Lake Crystal men’s fastpitch

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Wonderful discovery of the green Band Box fastpitch jacket

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Over the 53 years I’ve been involved with fastpitch softball as a player, writer and photographer, I’ve collected a sizeable number of jackets. These are my favorites. From left, the photographer jacket the ISC issued me in 1996; the St. James, Minn. Band Box jacket I received in 1976 when I pitched for the team; the 1996 ISC commissioner’s jacket, my Yucaipa jacket of 1983, and I’m wearing my NAFA apparel from the 2017 World Series. But the green Band Box jacket is my prized fastpitch possession. Photo By NANETTE OTTO

YUCAIPA, Calif. – My wife has been on a cleaning binge of late. She’s pulling boxes off shelves, inspecting the contents, and more often than not tossing most of the things on the pile designated “yard sale stuff.”

Yesterday, she asked me to haul down from the rafters in the garage a large, heavy, blue toter. I followed her orders without complaint. As long as I’m free of decision making, I’m OK with her mission to unclutter our lives.

So I did as I was ordered and set the toter on the garage floor. I didn’t bother to open it. My job was finished.

Well, later in the day after she had opened the toter, she came back into the house and said:

“Bob, you better come and look at this stuff.”

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Those Were The Days: Lake Crystal, Minnesota Wins the 1979 ASA Class A State Championship

Monday, September 5th, 2016

In 1974, Ric and Ron Jones of Lake Crystal formed a men’s fastpitch team called the Lake Crystal Blues. That was 42 years a go. Five years after forming and renamed RR&R, the ball club won a state championship.

But the championships continue to come and bolster this little town’s (pop. 2,500) fastpitch legacy. Since 1979, Lake Crystal teams have won several boys’ and young men’s state and national championships.

The most recent coming in August, 2016 when Hennager Plumbing & Heating claimed the NAFA A-Major World Series championship, and in 2015, Hennager won its second state championship.

Let’s roll back the tape to 1979 and relive the memory of that first state championship.

1974 LAKE CRYSTAL BLUES - Founded by brothers Ric and Ron Jones, the Blues played in the New Ulm League and in this photo competed in the New Ulm tournament finishing runner-up. At bat is pitcher Bob Chicos, while on deck is Bob Otto. Photo By NANETTE OTTO

1974 LAKE CRYSTAL BLUES – Founded by brothers Ric and Ron Jones, the Blues played in the New Ulm League and in this photo competed in the New Ulm tournament finishing runner-up. At bat is pitcher Bob Chicos, while on deck is Bob Otto, who was fortunate to play for the team for two years. Photo By NANETTE OTTO

SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn. – Lake Crystal RR&R won five straight games to capture the 1979 state ASA Class A fastpitch championship.

Lake Crystal defeated Hollywood Bar of Rochester, 3-1, defending champion Odin, 7-5, Mr. D’s of Duluth, 3-0, and Zup’s of Silver Bay, 4-2, and Hudrlik’s Furniture of Owatonna, 6-2.

Steve Roth paced the Lake Crystal tournament attack with nine hits in 16 trips to the plate for 11 RBI and five runs scored.

Jim Engles picked up three wins, hurling Lake Crystal past Hollywood Bar, Mr. D’s and Hudrlik’s. Bob Chicos also pitched two victories, and Wayne Hohenstein came on in relief to earn two saves.

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Minnesota’s Hennager Plumbing and Heating wins NAFA World Series Championship

Sunday, August 14th, 2016
Hennager Plumbing and Heating, front row, from left: Assistant Coach Jeff Hohenstein, Curt Rogers, Robert Peterson, Lou Heller, Brent Meshke, Jake Dalton, Brandon Friedrichs and Blaid Friedrichs; back row, from left: Dusty Pfeiffer, Justin Davis, Ben Morrison, John Hohenstein, Dan Pawelk, Chris Bambenek, Derek Meshke, Josh Schroeder and Coach Blake Meshke. – Photo By Sheryl Meshke

Hennager Plumbing and Heating, front row, from left: Assistant Coach Jeff Hohenstein, Curt Rogers, Robert Peterson, Lou Heller, Brent Meshke, Jake Dalton, Brandon Friedrichs and Blaid Friedrichs; back row, from left: Dusty Pfeiffer, Justin Davis, Ben Morrison, John Hohenstein, Dan Pawelk, Chris Bambenek, Derek Meshke, Josh Schroeder and Coach Blake Meshke. – Photo By Sheryl Meshke

NORTH MANKATO, Minn. – The small town of Lake Crystal (pop. 2,500) lies just 15 miles southwest of North Mankato. Easy traveling distance for the Hennager Plumbing and Heating men’s fastpitch team to travel to North Mankato’s Caswell Park. Easy traveling distance to win a World Series championship.

And that’s exactly what Hennager did.

Fueled by a 10-hit attack and the steady pitching of Brent Meshke, Hennager defeated Northern Merchants Fastpitch of New York, 10-1, in five innings to claim the NAFA A-Major World Series championship, Sunday.

Hennager rolled through the 20-team tournament undefeated at 5-0. They outscored their opponents 38-6, and never scored fewer than six runs in a game.

“Our team played solid defense,” said manager Blake Meshke. “Offensively, we went back to old-school softball and employed the bunt and run.”

The NAFA World Series has been held at Caswell Park three times – in 2005, 2008 and 2016. NAFA Executive Director, Benjie Hedgecock, has seen many good teams win championships over the years. And Hennager rates with some of the best.

“Hennager’s was impressive because of several factors, great coaching, great coacheable players, excellent team speed, and great chemistry,” said Hedgecock. “They had three tough pitchers in Brett Meschke, Lou Heller and Justin Davis.”

    FASTPITCH CITY USA

Lake Crystal has a long and distinguished history in men’s fastpitch, dating back to the early 1970s when brothers Ric and Ron Jones started the Lake Crystal Blues. The team won a ASA Class A state championship in the late 1970s.

And the younger players weren’t to be denied championships either. In 2011, the Lake Crystal boys’ fastpitch team won an ASA National Championship, and LeMay’s of Lake Crystal won the first age 23-Under NAFA World Series in 2005.

Now Hennager has stepped into the spotlight.

In the past two years, success has embraced the ball club twice. Along with the NAFA World Series title, Hennager won the 2015 Minnesota Sports Federation (MSF) Class B State Championship.

The victory over the Northern Merchants marked the second time the two ball clubs met. In the winner’s bracket final, Hennager came out on top, 7-2, sending the Merchants into the loser’s bracket where they defeated Bowen Fastpitch (IL), 7-1, for a second chance at the championship.

But it was not to be.

And largely do to the pitching of Meshke, who spun a two-hitter with seven strikeouts, while allowing one earned run. The win improved Meshke to 3-0 in the tournament. His totals read: 15 innings, eight hits allowed, one earned run, with two walks and 21 strikeouts for a miniscule 0.47 ERA.

Brent Meshke led Hennager with a 3-0 record and was selected the NAFA A-Major World Series Most Valuable Pitcher. Photo By Sheryl Meshke

Brent Meshke led Hennager with a 3-0 record and was selected the NAFA A-Major World Series Most Valuable Pitcher. Photo By Sheryl Meshke

    THE MVP

Meshke earned the Most Valuable Pitcher award, his second such honor, as he was selected the MV-Pitcher in the 2015 NAFA World Series by helping the West Fargo Bombers win the A Division championship. And his brother Derek was an All-World pick.

It was satisfying to help West Fargo win the title last year, but even more special in bringing a championship home to Lake Crystal.

“It’s a big accomplishment for the Hennager team,” said Meshke. “The teams we played were tough and the pitching we faced was good.”

Though his 0.47 ERA indicates dominance in the circle, the Hennager batsmen were equally impressive in the batters box, especially when it counted most: in the championship game.

    SWINGING A HOT BAT

Batting in the leadoff spot, Jake Dalton went 2-for-4 with two runs in the title game, and throughout the tournament his bat sizzled. In 20 trips to the plate, he smacked 13 hits for an incredible .650 average. He also scored 11 runs and had two RBI.

Jake Dalton was selected the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 NAFA A-Major World Series. Photo By Sheryl Meshke

Jake Dalton was selected the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 NAFA A-Major World Series. Photo By Sheryl Meshke

Dalton’s selection as the World Series Most Valuable Player was an easy choice.

But he wasn’t the only batter pounding out the hits. In the championship game Dan Pawelk, was clutch in the RBI department, driving in four runs on 2-of-3 at bats, followed by Derek Meshke’s, 2-for-3, with two RBI. Brandon Friedrichs was 2-for-3, Ben Morrison, 1-for-2, and John Hohenstein, 1-for-3.

    WORLD CLASS TALENT

Also having an outstanding World Series, and named to the All-World team were pitcher Justin Davis, Chris Bambenek and Dan Pawelk. Davis was 1-0 in 10 innings with four strikeouts and a 2.10 ERA. Davis pitched superbly in Lake Crystal’s 7-2 win in winner’s bracket final over the Merchants.

Bambanek drove in four runs, scored six, and had a .286 average (4-for-14), while Pawelk led the team in RBI with five, and carried a .300 average (3-for-10).

In the championship, Northern Merchants’ leadoff batter Wayne Haver and Tyler Mann had the two hits Meshke allowed. Finishing runner-up in this prestigious tournament that draws teams from throughout the United States is a mark to be proud of. And the Merchants should feel good about finishing 4-2 in the four-day classic.

Minnesota’s Hennager Plumbing and Heating vying for a NAFA World Series Championship

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

NAFA.A.MajorRoster1lr Twenty teams started the NAFA World Series A-Major Division, but only four remain, with undefeated Hennager Plumbing and Heating of Lake Crystal, Minnesota in contention for the championship.

NORTH MANKATO, Minn. – The mantra for Hennager Plumbing and Heating of Lake Crystal, Minn. probably goes something like this: “One more boys, one more and the championship is ours!”

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NAFA World Series is showcase for men’s softball

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

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By Shane Frederick sfrederick@mankatofreepress.com

MANKATO, Minn. – As mayor of Mankato, Eric Anderson is happy to have the North American Fastpitch Association World Series back in the area.

As a softball player, however, he’s thrilled.

“The thing I personally like is it gives people a chance to come up here and see the game played,” Anderson said before taking the field for the Pub 500 team’s second game of the tournament Friday afternoon. “There’s an added benefit that a lot of people have come here and are staying in the area, but as the (men’s) game shows signs of dying out, people can come out and see some good fastpitch softball.”

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Hennager’s Plumbing & Heating of Lake Crystal reaches NAFA A-Major Winner’s Bracket Final

Friday, August 12th, 2016

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NORTH MANKATO, Minn. – The small town of Lake Crystal is about 15 miles southwest of the cities of Mankato / North Mankato. Lake Crystal may be small in numbers (pop. 2,500), but it is big in men’s fastpitch softball – especially the Hennager Plumbing and Heating team.

In 2015 Hennager won the Minnesota Sports Federation Class B State Championship, and is a threat to take the 2016 NAFA World Series A-Major Division title after winning three consecutive games in the 20 team tournament being held at Caswell Park in North Mankato, Aug. 11-14.

Hennager opened with a 7-0 victory over Sawdust City (WI), then defeated RM Kurtz 6-2, and Weezer’s Fastpitch 8-1 to reach the winners bracket final scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday.

Click here for the A-Major bracket.

Bombers win seven straight to claim NAFA World Series A Division Championship

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Photos and captions By Sheryl Meshke / Lake Crystal, Minn.

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Winning the 2015 North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) Men’s Class A World Series in Moline, Ill, Aug. 13-16, is the Bombers of Fargo, N.D. Team members are, front row, from left: Brandon Reber, Fargo, N.D.; Tyler Klein, Fargo, N.D.; Aaron Fraase, Fargo, N.D.; Devin Wagenman, Fargo, N.D.; Brent Meshke, Lake Crystal, Minn.; Derek Meshke, Brookings, S.D.; and John Hohenstein, Eagan, Minn.

Back row, from left: Mike Frodermann, Minnetonka, Minn.; Austen Gilbertson, Fargo, N.D.; Brent Plante, Fargo, N.D.; Jace Holm, Fargo, N.D.; Justin Feist, Fargo, N.D.; and coach Blake Meshke, Lake Crystal, Minn.

QUAD CITIES – The Bombers of Fargo, ND swept through the 46-team NAFA World Series A Division tournament undefeated, winning seven games over four days to claim the championship by defeating the Morongo Hitmen of California, 5-2, on Sunday at Green Valley Sports Complex in Moline, Ill.

Bombers 5, Missouri-St. Charles Tribe 3
Bombers 9, Wisc. Animal House 0
Bombers 3, Oetman Excavating 2
Bombers 4, Smalltown, Mich. 2
Bombers over Stock
Bombers 12, Meister Dairy, Wisc. 5
Bombers 5, Morongo Hitmen, Calif. 2

The Bombers lineup is brimming with stars from North and South Dakota and Minnesota, with several players selected to the all-tournament team or were awarded most valuable recognition.

Named Most Valuable Player for the 2015 North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) Men's Class A World Series in Moline, Ill, Aug. 13-16, is Jace Holm, Fargo, N.D., left, and Brent Meshke of Lake Crystal, Minn. is the Most Valuable Pitcher. Both are team members of the Bombers of Fargo, N.D., Men's Class A World Series Champs. Photo By Sheryl Meshke / Lake Crystal, Minn.

Named Most Valuable Player for the 2015 North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) Men’s Class A World Series in Moline, Ill, Aug. 13-16, is Jace Holm, Fargo, N.D., left, and Brent Meshke of Lake Crystal, Minn. is the Most Valuable Pitcher. Both are team members of the Bombers of Fargo, N.D., Men’s Class A World Series Champs.

Bombers.Meshke.2lr

Receiving individual honors at the 2015 North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) Men’s Class A World Series in Moline, Ill, Aug. 13-16, are the following members of the Bombers of Fargo, N.D., from left: Brandon Reber, Fargo, N.D., All World; Justin Feist, Fargo, N.D., All World; Jace Holm, Fargo, N.D., Most Valuable Player; Derek Meshke, Brookings, S.D., All World; and Brent Meshke, Lake Crystal, Minn., Most Valuable Pitcher. The Bombers won the Class A World Series.

Hennager fastpitch team of Lake Crystal, Minnesota is state runner-up

Monday, August 11th, 2014
The Hennager Plumbing and Heating Fastpitch Softball Team of Lake Crystal, Minn.: front row, from left: Dan Pawlek, Northfield; Brent Meshke, Lake Crystal; Eric Hood, Lake Crystal; Jake Dalton, Lake Crystal; Brandon Friedrichs, Lake Crystal; Devon Hagge, Lake Crystal; Dave DeWitz, Good Thunder; Seth Anderson, Minnesota Lake; back frow, from left: Robert Peterson, Pipestone; Derek Meshke, Lake Crystal; Josh Schroeder, Lake Crystal; Matt Peterson, Lake Crystal; Josh Sonnabend, Willmar; Aaron Lynch, Winsted; assistant coach Jeff Hohenstein, Garden City; and coach Blake Meshke, Lake Crystal. Photo By SHERYL MESHKE

The Hennager Plumbing and Heating Fastpitch Softball Team of Lake Crystal, Minn.: front row, from left: Dan Pawlek, Northfield; Brent Meshke, Lake Crystal; Eric Hood, Lake Crystal; Jake Dalton, Lake Crystal; Brandon Friedrichs, Lake Crystal; Devon Hagge, Lake Crystal; Dave DeWitz, Good Thunder; Seth Anderson, Minnesota Lake; back frow, from left: Robert Peterson, Pipestone; Derek Meshke, Lake Crystal; Josh Schroeder, Lake Crystal; Matt Peterson, Lake Crystal; Josh Sonnabend, Willmar; Aaron Lynch, Winsted; assistant coach Jeff Hohenstein, Garden City; and coach Blake Meshke, Lake Crystal. Photo By SHERYL MESHKE

By SHERYL MESHKE / LAKE CRYSTAL

LAKE CRYSTAL, Minn. – The Hennager Plumbing and Heating Fastpitch Softball Team of Lake Crystal, Minn., is the Minnesota Men’s Class C Fastpitch Tournament Runners-Up. The team secured the second-place finish with six wins and two losses this weekend at Caswell Park, North Mankato, Minn.

The team lost to Len’s Auto of West St. Paul, Minn., 5-6, in the championship game. Taking the circle for the fifth game of the day, Brent Meshke, Lake Crystal, gave up six hits, walked one and struck out four.

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Hennager Fastpitch team wins Okabena tournament

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Okabena.Meshke.1392web Winning the tournament held in Okabena, Minn. was the Hennager Fastpitch Softball Team of Lake Crystal, Minn. Team members include, front row, from left: Tyler Bouley, Brent Meshke, Eric Hood, Brandon Friedrichs, Jake Dalton and Devon Hagge; back row, from left: coach Blake Meshke, Kevin Roth, Derek Meshke, Josh Schroeder and Jason Cook. Photo By Sheryl Meshke.

By Sheryl Meshke / Contributing Writer

LAKE CRYSTAL, Minn. – The Hennager Plumbing and Heating fastpitch softball team won the Second Annual Okabena Fastpitch Softball Tournament, held June 29-30. The Lake Crystal-based team is comprised of 10 players, with an average age of 22.

In the opening game, the Hennager team faced Premier Bank of Rock Rapids, Iowa, winning 6-1. The team chalked up runs nearly every inning, collecting 15 hits.

At the plate, Jake Dalton was 2 for 2; Brent Meshke and Tyler Bouley, 3 for 4; and Derek Meshke and Brandon Friedrichs, 2 for 4. Josh Schroeder registered a solo home run. Brent Meshke took the win on the mound, striking out five and walking two.

The second game was a win through forfeit, with The Lakers from Okabena.

    FORMER USA JUNIOR TEAM PITCHERS GO HEAD-TO-HEAD

In the winners’ bracket, Hennager faced Grumpy’s of Forest City, Iowa. The game featured a contest between two former U.S. Junior Men’s Fastpitch National Team pitchers — Brent Meshke, 2012 team, and Jimmy Hartman, 2008.

The Hennager boys, “Plumbers,” scored in the first inning. Devon Hagge reached first base on an error, with Brent Meshke securing a triple to score Hagge.

Grumpy’s tied the score in the second inning, took a 2-1 lead in the third, and scored twice in the fourth. With the scoreboard showing 1-4, the Hennager team started its comeback.

    SEVENTH INNING CHARGE

The plumbers collected four hits in the fifth inning, scoring three runs to tie the contest. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Brent Meshke singled, moved to second on a Bouley single and scored on a single by Derek Meshke. Brent Meshke, 20, secured a second win in the circle with four strikeouts.

Meshke.1330web 20-year-old Brent Meshke hurled Henniger Plumbing to the 2nd Annual Okabena Men’s Fastpitch Tournament. Meshke had seven strikeouts in defeating Grumpy’s in the championship. Photo by Sheryl Meshke

    HITS, HOMERS AND PITCHING

Undefeated, the Hennager team once again faced the Grumpy’s team that fought its way through the loser’s bracket. Hennager won, 7-4, with 10 hits. Leading at the plate was Friedrichs, 2 for 4; and Eric Hood and Jason Cook, 2 for 3.

Included in the count was a solo home run from Cook and Bouley. On the mound, Brent Meshke recorded seven strikeouts and four walks.

“You can tell many of these players have played together for nearly 12 years,” says Coach Blake Meshke. “Hitters were on, but the defense was exceptional. Brandon Friedrichs was outstanding at shortstop and Jake Dalton caught everything hit his way.”

Eric Hood.1267web Swinging the hot bat in the championship game is Eric Hood, going two for three. Photo By Sheryl Meshke

This team will represent Lake Crystal in the ASA 23-Under Men’s Fastpitch Nationals in St. Joseph, Mo., Aug. 2-3.

(A big thank you to Sheryl Meshke for this fine reporting and photography, informing fastpitch fans that the game is still popular and being played in many parts of the U.S.)