RED WING — For the majority of seniors participating in spring sports this year, the cancellation of the season meant the end of playing their respective sport unless they had plans to play in college. A trio of Red Wing seniors, however, were able to get a second chance with the Aces.
Pitcher Ben Kuehni, shortstop Taite Shelstad and outfielder Jack Carlson all agreed to play with the Aces this summer providing the Winger captains one more chance to hit the field together.
Although the three said they are grateful for the chance to play with the Aces, they all said the growth they made through their varsity careers is a memory that will stick with them.
All three made their varsity debuts as sophomores — a successful year for the Wingers. Kuehni said the section tournament that year specifically stuck out to him.
“We had a doubleheader at home in Red Wing that night,” he said. “I threw four pitches in the first game and then I ended up getting the win. Then I started the second game, I didn’t get the win, but it was probably one of the only opportunities to get two wins in one day.”
Although Kuehni didn’t log the win, the Wingers won the game, ensuring their place in the state tournament. The Wingers lost their opening game in extra innings to Rocori but would rebound and win the next two games to take third place at the tournament.
“I think that experience, getting to hang out with the older guys, obviously making it to the state tournament was lots of fun,” Shelstad said.
Seniors from the 2018 state tournament team were strong influencers in the growth of this year’s senior class.
“Those seniors really just made me feel welcome, showing me how they operate,” Kuehni said. “Some of those senior guys took me under their wings so I was kinda looking forward to doing the same thing with those younger guys this spring.”
“They just taught me to not get in my own head, just kinda believe in yourself,” Shelstad added.
Experience gained as sophomores was applied the following year on the field and this year virtually as seniors.
Last spring Red Wing saw quite a few freshmen and sophomores log varsity playing time.
“I tried to teach them things I learned as a sophomore,” Shelstad said. “Just kind of keeping the emotions down. Telling them obviously they are here because they can play ball so don’t get in your own head.”
Last year’s team didn’t see the same scoreboard success as the two years prior, but success wasn’t necessarily going to be measured by wins and losses but more on the development of a young team. That led to some ebbs and flows from a 15-5 loss to a 10-2 victory and everything in between. Carlson said the highlight of the year, however, was senior night — a 3-2 win over St. Cloud Tech.
“We came back and it was a close game throughout the way. Bear Blaney had a winning RBI hit and it was awesome,” he said.
This year’s seniors weren’t able to see if the progress the team made last year would translate into another deep run in section playoffs or even a state bid, but they said the bond they’ve made as teammates remains entrenched.
“Almost all of us are really good friends if not best friends,” Carlson said.
“I’m close to every single one of them,” Shelstad added. “We’ve been playing together since the start pretty much.”
It’s always said it’s not how you start but how you finish. Even though the finish wasn’t what these seniors envisioned, where they finished by growing as ballplayers and teammates seems to have ended up right on track.