By Matthew Davis
With a division title and runner-up finish in district playoffs, Totino-Grace VFW baseball built momentum going into next spring’s varsity season.
“We had every guy competing for the good of the team and everyone trusting each other to fulfill their role,” Eagles coach Jim Dahlman said. “When a team gets to that point, it’s a lot of fun.”
Totino-Grace VFW (24-11), usually made up of freshmen and sophomores, went 16-5 in District 7 play to win the Air Force Division title, finishing three games ahead of Shoreview (13-8) in the standings. In the playoffs, Totino-Grace finished 6-2 with its only defeats coming against district champion Centennial.
Dahlman said his players embraced their individual roles on the team, which helped them win. Totino-Grace needed it on the mound without a traditional ace pitcher.
“We relied on guys to throw strikes and play good defense to get outs and give our offense a chance to get going,” Dahlman said.
Success started early for Totino-Grace VFW this summer with wins over Osseo and Robbinsdale Cooper to open the district season. Totino-Grace then went on a six-game winning streak in June. The Eagles also won a tournament in Alexandria during the month.
Only a 5-4 loss to Blaine interrupted the tear as Totino-Grace returned to its winning ways to finish June start July with a four-game winning streak. Totino-Grace later avenged the loss to Blaine July 23 in a 3-0 victory to close the district season.
In the district tournament, Sam Stroh pitched a no-hitter, and Ben Delaforest earned a shutout win. The Eagles also had strong hitting from Steven Hand and key defensive plays by catcher Christian Morel. They helped the Eagles reach the title game for a second-straight year.
Totino-Grace fell short again to Centennial, a 5-3 defeat, which landed the Cougars in the state tournament in Willmar Aug. 10-13. The Eagles also lost 5-0 to the Cougars earlier in the tournament.
Despite the losses, Dahlman saw significant goals met for the Eagles.
“We say there are three goals of VFW baseball: get better at the game, understand what it takes to compete at the varsity level, and have a lot of fun with your buddies,” Dahlman said. “By the end of the season, I think we met all three goals. It was a fun group of guys to be around and enjoyed competing together.”
It could pay off with added depth and strength for next spring’s varsity team. The Eagles had a senior-heavy squad last spring and went 11-12 but made the final four of the Class 4A Section 5 tournament.
“Our varsity team had a lot of seniors graduate this year, so there are opportunities for guys to step up as position players and pitchers,” said Dahlman, who coaches the Eagles freshmen team in the spring.
Eagles varsity coach and VFW assistant Mike Smith saw that from the players too.
“Several of these guys really worked hard and improved throughout the season and will be ready to fight for a spot on the varsity,” Smith said.
Returning players from the Totino-Grace Legion, usually made up of juniors, seniors and college freshmen, will vie spots too. They helped the Eagles go 26-12 this summer.