Burnsville players run onto the field to celebrate their victory at the final out during the 2010 state semifinals. Star Tribune file photo
Last year, Burnsville baseball coach Mick Scholl led the Blaze to the first two state tournament victories in team history and nearly to a Class 3A state championship.
Eden Prairie finally ended the historic run with a 7-5 victory over the Blaze in the title game.
With the goal of getting back to Target Field and finishing what it started, this year’s Blaze finds itself in a new conference — the South Suburban — and minus 2010 leaders Brandon Peterson, Tom Sherman and Jacob Threkeld, all of whom graduated last year.
In their place, though, a core mix of veterans and newcomers have the Blaze off to a hot start behind some heavy hitting and dominant pitching.
After defeating Bloomington Kennedy 14-3 Monday, Burnsville is 6-2, with its only losses coming by two runs to undefeated Minnetonka and by one to South Suburban leader Eastview.
“This is a really close group of kids,” Scholl said following the victory over Kennedy, “but it’s a different team from last year.”
To fill the void left by the departing seniors, Burnsville has had to rearrange its defense and rely on some younger talent this year, including junior pitchers Brian Vanderwoude and Adam Lambrecht.
Vanderwoude started one varsity game last year and honed his mound skills over the summer. In his and the team’s first game of 2011, he pitched five hitless innings in a 10-0 victory over Lakeville North.
“I was surprised at how well I did, actually,” Vanderwoude said of the performance.
Lambrecht, who last spring played varsity golf for Burnsville, opted instead for the diamond this year. So far, it’s looking like a good decision — in two starts, he is 1-0 with 11 strikeouts and a 4.20 ERA.
“He fits right in with this group,” Scholl said of Lambrecht, adding with a laugh, “and I’m glad he chose baseball over golf because he’s already helped us.”
With all the changes since last year, one constant has been senior catcher Justin Threkeld.
Threkeld — whose older brother, Jacob, hit a game-winning triple in last year’s state semifinals against Coon Rapids — has continued to live up to the family name in 2011.
The younger Threkeld homered twice against Apple Valley on April 13 and was batting .474 heading into this week.
“Obviously it starts with Justin Threkeld,” Scholl said of Burnsville’s senior leadership, later adding, “He’s one of the better captains we’ve had here since I’ve been around.”
No longer in the Lake Conference, the new-look Blaze has a different-looking schedule as well, one that does not include Burnsville’s old foe Eden Prairie. Scholl said that although it’s a relief in some ways not having to face the defending champions, he also looks forward to facing competition of the Eagles’ caliber, because it’s a good way to evaluate his own team.
“I don’t really look at it as much different,” Threkeld said of the switch to the South Suburban Conference, where the Blaze currently sits in second place behind Eastview.
“We lost Eden Prairie, [which is] obviously a very good team, but other than that [it’s] pretty much the same to me.”
Andrew Baker is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.