The St. Paul Park Legion Post 98 baseball team learned last year that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. With that mindset, the Parkers' head coach Matt Doornink is hoping his team begins to turn things around soon.
"We have a chance to win a lot of games," said Doornink, who is in his seventh year coaching St. Paul Park. "We just need to finish well. Overall we're hitting pretty well and our pitching is pretty good too. We just need to avoid the one big inning every game. Defensively we're getting better."
Last year, the Parkers' went from a playoff play-in game to one win away from a trip to the state tournament. After starting the year 5-9, St. Paul Park finished 23-20 overall. The 23 wins were the most by St. Paul Park since 2009 - the last time the team reached the state tournament.
St. Paul Park has started the year 3-9 overall, including a 2-2 record in league play.
One of those league wins came last week - 12-3 over Woodbury Area - a new Legion team this summer, built of players mainly from New Life Academy.
In the victory, Jerrick Drude-Smith pitched a complete game for the Parkers to earn the win.
"He's a tall, lanky pitcher with a different arm angle that helps him out," Doornink said. "He's going to pitch a lot for us. In that one, everybody hit the ball. That was good to see."
Following the victory, however, St. Paul Park lost to Inver Grove Heights 11-6 on Monday, June 10, and to Oakdale 5-4, on Thursday, June 13. In the loss to Oakdale, which is made up mainly from Tartan players, the Parkers lost after allowing a walk-off passed ball with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning at Tartan High School.
Kyle Strand pitched well in the loss, going 6 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and two earned runs while striking out three.
"He pitched really good," Doornink said. "He's a lefty that has pretty solid mechanics. He just needs to develop a little more."
St. Paul Park scored two runs in the top of the fourth inning on back-to-back home runs by J.T. Bickel and Jack Dougherty. The Parkers' final two runs came off the bat of Zach Fritz, who hit a two-RBI single in the sixth inning.
St. Paul Park capped last week with a weekend tournament in Eagan. The Parkers went 1-2 at the Eagan Invitational, held at Goat Hill Park, falling to Sioux Falls 10-9 and Academy Stars (Holy Angels) 4-3, but beating Winnipeg 10-5.
"We hit the ball well at the tournament, we just couldn't get a big hit when we needed it and seemed to have just one bad inning each game," Doornink said.
The Parkers also had two of its tourney games canceled because of rain on Saturday.
"It seems to rain every year at this tournament," Doornink said. "We didn't get as many games in as I wanted to."
St. Paul Park took on Mahtomedi on Monday and Stillwater on Wednesday after the Bulletin went to press. Next, the team competes in the Moose Country Tournament at Henry Sibley and St. Thomas Academy. The team opens the tourney against Stillwater on Friday, June 21, at 4 p.m. at Henry Sibley.
"Our biggest flaw right now is that we need to play with more of a sense of urgency and learn how to win games," Doornink said. "We don't have that sense of urgency that every play, every at-bat makes an impact. We need to take advantage of the opportunities we have."