East basball squad has been there, done that

Matt Chruscielski has an edge over many of this year's participants in the Minnesota Class AAA high school baseball tournament: He's been there before.

Matt Chruscielski has an edge over many of this year's participants in the Minnesota Class AAA high school baseball tournament: He's been there before.

Chruscielski's tournament experience was brief and nondescript -- he didn't play in any games -- but the Duluth East senior hopes to use his memories of the 2004 event to his team's benefit.

"A lot of people have been asking me, 'What do we do down there?' or 'What are the fields like?' or 'What's it like to play in front of a big crowd?' " Chruscielski said. "It was nice to go down there and absorb it all.

"For me, while it's still something to take in that we're going to state, now going down there for a second time, I think that we have a chance of going a long ways."

East (16-8) faces Rocori(19-7) in a quarterfinal at12:30 p.m. today at Midway Stadium in St. Paul. The winner advances to a 5:30 p.m. semifinal at Midway against either Cretin-Derham Hall or Hill-Murray. The championship game is set for 5:30 p.m. Friday.


The Greyhounds placed fourth in 2004, losing their final two games after defeating Robbinsdale Armstrong in the quarterfinals.

"When we went down in 2004, we were kind of awestruck and we still won our first game," Chruscielski said. "Now when we go down there, I expect to win at least one and do some more damage than we did before. Winning one game is not enough anymore."

Chruscielski, a pitcher-first baseman, batted .286 with 21 RBIs and two home runs. He posted a 2-3 record with a 5.07 ERA and 22 strikeouts as one of three main starters.

East coach John Rudolph said he put Chruscielski on the state tournament roster as a freshman in order for him to become a stabilizing force for younger players once he was an upperclassman.

"I'm hoping Matt can temper the adrenaline," Rudolph said. "Right now, we're at a fever pitch in terms of excitement and we need to bring it down a little. I'm hoping Matt's experience and leadership on the field can help settle us down some."

The Greyhounds have five seniors -- half of what they had in 2006 -- and the players say nerves won't be a problem. What they are counting on is for other teams to overlook them.

"I don't think many people expect us to do very well because we're a northern team," senior catcher Carlson Keuning said.

Greenway was the last school from Northeastern Minnesota to win a state title, taking the Class A trophy in 1993. Grand Rapids was the last to claim a large-school crown in 1984.


"In my opinion, coming in as the underdogs gives us a big advantage," said senior pitcher Ryan McKowski, who will start against Rocori. "If people don't take us seriously, we're going to catch them by surprise with a few runs early."

Cretin-Derham Hall and Eden Prairie, the top two ranked teams in the state, head up the Class AAA field. Only two teams, however, have played at state since East last qualified. One of those is Rocori, the Cold Spring school that lost both games a year ago and won a Class A title in 1992.

The Spartans enter on a 10-game winning streak, four of which were shutouts.

"Rocori is the type of team that likes to hang around and win games in the late innings," Rudolph said. "They play solid defense and don't beat themselves. They let other teams self-destruct."

RICK WEEGMAN covers prep baseball for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or e-mailed at

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