Centennial's Ben Lamere (4) slid safely into secondnd base beating the throw to Maple Grove's Logan Hershey in second inning action. The Cougars lost to Maple Grove 16-9. Marlin Levison, Star Tribune
For most coaches, starting out the season 1-3 is hardly ideal. But when Centennial baseball coach Lynn Buehner looked at his squad after the team’s third loss — to Maple Grove last Wednesday — he saw only encouraging signs.
“You know, for losing a game, I’m pretty happy,” he said afterward. “I know that sounds dumb, but it’s true.”
Centennial started out the season with high expectations — returning ace senior pitcher Austin Malinowski, who is one of the elite lefties in the state and is committed to Arizona, along with a handful of capable seniors around him — but got off to a bit of a rough start. The Cougars followed a 9-0 win in their debut with three consecutive losses in which Buehner described his team as “flat.”
After the 16-9 loss to Maple Grove, however, in which the Centennial offense matched a season-high with its nine runs and strung together several runs late in the game, the sentiment in the dugout was that the loss could be a sign that the Cougars were finally figuring it all out.
“There was just something about this game, from the start, all the way to the end,” said Sam Alt, who had three hits on the day. “Everyone had a little extra bounce in their step today. I think it says that we’re not going to hold back against anybody. We’re not going to stop just because a team has six or seven runs on us.”
Of course, they weren’t able to overcome the deficit as Maple Grove added four runs in the final two innings.
“It was bittersweet,” Alt said. “We came back and tried to keep the game alive, but then, we couldn’t quite pull it out.”
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect for Centennial was the team was able to hang with Maple Grove — which entered this week undefeated and looking very solid — with the back end of the Cougars’ rotation on the mound. Centennial has two top-notch pitchers in Malinowski and senior righty Josh Matheson, who is committed to MSU-Mankato.
But the team is still searching beyond those two, experimenting with a handful of young and inexperienced players. Additionally, the two in front both are under innings restrictions while rehabbing from injuries (Matheson suffered a high ankle sprain in the basketball season and Malinowski is coming off a January surgery on his left knee, injured in football).
“After that we’re still trying to find some pitchers,” Buehner said. “I think the younger guys are still finding themselves yet. And [last Wednesday] was a big step forward. They know they can play with these guys.”
Alt said the team is still searching for the perfect mix, but that games like these are another step toward that goal.
The next day, the Cougars followed the Maple Grove loss with a 3-1 win at home against Blaine.
“We know we can play,” Alt said. “We only go up from here.”