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Raider baseball under new leadership

First-year Hudson coach Jason Nell gives instructions to junior Elijah Rude in the Raiders home opener against Centennial Friday afternoon at Grandview Park. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Hudson first baseman Garrett Huhn fields a ground ball before touching first for the out as a Centennial runner breaks for home for the Cougar's first run of the game in the top of the third inning Friday afternoon at Grandview Park. Bob Burrows photo2 / 3
Hudson pitcher Jack Klementz winds up to deliver a pitch to the plate in the fourth inning of the Raider baseball team's home opener against Centennial Friday afternoon at Grandview Park. Klementz allowed three earned runs in four innings of relief and added two hits and an RBI at the plate but Hudson's late rally fell short in a 7-5 loss. Bob Burrows photo3 / 3

Jason Nell has coached baseball in a lot of places in the last 20-plus years, from Somerset and River Falls to Dubuque and Estherville, Iowa. And through all that time his wife, the former Lisa Olson of Hudson, has followed him wherever he went.

Until last year.

"Finally one day I said you know what; you apply for a job and if you get it I'll move," Nell said. "She's a teacher and she applied for a job in White Bear Lake, she gets an interview and they hire her for the following season in a span of one week. So I said. OK, I guess we're moving."

The couple naturally settled in Hudson where Nell, who coached the previous 14 years at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, is now passing on his knowledge of the game as Hudson High School's new coach. He takes over for Ryan Huppert, who stepped down last summer after 12 years at the helm,

Nell, a Milwaukee native, met his future wife while playing baseball at UW-River Falls from 1992-96. During his final season at UWRF he coached the Somerset High School team before returning to his alma mater as an assistant in 1997 and 1998.

He spent three years as an assistant at Loras College in Dubuque before spending the last 14 years as head coach at Iowa Lakes. He also spent eight summers coaching college players in the prestigious Northwoods League with teams in Mankato, Waterloo and La Crosse and is 4th on the Northwest League's all-time managerial list with 249 career wins.

So is coaching high school players any different than college?

"I don't approach it any differently," Nell said. "I teach these kids the same things I do in the Northwoods League, the Twins camps that I run, the Team USA camps, tryouts, whatever. Sometimes I have to lower my intensity, but the physical aspect is always going to be there. The mental aspect, as far as willingness to learn, the dedication, the discipline, that can be different."

So far the Raiders are 1-2 under Nell, including a 3-2 win over Mahtomedi at Grandview Park last Saturday afternoon. One day earlier they had the tying run at the plate in a 7-5 loss to Centennial in their home opener after losing to Stillwater, 5-2, in the season opener last Tuesday on the road.

One big difference between Saturday's win and the previous two losses was Hudson's defense. The Raiders committed seven errors in their first two games, including five against Centennial, before playing errorless ball in the win over Mahtomedi.

"I told them, I have no problem with you making errors, we just can't make them in succession," Nell said. "We do that and teams are going to put up crooked numbers, and that's what we did the first two games."

Jack Klementz singled in Matt Barnard with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth inning Saturday and Barnard retired the Zephyrs in order in the top of the seventh to earn the pitching victory. Garrett Hendricks held Mahtomedi to two runs on five hits over the first five innings.

Earlier in the game Klementz had an RBI triple in the second inning and scored on a groundout by Elijah Rude to give Hudson an early 2-0 lead before Mahtomedi scored single runs in the third and fourth innings to tie things up.

One day earlier Klementz tripled in a run and scored to stake Hudson to a 2-0 second inning lead against Centennial but the Raiders found themselves trailing 7-2 after five. Klementz singled and ended up scoring on a passed ball in the sixth to make it a 7-3 game and Garrett Huhn singled in a run and scored on an error in the seventh but that's as close as the Hudson could get.

Nell said the Raiders learned a lot about themselves in the first week.

"I'm competitive and I want the boys to do well," he said. "I'm not saying I don't want them to win; obviously that's the main goal. But I want them to do well and to learn and to gradually progress. So we're trying to stress different things like playing the game with enthusiasm and intensity."

The Raiders hosted River Falls, coached by Nell's former UWRF teammate Ryan Bishop, this past Tuesday, April 11, and will visit River Falls Thursday, April 13, for a 4:30 p.m. game at First National Bank of River Falls Field. They will play Park of Cottage Grove Monday, April 17, at 5 p.m. at the University of Minnesota's Dick Siebert Field before visiting Carson Park in Eau Claire Tuesday, April 18, to face Eau Claire North.

Special events

The Raider baseball and softball teams will both host "Strike out Cancer" games at Grandview Park this season when the baseball team hosts Eau Claire North Thursday, April 20, at 4:30 p.m. and the softball team hosts Stillwater Friday, May 5, at 4:30 p.m. Fans are encouraged to wear pink to both games.

The Raider baseball team will also honor local military veterans at its game on Saturday, May 6, at noon against Hopkins. Hudson will wear special camouflage jerseys and alternate hats and the American Legion Honor Guard will present the colors while all veterans in attendance will be recognized before the game.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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