NEW ULM - Before the New Ulm Legion Gold baseball team took the field for practice Tuesday in preparation for state, assistant coach Bryce Boelter told the players something he wanted them to remember: "You deserve to be here."
Gold (25-7) will be returning to this weekend's state tournament in Edina, which will bring new experiences to a team clad in an overwhelming majority of new faces.
"We're a lot younger this year," said Jordan Guggisberg. "We only have one senior and then we have four guys returning, so that's a big difference. Last year we had a lot of seniors and more guys returning."
Guggisberg is one of four players who played on last year's team that went 4-2 last season at the state tournament. The other three returners are Jory Dove, Tim Kehren and Drew Pfaff.
Amid the differences on the team from last year to this year, Guggisberg said there was one that proved to be key for success this season.
"This year we've had to rely on everyone instead of some games last year [where] we might have just relied on a few guys to get the job done hitting-wise or pitching-wise," Guggisberg said. "This year, we're relying on everyone."
One of the players Gold has relied upon is at the plate is Grant Kannegiesser, who played for VFW Gold last season.
Kannegiesser has been a force at the plate, leading the team in RBIs with 24 while batting .376 on the season. He also has 38 hits and 27 runs scored.
"Last year to this year, I've just been focusing on squaring balls up and putting balls in play," Kannegiesser said. "It's been working pretty good for me this year."
Kannegiesser said he has been on a bit of a slump as of late, unlike the team itself.
This past weekend, Gold went 5-0 in the Substate District 2 playoffs en route to a berth in the state tournament as District 2's sole representative.
"I'd say we have quite a bit [momentum]," Guggisberg said. "We've been winning some games now ... we're pretty confident in what we can do."
On the mound, Nick Dewanz has provided a spark for Gold. Dewanz said working with coaches at Minnesota Valley Luthern High School, where he goes to school, has helped his craft on the mound, which has carried over to legion ball. For Gold, Dewanz has allowed six runs and four earned in 26 innings pitched for a 1.08 ERA and a 4-0 record.
Dewanz played on Legion Blue last season, along with teammates DeAndre Parker, Jacob Gieseke and Nate Palmer.
Also striking it big on the mound is Tanner Kluis, who leads the team in strikeouts with 33 while tallying just four walks. Kluis is 3-0 on the season with a 1.17 ERA in 36 innings pitched - second-most on the team behind Guggisberg's 38.
Gold will play Rochester in the first round at 10 a.m. on Friday in Richfield. From there, Gold will play either Excelsior or St. Cloud Chutes later in the day with a 4 p.m. game time in the loser's bracket and a 7 p.m. game time in the winner's.
"It's going to be a real good experience for us younger guys," Kannegiesser said. "We have good leaders in our older guys - they've been there before the last two years. So I think they'll a lot of help for us younger guys."
Grant Kannegiesser - 101 AB, 27 R, 38 H, 1 HR, 8 BB, 24 RBI, .376 BA
Tim Kehren - 96 AB, 29 R, 34 H, 2 HR, 21 BB, 12 RBI, .354 BA
Drew Pfaff - 83 AB, 18 R, 33 H, 9 BB, 11 RBI, .398 BA
Nick Dewanz - 4-0, 26 IP, 23 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 15 K, 1.08 ERA
Tanner Kluis - 3-0 , 36 IP, 22 H, 8 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 33 K, 1.17 ERA
Jordan Guggisberg - 6-1, 38 IP, 28 H, 16 R, 10 ER, 7 BB, 22 K, 1.84 ERA