(Note: A few weeks ago I promised some various opinions for the following week's offering in this space and now this week the state tournament win by the Princeton Panthers in Chaska last weekend helped spur me to research something about the 2000 Panther team that finished second in the state. I planned to do that last year on the 20th anniversary of that accomplishment but it was dropped because of COVID. The intention now is to share next week some of those opinions, since there have been plenty of happenings to have opinions about recently.)

It was good to see the Princeton Panthers win 1-0 at the state tournament at Chaska on Sunday over St. Stephen as Damon Rademacher got the complete-game win and pinch-hitter Jake Oakes singled in Daniel Voce, who hit a leadoff double, for the game's only run in the 8th inning. A couple Panther players asked me afterwards when the last Panther win came at the state tournament and it was in 2007 when the Panthers beat Cannon Falls 3-1. Now the team will play Watkins, a team that won the 2001 state title after rallying to beat Princeton in the second round, a year after the Panthers placed second in the state.

The Princeton win last Sunday came just before I began working on a piece I had planned to do last summer for the 20th anniversary of the Panthers placing second in the state in 2000. There had been the start early last year of an idea to have a reunion of that team and I was going to do a story then. But COVID  took care of that so I set it back a year and have done some research this week to bring back some memories of that run at the state tournament.

The Panthers qualified for the state tournament for eight straight years from 1998 through 2005. Then the team missed a year but qualified again in 2007, making it 9 of 10 years at state. 

Some know about that streak but there are some other facts about that run that are impressive. The team lost to Brainerd in the state title game in 2000. That was part of a five-year stretch that included that second-place finish, being knocked out of the tournament by the state runner-up in 1999, having a 3-run lead in 2001 before losing to eventual champion Watkins, having a 3-run lead in 2002 and losing to the eventual champion, and being knocked out of the tournament by the eventual champ in 2003. In 2007, the last hurrah for that 9-out-of-10 stretch, the Panthers lost to the eventual runner-up.

The upshot of all that is that the team didn't just do well in 2000 when it finished second. It was very competitive, and state-ranked a number of years, before and after that loss to Brainerd at Fairfax in 2000. 

In 2001 the team (29-9) led eventual champion Watkins and its star pitcher Bruce Geislinger (17-0 that year and MVP at state) by a 3-0 score in the fifth inning before losing 9-4. Watkins beat Buckman 9-4 for the title and its 3-4-5 hitters, who had only three singles in 10 at-bats against Princeton, hit three homers. In the first-round win over Plato that year the Panthers won 10-0 as Zimmer, Miller and Dorr homered off the Plato starter who was a University of Minnesota pitcher and came into the game with an 8-0 record and 0.96 ERA. That team had 53 homers and everyone on the team was a Princeton High School graduate. 

A side note is that this Saturday (Aug. 28) the Panthers will likely square off against lefty Matt Geislinger, a very accomplished pitcher (8-0, 1.67 ERA this season) who is the son of Bruce Geislinger. I was told Sunday at the Panther game by a guy who follows town team baseball closely that Matt Geislinger was on hand last Sunday to scout the Princeton-St. Stephen game.

That the Panthers finished second in the state in 2000 was far from a surprise. In 1997 the team was 24-4, had a .311 team average and averaged 9.4 runs a game. Jason Miller had an 8-1 record, an ERA of 1.30 and pitched nine complete games. The team hit 48 home runs that season, led by Jesse Zimmer's 10, with nine by Chad Campbell and Brian Dorr, and 8 by Miller. An upset loss in the region tournament derailed a hoped-for trip to state.

The streak of eight straight trips to the state tournament began in 1998, a year in which the record was 26-6, at that time the fourth such trip in 10 years. The trip to Chaska last Sunday brought back memories for some of us who were with that team and were on hand for the win over St. Stephen. The Panthers trailed Minnesota Lake at Chaska early in that 1998 game as they went against a former major league pitcher who pitched for the Texas Rangers. Troy Scheffel hit a homer off that pitcher to get things going and the Panthers ended up winning 16-6, for their eighth straight win, Miller getting the win. Brian Dorr drove in eight runs, tying the state record for a state tournament game, losing a ninth RBI when his bases-loaded double ended the game by the 10-run rule and thus the run by the runner from first didn't count. He also had a homer and double that night and, 23 years later, it's still a state record held with two others.  Princeton then lost 4-3 to Litchfield, a loss it atoned for in 2000 by beating Litchfield on the way to the title game. Miller had a 10-1 record that year, Scheffel a 5-1 mark. The team hit 41 homers, led by Miller with 12, and Dorr hit .505, led in hits with 54, had 19 doubles, a .555 on-base percentage, a slugging percentage of .907 and drove in 51 runs. 

The 1999 team finished 29-11 and had won 19 in a row when the team went to the state tournament. That team beat Clarissa 5-4  and had 14 hits. Miller upped his record to 11-1 with that win and Dan Patnode hit two homers. Then came a 3-2 win over Brainerd in 11 innings as Miller's record went to 12-1. Two heartbreaking losses followed, 3-2 to Green Isle and 2-1 to Luverne (that loss led to a revenge win over Luverne in 2000).The record from 1997 through 1999 was 79-20. The team hit .342 in 1999, had a slugging percentage of .544 (.500 is considered good for an individual), scored 397 runs (average of 9.9 a game), stole 78 bases and had an on-base percentage of .417 (.400 is outstanding for an individual but that mark was for the whole team). 

There were eight players in 1999 who drove in 22 runs or more, five who scored 39 runs or more, and leadoff hitter Chad Carling led with 49 hits and stole 20 bases, while Patnode stole 17 and Dorr 13. Carling scored 50 runs and led in on-base percentage with .514.  Dorr hit .431, had 16 homers and drove in 51 runs for the second straight year while having an on-base percentage of .491 and a slugging percentage of .833. Miller hit .366, had 10 homers and drove in 34 runs. Tony Stay hit 14 doubles and drove in 38 runs.  Curt Wilson drove in 36 runs. Over the two-year period of 1998 and 1999 Miller had 22 homers and drove in 79 runs in 239 at-bats (1 every 3 at-bats), and Dorr had 26 homers and drove in 102 runs in 251 at-bats (1 every 2.5 at-bats). 

Second in 2000 tournament

The Panthers came into the state tournament as Region 1C champs, scoring 38 runs in their three region games where the team hit .391 and had eight home runs, including four off Hinckley ace Jerrod Brennan in  a 17-10 win. Jesse Zimmer was 12-for-14 in the three games and homered in each game.

 Princeton beat Monticello, a team it had lost to 20-6 during the season, by a 6-1 score to open the tournament as Miller's record improved to 11-0. Zimmer and Dorr each drove in two runs and catcher Chad Campbell threw out two would-be base stealers. Then they beat Granite Falls 7-6 as Miller went to 12-0. Chad Carling homered off Granite Falls ace Curt Kvam who had pitched a one-hit shutout to open the tournament. Later on Dorr hit a homer off Kvam that cleared the 25-foot high fence in center that was 395 feet away, local Sleepy Eye baseball fans saying it was only the second time they had seen a ball clear that fence. Then Zimmer hit a long homer to right center that some thought went even farther.

The team then lost 10-5 to Waterville, making it difficult to win the double-elimination tournament. But the Panthers beat state power Elko 8-7 to open play on the third weekend of the tournament, Miller going to 13-0. Tony Stay had a grand-slam homer and Zimmer had a three-run homer. The game ended, with Elko runners on first and third, when an Elko batter hit a ball sharply that pitcher Miller slowed down. Second baseman Dorr fielded the ball barehanded behind second base and flipped to shortstop Stay for the game-ending out.

Then, on a Saturday night, Joe Nelson went the distance in a 6-4 win over a strong Luverne team that had ended the Panthers' four-game run in the state the previous year in a 2-1 game. Princeton trailed 2-0 after five innings but the Panthers rallied, stolen bases proving important. Wilson drove in two runs with a single and then scored on a Carling single after stealing second. Dorr drove in Stay after Stay stole second and the Panthers led 4-2. In the ninth Dorr stole second, ended up scoring on an error, and Wilson drove in a run to make it 6-2. Luverne scored twice in the ninth but Nelson stranded a runner on second. It was the team's second straight errorless game and there were seven plays marked as outstanding on defense.

On Sunday the Panthers trailed Litchfield (36-10) 8-3 after four innings but scored six runs in the seventh inning and six in the eighth on the way to a 15-8 lead and a 15-11 win. The team had 18 hits, four by Dorr, including a homer and a double, and three each by Carling and Wilson as Stay, Zimmer and Wilson each drove in three runs. Eric Deglman got the win in relief. Later that Sunday the opponent was New Ulm, a team that had more than 30 wins and had been unbeaten until losing to Brainerd the day before. The Panthers banged out 21 hits, Wilson and Zimmer getting four each and Zimmer and Carling hitting home runs. Dorr drove in three runs and Zimmer, Wilson and Mark Beattie each drove in two. Pine City draftee Ted Hasz pitched the seven-inning win and when the game ended the Panthers had totaled 26 runs and 33 hits in their last nine innings, including the final two innings of the Litchfield game.

That set up a Labor Day match-up with Brainerd (36-5), a team the Panthers knocked out of the tournament the year before when Brainerd had more than 30 wins. Brainerd took a 3-0 lead after three innings but the Panthers tied it in the fourth, although the inning ended with the Panthers hitting into their fourth double play of the game. Brainerd won the game 9-5, its catcher, the tournament MVP, hitting three homers. Carling, Stay and Dorr each had two of the team's nine hits. 

Making the all-tournament team were Miller, Stay, Zimmer and Dorr. Miller, 43-3 the last four seasons, was 3-0 as a pitcher in the tournament. Stay hit .375, drove in 7 runs and was outstanding at shortstop. Zimmer hit .467, had 5 homers and drove in 15 runs, best in the tournament. Dorr  hit .429, had 15 hits (most in the tournament), had 4 doubles and 2 homers and drove in 11 runs, and was also outstanding at second base.

Carling hit .378, had 3 homers and drove in 7 runs from his leadoff spot. Wilson hit .387 and drove in 10 runs. Campbell hit .375 and had 4 doubles. The team scored 66 runs in the eight games, with 16 doubles and 12 homers. The 29-9 season gave the team a record of 135-39 over a five-year stretch. The Panthers hit 63 homers in 2000.

It was a year, and tournament, to remember.

TOURNAMENT NOTES: At least seven former Panthers, including some from the 2000 team that finished second in the state, were on hand for the St. Stephen game. Noted were Chad and Ryan Carling, Jesse Donner, Jason Miller and three who had sons playing that day — Troy Kinney, Troy Scheffel and Steve Carlson . . . Also on hand was 1993 PHS grad Brad Petersen who was working on the grounds crew at the state tournament as a Chaska resident. He played football and baseball at PHS . . . In the game that preceded the Princeton game, the losing pitcher for Cannon Falls in a 2-1 game was Keith Meyers, the losing pitcher for Cannon Falls in 2007 when Princeton beat the Bears 3-1 at state. He had earlier pitched for the St. Paul Saints. Meyers threw a no-hitter to beat Luverne at the state tournament in 2015 . . . I also talked with Pete Hilyar, a baseball player from Elk River who played against Princeton in high school, Legion and town team baseball. Hilyar, even though not a Princeton resident, has contributed to the fund drive for a new scoreboard at Solheim Veterans Field . . . A few days before the tournament I attended a gathering of some members of the 1974 Legion team that made it to state, three of whom later played town team baseball in Princeton and were part of state tournament teams. The gathering came 45 years ago to the week when Princeton lost 4-3 to Clear Lake in 13 innings at a town team regional in Cold Spring, the game featuring four starting pitchers from St. Cloud State, including Dan Kne and Dave Mingo from Princeton. The game included scoring chances for both teams, many position changes for Princeton, and a sacrifice bunt play backfiring for Princeton in the seventh inning that would have won the game. The winning run in the 13th came in when the umpire ruled a Clear Lake runner safe at first and a runner scored from second as the Princeton first baseman walked off the bag, assuming the out had been recorded. The three PHS grads playing that night, 45 years later, swear the runner was out by two steps. I was a few feet away at second base and couldn't agree more. The season ended at 22-9 and was one of the toughest ever for a Princeton town team because it knocked the team out of regional play and was so clearly a missed call.

PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES

Sept. 7, 1961 -  There was a large crowd for races at Princeton Speedway on Labor Day night. The last date for the season was scheduled for Friday, Sept. 8.

Sept. 2, 1966 - Al Bornholdt won the men's championship at Rum River Golf Cub with a 77, while Elaine Borchard won the women's title with an 87.

Sept. 9, 1971 - Don Cordes scored a touchdown set up by a 52-yard kickoff return by Mike Grow in a 6-6 tie with Braham in the first quarter of the annual Rum River Conference football jamboree in Princeton. 

Sept. 9, 1976 - Fran's Beauty Salon beat Crystal Cabinet Works 22-8 for the city women's softball title. Laurie Peterson had four hits for the champs and Jordie Stay and Pat Ziebarth had three each for Crystal . . . Steve Sampson scored the touchdown in an 8-6 win for Princeton over Chisago Lakes in the PHS football opener.

Sept. 3, 1981 - Former Princeton town team player Dave Mingo got the win for West St. Paul in the state Class A baseball tournament, beating Halek's 6-2 in 10 innings. The Time Out columnist in the Union-Eagle wrote that Mingo's curveball was even better than it had been for Princeton as a high school, Legion and town team player.

Sept. 4, 1986 - Princeton beat Chisago Lakes 6-0 in the football opener, quarterback Bryan Hoff scoring. There were six takeaways for Princeton, including two fumble recoveries by defensive end Troy Bouma and two interceptions by linebacker Todd Dohrwardt.

Sept. 2, 1991 - Although he didn't apply for the job, former athletic director Doug Patnode was named part-time PHS activities director. That came after the No. 1 choice for the job, the athletic director at Centennial, turned down the job.

Sept. 2, 1996 - The PHS football team led state-rated Mahtomedi 15-7 but lost 34-21. Chad Carlson threw for 153 yards and Dan Patnode caught a touchdown pass.

Aug. 31, 2001 - The Princeton Panthers led 3-0 in the fifth inning of a second-round state tournament game but lost 9-4 to eventual state champion Watkins. When Brian Dorr hit a two-run homer off tourney MVP Bruce Geislinger (16-0) in the fifth to make it 3-0, it was his fourth straight post-season game with a home run.

Aug. 31 2006 - The girls tennis team beat St. Francis and Sartell by identical scores of 4-3. Both matches came down to No. 4 singles player Britta Finck who won in a tiebreaker each time. Also undefeated were No. 1 singles player Kelli Winkelman and the No. 1 doubles team of Steph Turnquist and Holly Weissenfluh.

 

Sept. 1, 2011 -  Donna Brooks won the women's title at Princeton Golf Club (score not listed) and Kyle Hewitt won the men's title with a 141 (73-68).

Sept. 1, 2016 - The girls tennis team swept all three matches at the Brainerd Quadrangular, beating Brainerd 5-2, Minnewaska 4-3 and Staples-Motley 6-1 . . . Maggie Peterson scored three goals as the girls soccer team beat Sartell 6-2, and then beat St. Cloud Tech 4-0 . . . Sierra Mattson broke the school assist record at 1,223 in a volleyball win over Zimmerman.

(Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has written about sports in the area for the past 54 years.)

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