Upsala-Swanville Area entered with Eric Lampert.
Lampert took the ball in the first two rounds of the postseason and, like he did throughout the season, put on a clinic in all-around dominance, leading a roster with no other senior starters deep into the tournament.
Against Kimball, Lampert allowed just one hit, didn’t walk anyone and struck out 13 batters in a 7-1 win.
He followed that up by going all nine frames in a 3-2 extra-inning victory over top-seeded Browerville, fanning 10.
Not to mention reaching base five times, scoring twice and knocking in a pair.
“Typical Eric,” Upsala-Swanville head coach Adam Gerads said. “He is the guy you want on the mound in a big game. You know he will give a great performance and those two games were prime examples.”
“Winning the first two games of the playoffs with complete-game wins was pretty awesome,” Lampert said. “As every pitcher would, you just go into the game and try to put your team in the best position to win. Going into the playoffs you play every game like it could be your last and that’s exactly what we did as a team.
“After winning the first two games, losing the next two was pretty bittersweet knowing that we had chances in both of the two games to win,” Lampert said, however, “knowing that we made it farther than everybody expected us to go in the playoffs was sweet.”
It was pretty obvious that his season would be chock-full of those types of outings from the opening pitch.
Matching up against eventual state entrant Royalton, Lampert went 3-for-4 at the plate with a double and three RBIs.
Oh, and he threw a one-hit shutout with no walks, striking out 17 of the 22 batters he faced.
That type of control was typical for the hard-throwing right-hander.
In 50 2/3 innings pitched, he fanned 80 batters while giving up only seven walks, a major factor in going 5-1 with 1.11 ERA.
“A huge part of that was the man behind the plate (sophomore catcher Justin Cichon),” Lampert said. “He was the one that called all of the pitches I threw. He told me where to throw it. I just did what he told me to do so I give him all the credit. Also, knowing that I had a solid defense behind me that played a huge part in that too. Knowing that I could throw any pitch in any count was huge.”
That level of control wasn’t the least bit surprising to Gerads, who has watched Lampert have similar success over the years.
“In the last three years of his high school career, Eric walked a combined 15 batters,” he said. “That is an amazing stat. Going back to his little league days when I coached him, he has always thrown strikes and walked very few guys. His strikeout totals have always been up there due to how hard he throws, but this year he was able to mix his other pitches in better, which in return upped his strikeout total.”
Most teams didn’t even bother trying to go after Lampert when he was batting. When they did, he usually made them pay.
“Eric is so level-headed, not too many things bother him,” Gerads said. “I told him at the beginning of the year that he will probably be pitched around quite a bit. His first eye-opening experience of that was against Browerville the first time we played them. They intentionally walked him in the first inning.”
For his part, Lampert simply shrugged it off and watched his on-base percentage soar.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating, but knowing that there’s good hitters behind me makes it not so bad,” Lampert said. “It is also a confidence booster when teams pitch around you because it’s telling you that they really respect you as a hitter.”
“Like I said, he doesn’t let those things bother him,” Gerads said. “He went up to the plate with the same approach every at bat. He looked for his pitch and when he got it, he didn’t miss it too often. With such a young team this year, I don’t know where to began to tell you how important he was to our lineup.”
Lampert ended up with a .516 batting average and reached at a .639 clip.
He belted seven doubles and a pair of home runs, driving in 20 and scoring 17 times. Had the season gone on longer his stats likely would have been even better, as he closed on a 21-for-32 tear.
And make no mistake, those numbers were legit.
While the Patriots played some smaller schools, their schedule was far from filled with cupcakes.
“People are entitled to their own opinion, but the Prairie Conference has been a really good conference for many years,” Gerads said. “We always have had teams that fare well in the playoffs and state tournament. This year, the fifth-place team in the conference went on to the state tournament. Osakis was tied with the eventual Class AA champion (St. Cloud Cathedral) in the seventh inning and had a very good chance at beating them. They ended up getting third in that very good section. The last two years the Prairie Conference teams are 7-1 against the CMC (Central Minnesota Conference) in the playoffs.”
In addition to Osakis, last year’s Class A state runner-up, the Prairie Conference had Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, which went through the regular season undefeated, an 18-win Browerville squad and a young Royalton team that made a surprise playoff run.
“The Prairie Conference is tougher than some people give us credit for,” he said. “With Eric’s numbers, it just shows you how talented he is. He would be most teams’ ace and bat in the three or four hole.
“We had such a young team this year and with him being the only senior starter, it is hard to say what we would have been (without him),” he said. “He took the pressure off so many of our young players, which in return helped them develop so much faster.”
MC Record Players of the Year:
2014: Eric Lampert, Upsala-Swanville
2013: Josh Wenzel, Little Falls
2012: Joey Hanowski, Little Falls