Joe Tautges is cracking into an elite lineup of Brainerd Warrior baseball players.
The 2002 Brainerd High School graduate will become only the third former Warrior to play Division I baseball when he steps onto the field at the University of Evansville (Ind.) next season.
Tautges, who is transferring after two years at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, joins Gary Borg (University of Illinois) and Jade O'Brien (Iowa State), the only other Warriors who have played Division I baseball.
Tautges signed a national letter of intent June 30. He will receive a scholarship worth $12,000 next season and is scheduled to get a free ride (worth $20,000) his senior year. He is projected as Evansville's starting third baseman and No. 3 catcher.
"It's a lot like Waldorf, a small campus," Tautges said of Evansville. "There's not many people there. I visited, and it's really nice."
The Purple Aces are getting a nice player. This spring, Tautges played every inning of every game. He led Waldorf with a .388 average, fifth-highest in the Midwest Classic Conference. He also led the team in doubles (17), home runs (7) and RBI (43).
Those numbers piqued Evansville's interest. It also didn't hurt that Dave Schrage, head coach at Evansville, was head coach at Waldorf through the 2002 season. And, it didn't hurt that Waldorf's current head coach, Brian Grunzke, was Schrage's assistant when Schrage was at Waldorf.
"Joe's going into a great situation," Grunzke said. "Their third baseman was the only senior on the team. They finished third in the Missouri Valley tournament, they beat Wichita. They've got a good club coming back. Joe will fit right in with those guys.
"Joe's got some skills. How he can hit is really what attracted the Evansville people to him."
"He was probably the best coach I've ever had. He taught me a lot about the game. He really helped me get where I am right now."
On Brainerd Warriors coach Lowell Scearcy
Tautges' stats at Waldorf were attractive. In 95 games, the two-year starter averaged .342 with 42 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs and 71 RBI. He scored 63 runs and his average slugging percentage was .580.
As a freshman, Tautges played infield and caught for Waldorf. He also occasionally pitched in his freshmen year, during which he hit .319 with 32 runs, 14 doubles, five home runs and 30 RBI.
"Halfway through the season, we were playing a non-conference game," he said. "We didn't have many pitchers so coach asked me to pitch. I didn't get to warm up because I had to go hit. I came in to pitch, threw a couple pitches, and my elbow popped. After that, my season went kind of downhill. I couldn't throw the rest of the season."
Tautges took about four months off and didn't play fall ball at Waldorf. Thankfully, the elbow didn't require surgery and he resumed throwing earlier this year.
"I thought I was going to do a lot better this year," Tautges said. "About halfway through the season I was probably hitting .600, then I don't know what happened. I kind of slowed down."
Tautges was a shortstop for most of this season since an incoming freshman, who was recruited to play the position, struggled in the field.
"Coach said, 'I have to move you to short. We need somebody who can field the ball," Tautges said, "so I moved over there and did pretty well."
His career numbers at BHS included a .383 average and 40 RBI. As a senior he was team MVP, all-conference and a Lions All-Star selection.
He said Warriors head coach Lowell Scearcy had "a big impact on my life."
"He was probably the best coach I've ever had," said Tautges, who plays amateur ball for the St. Mathias Devils in the Victory League. "He taught me a lot about the game. He really helped me get where I am right now."
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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