Once a year for the past three softball seasons, Park High School softball coach Bob Loshek gets a chance to go home.
The Winona native and Cotter High School graduate gets to come home other times during the year, but there’s nothing quite like bringing your team — a pretty darn good one, too — to play on a field that you yourself played on as a 9-year-old, in front of the same people who lined the fences on those summer nights all those years ago.
“It’s a blast,” Loshek said after Saturday’s nonconference game against Winona Senior High School at Alumni Field in Lake Park. “I remember playing baseball, 9U, here on this field back will Bill Hagersheimer as my coach. It’s just a blast to play on these fields.”
This year’s game didn’t go the way he wanted. The Winhawks got the best of the Wolfpack 2-0 behind a three-hit shutout from ace pitcher Ashton Hoeppner, who struck out nine.
Even then, Loshek couldn’t help but smile a little bit.
That’s because Ashton’s dad, Gary Hoeppner, coached Loshek’s American Legion baseball team. Before that, Gary Hoeppner was coached by Steve Loshek, Bob’s dad.
“A lot of kids, I knew their dads or uncles growing up,” Bob said. “I think it’s really cool to come back to Winona and see what we can bring from the Cities.”
Among those waiting to talk to Loshek after the game was Cotter softball coach Pat Bowlin. Loshek spend two years as Bowlin’s assistant. The night before he brought his team to Winona, Loshek and the Wolfpack beat Cretin-Derham Hall 6-0. The coach at Cretin-Derham Hall? Patrick Bowlin Jr.
“The softball community is smaller than what people think,” Loshek said. “It’s a neat thing.”
The connections don’t end there. Loshek also played fastpitch softball both with and against Mitch Grossell, the Winhawks’ assistant coach responsible for molding Ashton Hoeppner — and others like her — into the pitcher she is today.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The one connection that Loshek said he doesn’t spend too much thinking about is the connection to his father, who was a junior high school social studies teacher and helped build the softball program at Winona with Dave Heise, the only coach the program knew before Halverson stepped in for the 2015 season.
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Steve Loshek died when Bob was 11 years old.
“I don’t think about it as much,” Loshek said. “It’s one of those where you get so focused in the game. Now that you bring it up I probably think about it a little more. But I didn’t really think about it as much.”
Instead, he wanted to focus on his players. This is a big game for Park, too. Winona (10-3) is the defending Class AAA runner-up, and Park (11-3) plays in the ultra-competitive Suburban East Conference, which includes four teams ranked in the top 10 in the QRF in Class AAAA. The Wolfpack were ranked sixth in Class AAAA by the state’s coaches, and were a state tournament team last season.
“The first year, I maybe thought about it a little more, now I get used to it,” Loshek said. “You think about the players more.”
Make no mistake about it, family was on Loshek’s mind Saturday, especially after the game. His mom lives about four blocks away from Alumni Field, and his family planned to spend the night. His son brought his fishing pole and his daughter was looking forward to spending some quality time with Grandma.
But it wasn’t long before softball beckoned. Loshek wanted to be back in the Twin Cities in time for Sunday’s MIAC Tournament championship game. A former player was playing for St. Catherine. Then it was back to practice Monday with the goal of returning to the state tournament.
He’ll be back to hunt. He’ll be back to see family. He’ll be back next spring, with another strong team looking to even the series with the Winhawks, who won last year 5-4 after Park took the first meeting 17-4 in 2015.
He can’t wait to see the familiar faces — he probably won’t be too upset that his team won’t have to face the UW-Platteville-bound Ashton Hoeppner next season — and stand on familiar ground, looking at the familiar bluffs casting shadows on a familiar lake.
It’s always nice to go home again.
“We’re really grateful for everyone to allow us to do this,” Loshek said. Winona State has been awesome. Their head coach Greg Jones has been great. The city has been awesome letting us play here. It’s really great to get the girls out of town a little bit, have a road trip, and play some great softball.”
“I remember playing baseball, 9U, here on this field back will Bill Hagersheimer as my coach. It’s just a blast to play on these fields.” Park softball coach Bob Loshek, a Winona native