Couillard, Hens headed to state
Chris Couillard has never been to the Minnesota Baseball Association state tournament.
When he attends his first Saturday night in Hutchinson, he'll likely be in the starting lineup for the Miesville Mudhens in their Class B opening-round game against the Chaska Cubs.
Couillard, a 2010 graduate of Rosemount High School where he was a three-year varsity letter-winner and an all-conference performer, helped the Mudhens earn one of two state bids with a pair of victories last weekend. He went 4 for 12 at the plate with three runs scored, a triple and an RBI as the Mudhens defeated Bemidji and Elko to place second in their Super Section tournament in Miesville.
"I thought we had a better chance of going to state last year when we went undefeated in the league," said Couillard, who is in his second season with the Hens. "This year we struggled a lot early, then turned it on in July. Everybody got hot and started to hit and the pitchers improved. We got hot at the right time and now we have some momentum going into the state tournament this year."
Couillard got his start with the Mudhens last year when his high school pitching coach -- Miesville pitcher Erik Olson -- invited him to join the team after the Irish's spring season. Couillard accepted the invitation, and hasn't spent much time away from the diamond since. He began playing baseball at the University of Minnesota Duluth last fall and got into nine games as a freshman this spring, going 3 for 18 at the plate and earning a 1.86 ERA in 9 2/3 innings on the mound. Couillard said his college coach encourages his players to find a place to play ball over the summer so they come back ready to go in the fall.
"He likes to make sure we're staying in shape over the summer. We have a year-end meeting where we talk about making sure we're doing something to stay in shape," he said. "Amateur baseball is a good way to do that, make sure you're doing the little things and staying fundamentally sound."
For Coullard, playing in Miesville -- population 135 -- has provided not only a a high level of competition, but a unique experience he may not have gotten if he had pursued a roster spot on a different area team. The Mudhens draw good crowds and quality opponents thanks to their tradition -- they are five-time state amateur champions -- and their historic and well-maintained ballpark, Jack Ruhr Field.
"It's a real small town, but they usually get more than the population to come out to the big games. They can get 400 or 500 people to these games. Towns like Hampton and Red Wing that have their own teams still have fans that like to come to Jack Ruhr to watch the Mudhens," Couillard said. "I'd say it's the best field I've played on -- definitely one of the best playing surfaces in Minnesota. They put a lot of time and effort into it and it shows."
Couillard is hoping the Mudhens can put in an effort to match that of the Jack Ruhr grounds crew this weekend in Hutchinson.
"We have to minimize our errors," he said. "We've been making some that have hurt us at the ends of games."
The Mudhens take on the Chaska Cubs at 7:30 Saturday night in Hutchinson.