Vernon Center become so proliferate in boys’ fastpitch? Through commitment and dedication, says Blake Meshke – Brent’s Dad.

    VETERANS HELPING SAVE THE GAME

When fastpitch started its steady decline in the 1980s, several men began forming boys’ teams. Including brothers Steve and Don Roth, and Jack Norman of Lake Crystal. And Wayne Hohenstein of Vernon Center. Then Blake Meshke began carrying the torch in 2000.

“I began playing youth fastpitch for Wayne Hohenstein in 1980,” said Meshke, 49, who coaches the Lake Crystal Henneger Plumbing and Heating 18-Under and 23-Under teams. “I then served as an assistant coach under Wayne. There are many generations of fastpitch enthusiasts and parents in Lake Crystal who have passed that passion on to the next generation.”

    BIG NUMBERS FROM LAKE CRYSTAL

Meshke, Yackel, Lewis and Dalton aren’t the first from lake Crystal to make Team USA. Blake Meshke says that Tom Roth (Steve Roth’s son) and Kevin Williams also made the team in prior years. But one statistic the foursome and Minnesota can claim: of the 2012 17-player roster, no state has more players on Team USA than Minnesota.

And that has all 2,549 Lake Crystal residents and another 537 from Amboy proud of their hometown boys.

“Our community is proud to have four players from our area selected to the team,” Blake Meshke said. “We have given them the opportunity to play the game and they have excelled. It is now up to them.”

But bringing home a Gold medal won’t be easy for America. Fifteen countries are competing, including Argentina, Australia, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, United States and Venezuela.

    TOUGH COMPETITION

However, four stand out as favorites for the gold, silver and bronze: four-time gold medalist, Australia tops the list. But biting at the Aussie’s heals will be powerful Japan, New Zealand and Canada.

Team USA’s fortunes haven’t been that great in past World Championships. In 2008, the red, white and blue finished with a 5-6 record. In 2005 they were 4-4. And in 2001, 2-7… The spotlight of success hasn’t shined brightly on Team USA.

But the past is the past. The four Minnesotans are focused on the here and now. And they like the make-up of the 2012 national team.

“We have a lot of talent on the team,” says Dalton, who plays the outfield. “I know how much winning means to me and everyone on the team, so I know with the game on the line everyone on the team will do whatever it takes to win.”

In 2008, Team USA suffered three close loses: two in extra innings, each by a run; and a seven-inning game by one run. Had there been a reversal of fortunes, a gold, silver or bronze finish could have been feasible. Scoring runs, says Lewis, was a focus at the training camps he attended.


Michael Lewis of Amboy, Minn, earned a spot on Team USA.

    LET’S SCORE RUNS

“We talked a lot about putting the ball in play and avoiding the strikeouts to hopefully eliminate some of those one-run losses,” he said. “Head Coach (Tim) Lyon has said many times that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity…When we get to the ball field we mean business in hope of leaving with a medal.”

Any success Team USA has will come down to a team effort, says Yackel, with every player doing his part in improving their individual skills before the world championship starts.

Yackel bats left, throws left and plays the outfield. He says the training camp he attended taught him, “a whole lot more about the game. I learned new batting techniques such as slapping and push-bunting.”

    MULLICAN TEACHES PITCHING

Meshke too has been hard at work, throwing three times a week. Since he was 10, he’s been sending pitching tapes of himself to Team USA pitching coach Gary Mullican, who analyses what he sees, and then gives pitching advice to Meshke.

“Coach Mullican has played a huge part in helping me learn to hit my spots,” Meshke said, who started pitching when he was 8 years old, “and get my spin on the ball the right way, and setting my feet correctly.”

He says his best pitches are the drop ball and change-up, with the rise ball a pitch he’s trying to master.

    LOTS OF CAMPS, TOUGH CUTS

Lewis has gone through the rigors of seven training camps in Minnesota, Missouri, California, Utah and Michigan. How hard was it in making the final cut?

“The competition between us players was extremely tough,” said Lewis, an infielder who also pitches. “Coach (Tim Lyon) told us it was going to be very difficult to make the last few cuts.”

But when he got the notice he had made the cut, he was both excited and grateful.

“Very few players get an opportunity to represent their country to play for a world championship,” he said. “I am very proud that the four of us from our area made the team. It is pretty special that we can represent Team USA together.”

Team USA coaching staff: Head Coach Tim Lyon, Assistant Coach Scott Standerfer, and Pitching Coach Gary Mullican.

    Team USA:
    Addison Beutler, outfield, West Valley, Utah
    Junior Centeno, outfield, Salem, Utah
    Jake Dalton, outfield, Lake Crystal, Minn.
    Dylan Elmer, outfield, Machesney Park, Ill.
    Tyler Johnson, outfield, Union, MO
    Zach Lach, pitcher, Frankenmuth, Mich.
    Michael Lewis, infield, Amboy, Minn.
    Jonathan Lynch, infield, Cape Girardeau, MO
    Brent Meshke, infield, Lake Crystal, Minn.
    Mauro Olivarria, infield, San Diego, Calif.
    Jake Rutt, Utility, Ephrata, PA
    Jerlin Rutt, pitcher, Bernville, PA
    Nicolas Serrato, infield, Corona, Calif.
    Austin Tuttle, catcher, Payson, Utah
    Dakota Wells, outfield, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
    Justin Wurtz, utility, New Haven, MO
    Spencer Yackel, outfield, Lake Crystal, Minn.

To learn more about Team USA, visit Junior Men’s Fast Pitch National Team

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