Orphans continue run of success
Another great year ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Howard Lake Orphans in 2013.
In what has become like clockwork, the Orphans competed in the Class C state tournament.
The season came to an end in the final eight, when Howard Lake lost to Belle Plaine in 17 innings.
While it was a tough ending to the season, the year, overall, was outstanding for Howard Lake.
The Orphans finished with a 25-9 record, and were once again region champions.
Over the last eight years, Howard Lake has won the region title in seven of them.
And in those seven state tournament trips, Howard Lake has finished in the final eight in four of them.
As a team, Howard Lake hit .310, which was the third highest team batting average in the North Star League.
Individually, in limited at-bats, Ben Borrell hit an impressive .484, but didn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for a league batting title.
Of the Orphans with enough at-bats, Jason Mix led the way with a .347 average not bad for his first season in league.
Also having a huge year at the plate for Howard Lake was Eric Schreifels, who hit .344, and led the NSL with 32 RBIs.
Schreifels was also the Orphans’ lone representative on the Class C all-state tournament team.
Moving on to the Orphans’ bread and butter, pitching, they once again had some guys with great years.
As a team, Howard Lake finished second in the NSL with an ERA of 2.26.
Individually, Ed Cox allowed just one earned run over 31 innings of league pitching.
Meanwhile, Borrell didn’t allow an earned run while throwing 20 innings during the season in the NSL.
Mike Gagnon is the Orphan’s long-time manager.
Town team baseball in Howard Lake goes back a long way, starting in 1905.
Back in 1905, they were named the Blue Sox.
Throughout the early 1900s, Howard Lake eventually lost the nickname, but gained a new one in 1947.
Playing their home games in Cokato that year, as their field was being refurbished and couldn’t be played on, they started getting called the Orphans, and the name stuck.
The Orphans made their first state tournament appearance in 1951.
Town team baseball in Howard Lake ceased from 1942-1946 due to World War II, but the Orphans took back to the field after the war, and thrived until 1967, when the team folded.
The 1970s and 1980s were a dark period for town team baseball in Howard Lake, as they had no team, with many players playing in neighboring towns.
The team did try to come back in 1991, and also fielded a team in 1992, but then folded again.
That is when a group led by current manager Mike Gagnon and Kevin Gruenhagen started the Orphans back up, and it has been a success ever since.
Howard Lake has advanced to 11 state tournaments, with their first one coming in 1951, followed by 1995, 1998, 2001, and finally 2006 through 2010, 2012, and 2013.
The Orphans play their home games at Memorial Park in Howard Lake, which is located on the shores of Howard Lake.
Over the past decade, the park has seen a number of improvements, including seating behind home plate, a batters’ eye, and a grass infield, among other improvements.
All of those improvements, along with more to come, have made Memorial Park one of the best baseball fields in the area.
Prior to the 2009 season, new dugouts and a new backstop were added to Memorial Park.
In 2011, due to high water conditions on Howard Lake, Memorial Park’s outfield was flooded by the lake, which forced the Orphans to move their playoff games to Loretto.
Work has been done to fix the outfield, as it was damaged from the flooding.
Getting Memorial Park back to great condition is big for the Orphans, as they were one of three teams to host the 2013 amateur state tournament, hosting the opening round of Class B state games.