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St. Croix Central baseball a work in progress; field to be named "Mike Fern Field"

St. Croix Central senior Alec Lamberty (right) is greeted at home by teammate Owen Schwechler after Lamberty homered to right field for the Panthers’ first run in Thursday’s game against Spring Valley. 1 / 2
Freshman Matt Brandeen drew the starting pitching assignment in St. Croix Central’s home opener against Spring Valley last Thursday. 2 / 2

The best way to describe the St. Croix Central baseball team is to call the Panthers “a work in progress.”

The Panthers opened their Dunn-St. Croix Conference season at home last Thursday against Spring Valley. The game was close early, but Spring Valley broke the game open with a nine-run fourth inning in beating the Panthers 15-2.

The challenge for the Panthers is finding a combination of veteran and younger players who can form into a competitive starting lineup. In Thursday’s game, a pair of freshmen formed the starting battery, with Matt Brandeen on the mound and Owen Schwechler behind the plate. Brandeen was on a pitch limit and the left-hander performed admirably, allowing three earned runs in two innings, while striking out five.

Panther coach Jason Koele is openly holding auditions for most starting positions. Logan Nelson, last year’s shortstop, has moved over to second base, where he made several nice stops on Thursday. Senior Alec Lamberty appears to be locking up the first base job. Koele said Brett Eckman and Evan Nielsen will share time at shortstop.

“We’re struggling to find guys who can play the outfield positions,” Koele said.

The Panthers were limited to three hits in Thursday’s game. One of the hits was a towering solo homer by Lamberty that rode the wind over the fence in the rightfield alley. His homer came during the Panthers’ two-run second inning. Schwechler scored the team’s other run.

The Panther game scheduled for Monday at Pepin was postponed because of snow.

Central resumes its schedule this Thursday with a game at Colfax. The Panthers will play at home next Tuesday against Mondovi.

Fern dedication

A dedication ceremony will be held at the St. Croix Central baseball field next Tuesday, naming the field after former Central baseball and basketball coach Mike Fern. Tuesday’s game against Mondovi is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.

Fern died on Aug. 12, 2013, after battling brain cancer for more than 15 years.

Fern was one of the most successful coaches in St. Croix Central history. He coached the St. Croix Central baseball team to its first appearance in the WIAA State Baseball Championships in 2008. In 2010, he led the Panther boys basketball team to its first conference championship in 40 years. He also served as a physical education instructor at St. Croix Central for more than a decade.

Fern’s passion was St. Croix Central athletics. He graduated from St. Croix Central and he put everything he had into seeing that the St. Croix Central athletes saw success.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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