First time Braves have advanced to semis since 1995

Photos by Tasha Geiser
Members of the Bluffton Braves baseball team pose for a picture during the state baseball tournament. This is the 100th anniversary of the town team state baseball tournament.

By Cody Geiser

Special to the Dispatch

In the first round of the 100th Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament, the Bluffton Braves faced the Monticello Polecats at picturesque Optimus Park in Litchfield on August 25.  The Braves came away with a 9-3 win over the Polecats. 

Jake Dykhoff celebrates scoring a run during Bluffton’s game at the state baseball tournament against Delano.

Led by longtime manager and Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Famer Terry Geiser, the Braves took the field with ace Jake Dykhoff on the mound. The Polecats got off to a hot start versus Bluffton with leadoff hitter Brock Woitalla lifting a flyball that just drifted out of the reach of Braves right fielder Connor Davis for a double. The following hitter Jason Axelburg smacked a hanging off speed pitch to left for a single scoring Woitalla and Monticello was off to a 1-0 start. Dykhoff buckled down at that point and struck out 4 of the next five batters stranding Axelburg in the first. 

Isaac Haman lays down a bunt during Bluffton’s game against Maple Lake at the state baseball tournament.

Facing Monticello ace Alex Otto, who tossed a shutout in the Polecats first round game, Bluffton resiliently responded at that point as Isaac Hamman and Peyton Rondesvedt both reached base in the bottom half.  Jake Dykhoff then pounded a single to left scoring Hamman. Logan Pulju added a sac fly in the first for Bluffton to hop in front 2-1.   

After a scoreless top of the second for the Polecats, Bluffton added another run on an RBI single from Rondesvedt and lead 3-1 after two innings of play. Both pitchers settled in for a few innings, but Bluffton was able to tack on another in the 5th when designated hitter Josh Dykhoff sent a soaring flyball into the dark rightfield sky that looked destined to go over the fence. 

Dustin Geiser pitched in relief during Bluffton’s game against Maple Lake on September 3 at the state baseball tournament.

The Polecats right fielder almost came up with an impressive catch, but after crashing into the blue plywood he was unable to corral the ball and Dykhoff had a triple with an RBI scoring his older brother Justin Dykhoff who had coaxed a walk to get on base.   

Monticello responded with three hits scoring one in the sixth inning, but Jake Dykhoff was again able to get strikeouts when needed to limit the damage. 

The Braves added another run to go up 5-2 in their frame on another RBI single from Jake Dykhoff plating Davis. Jake then handed the strikeout baton to trusted draftee Kolby Kiser from the Sebeka Stingers who slammed the door on the Polecats in the seventh with three K’s.  Bluffton broke open the game in the 8th with four hits and a hit batsmen to score four creating a 9-2 lead. His uncle Kyle Dykhoff started the inning with a single and Davis followed with a scorching liner to right.  Isaac Hamman singled next, Rondesvedt was hit by a pitch for an RBI and after a couple outs Logan Pulju had a clutch single to plate two more Braves.  

This was more than necessary for Kiser to finish the game as Monticello did scratch across one more meaningless run in the ninth inning. Kiser finished the game hurling a 3 inning save in relief, striking out 8. Dykhoff struck out 12 in his 6 innings of work. The two pitchers combined for an impressive 20 K’s with no walks issued. 

In true town ball fashion, as field workers waited for Bluffton youngsters to round the bases on imaginary home runs, easily chosen player of the game Jake Dykhoff said “It was big the team picked me up and we got people on and we came up with big hits tonight. We have the best fans in the country.” 

Saturday, Sept. 2

Luverne came into this round of 16 game played at Saints Field in Dassel with only one loss on the season.  

Again, Jake Dykhoff took the hill for the Braves and knowing there could be multiple games this weekend, worked efficiently letting his defense help him out setting the Redbirds down in order to start the game. Region MVP Peyton Rondesvedt led off the Braves half of the first with a double and Jake Dykhoff continued his hot hitting with a single to score a headfirst sliding Rondesvedt just past the tag at home. The Braves continued to threaten most innings with runners on base but Ben Serie, pitching for Luverne, was able to continuously wiggle out of trouble utilizing the Redbirds stellar defense as well.  

Dykhoff mowed down Luverne hitters not allowing a baserunner until the top of the seventh yielded a two out walk to Nick Smith the dangerous three hitting centerfielder from Luverne, ending the perfect game bid.  An errant pickoff throw allowed Smith to advance all the way to third and suddenly the Redbirds were 90 feet from tying the game, despite being shut down all day and surviving multiple threats from the Braves. The clean up hitter from Luverne sent a flyball straight to the left center gap where Isaac Hamman came charging in from his centerfield position to make a diving run saving catch. As he showed the ball to the ump laying prone, the Bluffton dugout surrounded by fans exploded.  

Bluffton’s best chance to score came in the eighth inning as Dykhoff again set down the Redbirds in order in the top of the inning. The bases became loaded with Braves with one down as pinch runner Bobby Kempenich ended up being thrown out at the plate and the crisis was averted on another ground out after.  

Dykhoff entered ninth inning with a no-hitter still intact. However, Luverne shortstop Casey Stehr was able to bang a line drive down the rightfield line for a double, not only ending the no-hitter but threatening the Braves precarious lead. Stehr was then bunted to over to third base and Dykhoff faced the top of the order with the game tying run at third with one out.  With the infield drawn in Jake Dykhoff snagged a hopper off the bat of Skyler Wenninger and underhanded a throw to first to record an out, keeping the runner at third.  

Now with two down Dykhoff faced his opponent on the mound in Ben Serie whom he coaxed to induce a week bouncer back to himself again.  He chased down the runner and tagged him out, ending the game for a 1-0 Braves win. Once again Jake Dykhoff was the player of the game recording the only RBI and throwing all nine innings surrendering one lonely hit while striking out 10 Redbirds. Dykhoff, in his on field post-game interview complemented his opposing pitcher and again thanked the Braves fans. 

Sunday, Sept. 3

In a scorching high 90’s day, Bluffton took the field against unanimous number one in the polls the Delano Athletics playing at their beautiful home field as the home team.  Fans crowded the multiple viewing decks, including perched above the ivy in left and right field trying to find some shade.  

Isaac Hamman led off the game with a single, but ended the inning stranded at second.  As in the previous game, this was a theme for the Braves, not getting clutch hits to plate many runs. 

Sebeka Stinger draftee, Kolby Kiser, was handed the ball and fiercely set the tone striking out the first two Athletics batters. Delano fans could be heard throughout the stadium asking “Where is Bluffton?” as their number one team found themselves in a real battle under the suffocating late summer sun. 

The Braves struck in the fourth inning as Jake Dykhoff singled with one out and then advanced to second on a high bounding grounder to first.  Little brother Josh Dykhoff then faced the draftee Avery Liesman of the Litchfield Blues pitching for Delano.  Josh was able to poke a single through the right side and as Jake rounded third the Delano right fielder launched a missile to home, but Jake utilized a head first slide to avoid the tag of the Delano catcher scoring the games first and only run.  

Kiser was stellar on the mound throughout for the Braves, terminating all Delano threats without allowing any runs as the game entered the bottom of the 9th. A flyball to center, another strikeout and Delano was down to their last hitter.  Amidst chants from the crowd of “Bluffton Braves, Bluffton Braves, Bluffton Braves, Roll Tribe,” the very dangerous former Minnesota Golden Gopher Toby Hanson strode into the box with his 14 homeruns on the season. On a 2-0 count Hanson took a mammoth swing, but missed. On the next pitch Hanson took another big swing but hit a soaring flyball to center, which Isaac Hamman camped under seemingly forever, but eventually caught the last out and the celebration was on.  

Kiser, a clear player of the game, finished allowing only 4 hits and striking out 10 for a complete game shutout. Kiser on his time playing with the Braves said, “I was very excited to play for Bluffton again this tournament and knew we could definitely make a deep run down in Delano. It was very easy to succeed when every game I pitched our defense was lights out.  Our hitting came together at the right times and always seemed like when we needed it, we could get a big hit.  It was super awesome to be able to compete with all the talent in Bluffton and it was one heck of a ride.”

After a thrilling victory in Delano over the homefield favorite, the Braves then watched anxiously or rested in the shade, waiting to take on the winner of the next game between Maple Lake and Jordan. Maple Lake eventually scored the game’s only runs in the oppressive heat and was ready to take on Bluffton at 4:30 p.m. 

The Lakers played as the home team and Peyton Rondesvedt of the Braves was able to spank a single with one out in the first inning. After walks to Justin and Jake Dykhoff, Rondesvedt led off third and was able to score on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Josh Dykhoff on a rocket to straight center. The Braves added another in the third when Connor Davis came around after singling.  In the fifth, the Braves had a great chance to score after a Rondesvedt single, Jake Dykhoff sent a deep fly ball to left that was caught just in front of the ivy by the Lakers left fielder. 

Josh Dykhoff, who has battled injury all summer, took some treatment and took the hill for the Braves after deciding he could grit through the discomfort.  He did not look like his usual self on the mound, but battled through 3 2/3 innings having given up 3 runs. He left the game with the Braves down 3-2, handing the ball to Rondesvedt. Rondesvedt did not look like his usual strike-throwing self either and allowed a big 3-run homerun to the Maple Lake third baseman Ben Clapp, increasing the Maple Lake lead to 6-2. Long time veteran Dustin Geiser then took over on the hill and got the last two outs of the inning on a weak grounder to the pitcher and a strikeout. 

With the outlook getting grim, the Braves responded to encouragement from their never-give-up fans and teammates in the seventh. After two out singles from Isaac Hamman and Rondesvedt, Jake Dykhoff sent a screamer to the gap in left center, but the Maple Lake left fielder made a sliding grab ending the threat with no runs scored. 

Geiser was able to set down the Lakers in order in the bottom of the seventh and the Braves started the eighth with a single by Justin Dykhoff, a single by Josh Dykhoff, and tough walk by Logan Pulju loading the bases. Still down 6-2, pinch-hitter Austin Redemske stalked confidently to the plate. Getting ahead in the count 2-1 he sat on a fastball launching it high and deep into the sky in left.  The ball soared over the ivy wall and tiny cheering Bluffton fans on the left field deck for a game tying grand slam. Bluffton players erupted from the dugout to surround their hero at home as roaring fans danced in the stands cheering and chanting in unison. A dumbfounded Maple Lake relief pitcher was able to recover and record the three outs necessary to end the inning tied 6-6.

Maple Lake started with a single in their half of the 8th and after a sac bunt and a flyout, homerun hitting Ben Clapp was intentionally walked to put runners on first and second with two outs. Three hitter Malachek then coaxed a walk from Geiser to load the bases. Geiser induced a ground ball, but after one of the Braves few errors in the tournament, Maple Lake was able to score two and retake the lead 8-6.  Geiser finished throwing throwing 2 2/3 innings with no earned runs allowed.  

Bluffton went down in order in the ninth ending their magical run in the 2023 state tournament so close to making the state finals for the first time in team history. This was the second time the Bluffton Braves have ever made the final four, the last time being in 1995 when state was hosted in Perham and Wadena. 

Maple Lake went on to win the championship game on Labor Day over the Bird Island Bullfrogs 6-3.

Dustin Geiser after the game said, “Some of the best highlights of the tourney aren’t even about the baseball itself.  Its things like the amazing fans we have, the tradition behind the team, the players knowing their roles, and proving to the Minnesota baseball world that a northern team can travel and compete down here.”

Manager Terry Geiser, “Couldn’t be prouder of how this team plays together and supports each other.  It’s tough to lose like this, but no one play results in the outcome of a game.  The team and super supportive fans can really be proud of what this team accomplished and what they  mean to help make Bluffton Braves baseball what it is.”

Geiser added that “I would also like to thank our fans for the great support and how well they traveled to the games. An enormous thank you to the Braves players and draftees. The boys played their hearts out. Thank you to Donna for putting up with baseball all these years.”

Bluffton Braves vs. Monticello Polecats

AB R H     BI

Isaac Hamann 3 2 1 0

Peyton Rondesvedt3 2 1 2

Jake Dykhoff 5 0 2 2

Justin Dykhoff 4 0 1 0

Logan Pulju 4 0 2 3

Josh Dykhoff 3 0 1 1

Austin Redemske 2 0 0 0

Wyatt Hamann 4 0 0 0

Kyle Dykhoff 3 1 1 0

Tyson Barthel 0 1 0 0

Connor Davis 2 2 1 0

Cody Geiser 0 0 0 0

Gabe Geiser 0 1 0 0

HITTING- 3B- Josh Dykhoff 

PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-k)- Jake Dykhoff 6.0-7-2-2-0-12, Kolby Kiser 3.0-3-1-0-0-8

Bluffton Braves vs. Luverne Redbirds

AB R H     BI

Isaac Hamann 4 0 1 0

Peyton Rondesvedt4 1 2 0

Jake Dykhoff 4 0 2 1

Justin Dykhoff 3 0 0 0

Josh Dykhoff 4 0 0 0

Logan Pulju 3 0 0 0

Wyatt Hamann 3 0 1 0

Kyle Dykhoff 4 0 1 0

Connor Davis 3 0 1 0

Cody Geiser 0 0 0 0

Gabe Geiser 0 0 0 0

HITTING- 2B- Peyton Rondesvedt, Jake Dykhoff, Wyatt Hamann, Connor Davis

PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-k)- Jake Dykhoff 9-1-0-0-1-10

Bluffton Braves vs. Delano Athletics

AB R H     BI

Isaac Hamann 4 0 2 0

Peyton Rondesvedt3 0 0 0

Jake Dykhoff 4 1 2 0

Justin Dykhoff 4 0 0 0

Josh Dykhoff 3 0 1 1

Logan Pulju 4 0 1 0

Wyatt Hamann 4 0 1 0

Gabe Geiser 0 0 0 0

Kyle Dykhoff 4 0 1 0

Connor Davis 4 0 1 0

Kolby Kiser 0 0 0 0

PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-k)- Kolby Kiser 9-4-0-0-0

Bluffton Braves vs. Maple Lake

AB R H     BI

Isaac Hamann 4 0 1 0

Peyton Rondesvedt5 1 3 0

Jake Dykhoff 3 0 0 0

Justin Dykhoff 3 0 1 0

Tyson Barthel 0 1 0 0

Josh Dykhoff 3 1 1 1

Logan Pulju 3 1 0 0

Wyatt Hamann 3 0 0 0

Austin Redemske 1 1 1 4

Kyle Dykhoff 3 0 0 0

Connor Davis 4 1 1 0

Dustin Geiser 0 0 0 0

Cody Geiser 0 0 0 0

PITCHING (ip-h-r-er-bb-k)- Josh Dykhoff 3.2-5-3-3-3, Peyton Rondesvedt 1.2-4-3-3-1, Dustin Geiser 2.2-1-2-0-2