In their second year of operation, the Centennial Cougars town baseball team posted a 3-24 record this summer.
“And we were considerably better than last year,” said manager Joe Cyzewski, hearkening to their 0-18 debut in 2018. “The league we play in is very strong. It’s tough to get a foothold.”
The Cougars “ten-runned” the three teams they beat, Cyzewski said, and once took Blaine, ranked No. 4 in the state, to extra innings.
“We played a lot of teams tough for seven innings, then we’d run out of steam,” he noted.
The Cougars also got ten-runned themselves, frequently, along the way, while going 1-20 in the Metro Mini and getting swept by Blaine in the playoffs to end the season. The club’s victories came against Andover, Braham and Ramsey.
Most of the Cougars are Division III college players but they face teams in the Metro Mini League with older athletes who’ve played at Division I and II. They are a Class B team (middle of three classes) and face several Class A teams.
“In Class B, we can sign anyone in a 30-mile radius,” Cyzewski said. “Trouble is, in the metro area, they overlap, and the older, established teams have more connections and recruit players a lot better than us. They’ve got the D-1 players who recruit their D-1 friends.
“What we have to do is win a few more games each year and build on that.”
Centennial grads on the roster are Joe Cyzewski (the manager’s son), Blake Haugen, Kyle Hastings, Chad Kienholz, Nick Rode, Torin Klebba, Nathan Koehler and Jack Whaley. Several other CHS graduates go elsewhere play for Class A teams.
Cyzewski, a mechanic, played high school baseball in Chicago and one year at Elmhurst College, then switched to Juniors hockey. He got back into baseball a dozen years ago coaching his son’s teams.
“I’d been coaching this group since grade school, and that’s why I helped start the town team,” said Czewski, co-founder along with Tom Whaley. “They wanted a place to play and wanted to stay local.”
Balls, bats, umpires and attire cost money. The squad pays its own way, $225 per player. The team also had a small corporate sponsorship last year but didn’t get one this year.
The main pitchers are Joe Pelle (Elk River), Shaun Crawford (Andover), Whaley, Brian Vanyo (Rosemount), Colin Lindgren (Elk River), and Nate Carlin (Zimmerman). Pelle also played shortstop and had a strong season hitting. The main catcher was Haugen.
Matt Youngquist, former Concordia-Moorhead outfielder who coaches the Centennial freshman team and the Legion team, joined the Cougars this year after several seasons in Class A ball. He played third base when he could make it in between Legion games. “They were a fun group to play with, young players who are going to get better,” said Youngquist.
The manager said the guys are keeping their chins up despite not winning much yet.
“They’ve been great. I couldn’t pick a better group,” Czewski said. “They are jovial on the bench, they support each other, and they play hard.”
Another improvement this year: they remembered to take a team photo, which, last year, did not occur to anyone, Czewski said. And so we present to you here your Centennial town team, edition two.