Redbirds slide into season of change

After State championship in 2011, Isanti moves into Metro Minny and Class B

It’s not just “another year of ball” for the Isanti Redbirds town team baseball squad. First off, the Redbirds are coming off a 34-7 season in 2011 which culminated with their first State title when they swept their Class C State games.

Matt Duong slides home with Isanti’s sixth run during the 12-7 home win over Class A team Minneapolis Merchants May 11. 22-year-old Duong– a top utility player for the Redbirds– is part of the younger corps needing to step up when Isanti moves into Class B play this summer. Photo by Greg Hunt

Along with that target on their backs. Isanti was moved up into Class B this season which ultimately forced a move into the Metro Minny League. New rivalries will be built as the veteran-filled Redbirds aim to continue their success.

“The practices have been really intense. The guys really reached another level last year as far as focus goes, and it carried into this season with, for example, batting practice becoming more focussed on situational hitting,” said Redbird manager Steve Allen. “We’re going to have a tough schedule this season. We know there’s going to be ups and downs. The big thing for us is to keep playing well. The wins and losses will take care of themselves, but ultimately we have to prepare ourselves for the end of the year.”

Another goal set for this season is to work on transitioning some of the younger players into their Redbird roles, which will strengthen the longevity of the program.

The move into the Metro Minny

The Metro Minny was changed into 10 Class B teams this season. Coon Rapids comes in with the strongest pedigree after winning or sharing league titles the past five seasons, and the CR Redbirds reached “B” State last season.

Big Lake, which also made a deep run in the ‘11 Class C State tourney, is another strong MML squad, along with Blaine (6-0 to start this spring), Forest Lake, St. Francis, East Bethel and pitching-rich Anoka.

“I don’t see anyone going undefeated in the league this summer. It’s the toughest league we’ve ever been in,” said Allen.

The move ends the Redbirds’ 90-year membership with the Eastern Minny League.

“That was really hard. When we were told by the State Amateur Board that we were going to be a Class B team, we looked at our options. We have a strong sense of loyalty with the Eastern Minny, along with a lot of friendships with those teams,” continued Allen. “We tried to appeal our ‘B’ classification with the state, but when it was a reality, then we knew we had to go play in a stronger league.”

Isanti kicks into Metro Minny play this weekend on the road, playing East Bethel in St. Francis May 19 (2 p.m.) and at Anoka May 20 (2 p.m.). Isanti’s “league home opener” with free hot dogs for fans will be Friday, May 25 against Hamel (7:30 p.m.).

Class B breakdown

Come playoff time in August, Isanti will be in Section 2 of Class B with Metro Minny partners Anoka, Big Lake, Champlin, Forest Lake, Hamel and St. Francis. Three other MML teams– Blaine, Coon Rapids and East Bethel– are placed in Section 8.

There are 43 teams total in Class B across Minnesota. The Sauk Rapids Cyclones are the defending State champs, with Burnsville and Mankato finishing 2nd and 3rd in 2011.

“We played ‘B’ teams a lot, and we’ve played very good ‘C’ teams a lot. On a game-by-game basis, there’s not a lot of difference. However, where the good ‘B’ teams get you is with their depth,” explained Allen. “For example, we have four starting pitchers on the Redbirds. I talked to the Coon Rapids coach, and he has 12– and many of them are college pitchers. So when you get into consecutive games of the playoffs, that’s when that depth shows up.”

Isanti will hone its skills by playing in a couple big tournaments in June, starting with the June 1-3 Sartell-St. Stephens Tourney which is filled with State-tourney calibre squads. The eight-team Redbird Classic will be hosted June 15-17 with the likes of Coon Rapids, Elk River and Albertville coming to Isanti.


Veteran cast back for Isanti

The Redbirds will have a very similar look to the team which won State last September. One big loss is the retirement of pitcher/first baseman Bud Heifort who Allen called the “X-Factor” and glue of 2011. That loss will be tempered somewhat by the addition of power-hitting Jake Maros at 1B; he played with Princeton, Nowthen and St. Francis in past seasons. Long-time Redbird Danny Johnson is back after taking a break from baseball the last five summers.

Wade Reichmann, the team’s ace, returns to lead the pitching staff with his heat and slider. Adam West is another veteran back who started the State championship game last year. Joe Ramberg led Grand View University with 90 innings this past college season, with the lefty going 8-6 with 56 strikeouts. Dallas Nelson had a strong spring at Waldorf College (2-1 over 23 innings). This-year C-I senior Cole Bakke is another arm which could be relied on this season.

State Tourney MVP Kyle Johnson brings back his solid leadership and big bat to the catcher position.

Another C-I grad, Wyatt Soderquist, had a superb year for U of W-Superior. The outfielder who got red-hot during last year’s amateur playoffs led the Yellowjackets with a .373 average and drove in 36 runs. He is joined on the grass by motivator B.J. Samuelson, consistent hitter Eric Rysdam, top utility man Matt Duong and Ramberg.

The Redbirds’ strong fundamentals are showcased with its veteran infield returners– Packy Lind at 2B, Brian Schultz at SS and Tyler Schaff at 3B. Garrett Hedberg, who played JV ball at St. John’s this spring, will be getting in games at 2B as part of the youth movement.

• The Redbirds are currently 3-1 this pre-season after opening with 10-0 wins over Albertville May 2 and Hinckley May 6, getting solid pitching from West, Reichmann and Nelson in those games. Last Friday, Isanti defeated Class A team Minneapolis Merchants 12-7 with Nelson compiling 6 Ks over 4 innings and West allowing 1 earned run over 5 innings. Rysdam and Danny Johnson both had 2 hits on offense.

The Redbirds took on defending Wisconsin state champ River Falls on Sunday and lost 12-7. Maros went 4-for-6, with 2 hits each supplied by Schultz, Nelson and Schaff.