American Legion baseball: Offseason work paying dividends for Holmen Post 284

For most American Legion baseball teams, early June marks the beginning of the season.

But for Holmen’s Post 284 team, Legion baseball starts in the dead of winter with hours of preparation in the batting cages.

An offseason hitting program, led by coach Charlie Alexander, has translated into on-field success this summer for Post 284, which enters the postseason as the top-ranked Class AA team in the state with a 24-4 record.

“We’ve been working together since January 2,” Alexander said. “The commitment is definitely there with this group of kids.”

Post 284’s roster of 18 players includes three Holmen High School seniors who are committed to play college baseball next year, as well as 2021 Holmen graduate and current Winona State University infielder Ryland Wall.

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Alexander credited the outgoing seniors – Xavier Palmer, Hayden Goodell and Troy Knutson – for galvanizing a team that went 18-14 last summer.

“That group has really taken a leadership role, not just during the season but in the offseason, getting guys into the hitting program,” Alexander said. “Their leadership has really been a huge factor for us.”

Palmer, who is committed to Bethany Lutheran College, and Goodell, a Kirkland Community College (Iowa) commit, join Wall at the top of Post 284’s lineup. Wall has hit five home runs this summer and leads the team in RBI.

Knutson, a first-team All-MVC pitcher in the spring, has been Post 284’s ace and is headed to UW-Stevens Point in the fall. The right-hander was also one of nine Coulee Region players selected for the 2022 Wisconsin American Legion All-Star Game at American Family Field in Milwaukee on August 7.

“Every time we have a big game, that’s who we put on the mound. Whenever we put Troy on the mound, we think we have a good chance to win the game,” Alexander said.

At the Plover Legion tournament last weekend, Post 284 battled against teams in Class AAA, the highest class in the state. Although Holmen finished the regular season with a 3-0 loss to Manitowoc and an 11-4 defeat against Eau Claire, Alexander said that facing some adversity before the playoffs benefitted his team.

“I thought we were competitive in both games. The scores didn’t necessarily reflect that,” Alexander said. “When you’re facing that level of competition, things aren’t always going to go right. It was a great opportunity for us to understand that and to work through that going forward.”

Post 284 will host Onalaska Post 336, West Salem Post 51 and Wisconsin Dells Post 187 in a double-elimination regional tournament starting Friday in Holmen. While Post 284’s potent offense has carried the team during the season, Alexander said the team’s pitching and defense will key a return to the state tournament for the first time since 2019.

“We have a very deep pitching staff, and when they throw strikes and get ahead in the count, they’re a very dangerous group on the mound,” Alexander said.

Post 284 seeks its first Legion state title since 2017, Alexander’s first year as head coach. Holmen was the runner-up in the 2019 Class AA state tournament.

Andrew Polk can be reached at andrew.polk@lee.net or via Twitter @apolk17

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