Rain dampens state tournament for Pipestone Area

As journalists, we are supposed to be neutral.

We are supposed to be unbiased observers.

It can be tough at times.

I’ll admit, in the sports department, we all pull for our teams. But we keep those feelings inside. We don’t let those come through while at the game or while we’re reporting. It’s easy when we’re watching two teams in the coverage area — we experience both winning and losing in one event.

At state events, it’s a different story.

I found myself in this situation last week at state softball. I was covering Pipestone Area — a team I’ve covered numerous times in my four years at the Daily Globe.

In fact, the Arrows were one of the first teams I covered after I began my tenure in Worthington. On one of my first days, then-sports editor Kevin Kyle — who is ironically in the same position in Pipestone — told me they were going to send me to Mankato to cover the Arrows. They went on to win a state title that year in a weekend that will stay with me forever.

Fast forward four years and I’m back at Caswell Park in Mankato. The players are different this time around, but there’s nothing different about the Arrows’ hopes for a state title.

Unfortunately, they never had the chance. After a 3-2 victory in the opening around, PA was facing a tough Park Center team in the semifinals. In fact, the Pirates were the defending state champions and returned most of their team from a year ago.

The Arrows were finally starting to show signs of life late in the game when disaster struck. The skies opened and the lightning and rain started. The game was eventually called, ending PA’s chances for a state title with a 3-1 loss.

Needless to say, it became a hot topic around the park — and Internet.

The response that was posted on Facebook from the Minnesota State High School League was: “It is a regulation game if: (a) five full innings have been played; or the home team at bat has scored an equal or greater number of runs in four or four-and-a-fraction turns at bat than the visiting team has scored in five turns at bat; or (b) play has gone beyond five full innings and is called when the teams have not had an equal number of completed turns at bat … Games called are over if they are regulation, even if less than 7 innings have been completed.

“A suspended game is any game that is ended before it becomes a regulation game or a regulation game that has a tie score when ended. A suspended game shall be continued from the point of suspension at a later time. The line-up and batting order of each team shall be exactly the same as the line-up and batting order at the moment of suspension subject to the rules governing the game. NOTE: The Suspended Game Rule is in effect for all regular season and post-season games (sub-section, section and state).”

Those are the rules, no question about it. The MSHSL followed them to a T. But I still can’t help but feel for the Arrows.

It was a state semifinal game where both teams were still in contention for a state title. Could the Arrows have beaten Park Center? We will never know. I do know the Pirates were good. They showed that when they dismantled Hermantown 6-0 in the state finals.

I also know a few other things.

First, Caswell Park is a top-notch facility. I have to admit, it’s one of my favorite state venues. They have four fields going all the time, so there is never a lack of games to watch.

However, there are two more on the property that are rarely used. PA’s semifinal game was delayed an hour and a half due to prior games taking too long, meaning that by the time the lightning struck at 7:45 p.m., the game — which was scheduled for 5 — should have been over.

Instead, the game wasn’t moved. The games, which were scheduled for later in the day were allowed to be suspended and played the next day. But PA could only sit around and watch as the skies became threatening, when instead, the Arrows could have been playing on the field they were using to warm up.

But the bottom line is the rules are in place for situations like this. As I sat in my hotel feeling sorry for both teams — I’m sure Park Center wasn’t pleased about it, either — I started to think a few months before. I was at the Xcel Energy Center covering the state wrestling tournament. I watched as Jackson County Central was facing Frazee for the championship. JCC was down early and battled back, needing only a decision at heavyweight to tie with Frazee. The Huskies did just that, knotting the score at 28-all.

Because of the tie-breaker criteria — which were actually printed on Page 11 of the state tournament program — the Huskies thought they had won. JCC won nine of the 14 matches, which was No. 4 on the criteria list and the one which would have been used.

Instead, the high school league awarded co-champions. Yes, there was an exception from the normal rules in place for just such events. Why couldn’t there be such a rule for state softball? I understand if it were a consolation game, or a third-place game, but it wasn’t. It was between two teams who were still in contention for a state title. It is obviously too late for the Arrows this season, but I have to give them credit. They came back and gave it everything they had in the third-place game.

I just hope it’s something that gets looked at in the future so the same thing doesn’t happen to another team.

3 state tournaments make for a busy week

Three state tournaments. Six hundred and fifty-eight miles. Three different beds. Nineteen interviews totaling 54 minutes and 5 seconds. Seven hundred and twelve photos. Six articles totaling 5,687 words.

It was a long and busy week.

Three area teams earned state-tournament appearances in three different sports, providing an exciting and hectic experience for the players, coaches and fans affiliated with each squad — and the journalists who cover them.

Worthington participated in the Class A boys’ tennis tournament in Minneapolis on Tuesday. Jackson County Central participated in the Class AA girls’ golf tournament in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday. Pipestone Area participated in the Class AA softball tournament in Mankato on Thursday and Friday. And I didn’t miss much of the action.

I could have totaled the amount of money I spent on my sports gorge, but I’d rather not think about it. It could have been worse: I could have spent at least $200 more on hotel stays. But, luckily for me (and the Globe) I have many friends and relatives who live near the Cities and allowed me to save money by staying with them.

On Monday, I stayed with my girlfriend, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, who lives in St. Paul. Her apartment is located just five minutes from the Xcel Energy Center (where I covered Windom Area in the state volleyball tournament and numerous wrestlers in the state wrestling tournament), about 20 minutes from the Metrodome (where I covered Luverne in the state football tournament), about 10 minutes from Williams Arena (where I covered both Adrian and Pipestone Area in the state girls’ basketball tournament) and about 25 minutes from Target Center (where I covered Ellsworth in the state boys’ basketball tournament).

The trip from her apartment to the Read-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis lasted about 10 minutes. Despite the gorgeous weather, the state tennis tournament was played indoors.

Playing inside was a relatively new and rare experience for the Trojans, but not for their second opponent. After losing 7-0 against Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg in the quarterfinals, the Trojans dropped a 7-0 decision against Blake, which has access to indoor facilities year-round.

Being able to practice and play at any time, despite the weather, is a huge advantage. And it showed Tuesday. Worthington’s players are able to practice and play only on dry days in the spring, summer and fall. Blake can practice and play during all seasons, and very few of its players participate in other sports. As a result, it’s tough for schools like Worthington to compete with teams like Blake.

The same example can be drawn in hockey. Worthington tennis players who also play hockey, like Mitchell Benson, Taylor Wiener and Kyle Hain, don’t have access to ice in the summer, making it impossible for them to practice, stay sharp and compete against metro-area teams who have access to ice facilities year-round.

After submitting my tennis photos and stories from my girlfriend’s apartment Tuesday night, I drove to my parents’ house in Jordan. I had dinner with my family and spent the night in my old bedroom. In the morning, I made the one-minute trip to Ridges at Sand Creek Golf Course, where I worked for a summer when I was 15 years old, to cover Jackson County Central’s girls’ golf team.

Golf is one of the most difficult sports to cover. Roaming a golf course while trying to find specific golfers is hard enough, but it’s even more difficult to do so in a way that doesn’t distract anyone while they’re trying to hit. And I have to take pictures.

Luckily, I was incredibly familiar with the course — because the Minnesota State High School League refused to allow me access to a cart, saying they were only giving keys to “reporters who work for large metro papers.” Oh, well. I needed the workout. I was so busy throughout the week, I found myself getting fast food in order to save time and money.

It was a long workout.

I arrived at Ridges at about 1 p.m., just in time to see JCC freshman Kaylee Benson tee off. When all of the golfers were finished and the final scores were posted, it was 7:30 p.m.

I submitted my stories and photos from my parents’ house, had a few adult beverages with my brother and went to bed. I woke up at 8 a.m. and drove to Mankato.

I stayed at an apartment left empty for the summer by my cousin and his roommates, all students at Minnesota State University-Mankato. The Arrows played two games on Thursday, and after I submitted my stories and photos, I took to bed in an attempt to sleep.

But the apartment was hot; there was no air conditioning, and my cousin and his friends had taken home their fans. I opened two windows, allowing the cool air to enter, but some unwelcomed noises followed. It was an apartment complex occupied by college students, after all, and I had the displeasure of listening to their post-bar conversations.

On about four hours of sleep, I returned to Caswell Park to watch Pipestone Area secure third place. I wrote two stories, packed up my things and drove back to St. Paul, where I met with Daily Globe sports editor Aaron Hagen the next day. I gave him our camera battery and our battery charger so he could take photos at the state track meet at Hamline University (five minutes from my girlfriend’s place).

I returned to Jordan on Sunday and drove back to Worthington today, capping my long trip. This week, I’ll start another. Luverne advanced to the state baseball tournament in St. Cloud and will play two games Thursday.

Worthington to St. Cloud: 190 miles and 3 hours, 32 minutes.

Zero complaints.