CLASS B PROGNOSTICATORS: A brand new tournament brings intrigue

 By Nick Gerhardt

news@mnbaseball.org

Photo via Mike Mingo/Twin Cities Photography

Well, here it is … state tournament predictions. We asked our experts to weigh in on the field in what is going to be an exciting Class B state tournament. With Class A joining Class B this season we’ll see a lot of interesting matchups between teams from the two classes. That will bring some to the tournament. 

We thank our experts for their diligence this season and dedication to putting together rankings throughout the season. It’s not easy work but these guys have a passion for it. 

Take a deep breath because they had some thoughts and got a little long-winded. 

Matt Marek — Champlin Park LoGators

The 100th edition of the MBA state tournament is here and I think most of us couldn’t be more excited. As everybody, or most everybody, knows, Class A and Class B are together for a mega-32 team single elimination tournament. From a talent perspective, this tournament is loaded. High-caliber arms and high-octane offenses litter the bracket up and down. Despite the opinion of some that attendance will be way down … joke’s on you, we don’t care! Most A and B teams play in front of approximately 30 people on a regular basis anyway!

Jokes aside, I think this was the right move to make for the two “upper” classes. In my opinion, as a whole, Class B has been the superior class in recent years. However, the top half of Class A has been absolutely nails, and that will bear out in some of my predictions. Any number of teams could win it and make deep runs. Without further adieu, the picks:

UPPER BRACKET

The Favorite: Minnetonka Millers

How can you argue with 15 state titles? Not much has changed for this year’s edition and they cruised to another Riverview League title and section title with a rout of reigning Class A champ St. Louis Park. Depth on both ends of the ball, and a mix of veteran and young talent is the perfect mix for a favorite.

The Dark Horse: 1A St. Patrick Irish / 2B Air Freight Unlimited

St. Patrick earned the No. 1-seed in what is arguably the best overall section in the state and loaded up with MSU-Mankato talent in the offseason. The record isn’t gaudy, and playing in a predominantly C league put them off a lot of people’s radar, which has started to change.

Probably not as dark as St. Patrick, being they are a recent A champ, Air Freight comes in with arguably the best starting pitcher in the tournament in Graham Laubscher. We played these boys two years ago at CHS and they had the sticks to back him up as well. It’s going to come down to who they have behind Laubscher, and if it’s not much, can they outslug opposing teams?

The Upset: Hopkins Berries

Hopkins had a ho-hum regular season and is one of those teams with a lacking web presence, so that adds to the shroud of mystery around the team. However, they have a really nice 1-2 with former Gophers in Ben Shepard and Jeff Fasching, to go along with a couple of other former terrorizers of the Metro Minny League. I know they rounded out the roster with Upper Iowa players (thanks, Boxwell), which may hamstring them offensively after the first round of the tournament, should they score the first-round upset.

The Sleeper: Metro Knights

A team that stockpiles roughly a 50-man roster every year, they have consistently seemed to underperform their talent in my opinion. After the playoff roster purge, they’re left with two former minor league arms in Jean Marcelino and Onas Farfan at the top of the rotation. I don’t see Sobieski doing much with either one of those in the first round, but a potential second-round matchup with Minnetonka could be fun with either of those two going.

LOWER BRACKET

The Favorite: Miesville Mudhens

It’s really, really tough for me not to say Stockmen’s, but I think the wake-up call from Elko in the section tournament could be just what Miesville needed. Veterans Nate Hammes and Jake Dickmeyer are back this year and this time of year, experience plays a big role in determining who makes deep runs. Look out for a Ben Vujovich return to the lineup from the Northwoods as well (CCVL > NWL).

The Dark Horse: Minneapolis Cobras

Frankly, it was shocking for me to see the Cobras wind up in seventh in the Park National this year, as it was for them as well. Another recent Class A champ, they have the talent and pedigree to make a deep run, and it seems they’ve finally started to play better. As dangerous a No. 4-seed as they come.

The Upset: Anoka Bucs

Don’t get me wrong, Lyon’s Pub has been great all year. Just a fully committed bunch of dirtbag, townball lifers with some young talent sprinkled in. However, I don’t think they have that ONE GUY on the hill the other No. 1 seeds from the A side have, and Anoka is a scrappy lineup that puts balls in play, and makes you make plays. If Jackson Hauge returns from the Northwoods League, he is as big of a lineup changer as they come in townball.

The Sleeper: St. Louis Park

They have as good of a lineup as anybody and despite being down Andy Davis, Chris Odegaard is the type of pitcher that can rattle off three wins to get you to the semifinals in a hurry. They barely got over .500 this year as a result of the Davis injury and they are as under the radar as you can get from a defending champion, which makes them the perfect sleeper.

Nate Behlen — Baseball 365

UPPER BRACKET

The Favorite — Air Freight

Let’s face it, this team only has the state tournament on its mind. The regular season was just a formality. Most of their guys have the 2021 state championship and/or the St. Thomas D-III College Worlds Series run on their resume, so they will be calm and loose, which can make  a huge difference come crunch time. 

The Dark Horse — Chaska Cubs

Can a No. 1 Seed be a dark horse? If it’s Chaska, I think it applies. They had an, um, mediocre start to the season. But have turned it on since mid-June, going 16-3 in their last 19. So their overall record doesn’t raise eyebrows, but they are humming and looking to prove the old axiom, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

The Upset — Minneapolis Angels

Much like the Cubs, the Angels got off to a rough start, then turned it on. They will have Matt Schuld ready to go and their typical deep pitching behind him. I think really highly of Champlin, but that’s why it would be an upset. 

The Sleeper — St. Anthony Hogs

The Hogs tend to make some noise every state tournament before running out of steam, is this the year that steam stays?

LOWER BRACKET

The Favorites — Lyon’s Pub Warriors

I have been on this bandwagon for a while now, and am not stopping now.  Extremely solid team that plays fundamentally sound, team first baseball.  I expect them there at the end. 

The Dark Horse — St. Louis Park Pirates

I know it’s another strange call as a dark horse team, considering SLP is the defending Class A champion. But I think people continue to look for signs of their demise in the wrong places. They fooled a lot of people last year, and I sometimes get the feeling people are falling for it again this year. Not me. 

The Upset — Minneapolis Cobras

Probably the best No. 4 seed the state tournament has seen in a long time. You know the Cobras will show up amped, and things will get spicy whenever they take the field. Thomas Kinsella gets a shot at upsetting his former squad. 

The Sleeper — Plymouth Hit Dawg

I never saw them this year, but in talks with other teams and umpires, the word is that they are legitimate. Not a typical townball power, but word is they should not be taken lightly. 

Aldon Severson — Northfield Knights

UPPER BRACKET

The Favorite: If I was a betting man, I’d be putting money on the Minnetonka Millers. Forgive the predictable pick, but they had six regular season wins against teams in their half of the bracket and look poised to reach the final weekend without much stress. Once they get to September baseball, the Millers are a proven commodity. 

The Dark Horse: The St. Anthony Hogs are my dark horse in this half of the bracket. They’ve beaten Tonka and Lyon’s Pub twice each, which proves they’re capable of winning big games when they matter. I don’t know much about the Hogs but the first-round matchup against Moorhead should be fun to watch.  

The Upset: Is this a biased pick? Damn right it is. I’ll pick the Northfield Knights over Air Freight in round 1. The Knights have an uphill battle against Graham Laubscher who’s been nearly unhittable all season, but they just beat the defending state champions to punch their ticket. If they can find a way to scratch a couple of runs across I like their chances. 

LOWER BRACKET

The Favorite: The Lyon’s Pub Warriors spent a good portion of the summer ranked as the top team in the state after accumulating 30-plus wins. If they can get through a difficult second-round battle with Miesville, I expect they’ll go far. 

The Dark Horse: Despite being ranked inside the top 10 for most of the year, I’m picking Stockmen’s Irish as my dark horse. I won’t be surprised if/when they make a deep run, but don’t think many have them as favorites to win. The Irish are strong in all facets of the game and have a true ace they can ride for the first couple of weekends. 

The Upset: I’m predicting a round two upset of Cold Spring over the defending champion St. Louis Park. Both teams operate off the grid so I don’t know who’s been playing all summer but Cold Spring has a solid record and always seems to show up in August.

Nat Croaker —  Northwest Orioles

UPPER BRACKET

The Favorite: Minnetonka Millers: As usual — with some really good arms, a talented and deep roster, and some experienced veteran bats, I can see these guys winning it all.  

The Dark Horse: St. Anthony Hogs — A good team, with a good season in a tough league — some talented veterans. These guys can make a good run at it.

The Upset:  Andover Aces — A pretty average season overall, but sounds like they have been hot as of late and have some talented young players. 

The Sleeper: Chaska Cubs — Haven’t seen them much in the rankings this season, but a really nice season, plenty of talent, some veterans and are always a tough team. These guys could sneak their way deep into the tournament.  

LOWER BRACKET

The Favorite: Lyon’s Pub Warriors — Finishing at the top of the Class B rankings at the end of the season and over 30 wins. These guys are legit and I predict we will be seeing them in September.

The Dark Horse: St. Louis Park Pirates — Regardless of not being in the top 10 at seasons end, they still can beat anyone. And if everyone is there, they will have one of the best lineups in the tournament. These guys are a problem for anyone.  

The Upset: Plymouth HitDawg — A team full of youth, some really good arms and one of the best hitting teams out there. They could surprise some people.

The Sleeper: Minneapolis Cobras — Even with a bit of a “down” year in the Park National, make no mistake these guys are always good and could well still be playing in September. 

Jon Sands —  Victoria Vics

UPPER BRACKET

The Favorite: There are two of them: St. Patrick Irish and the Champlin Park LoGators. Both have had strong seasons and look to keep it going in the tourney.

The Dark Horse: Andover Aces and Victoria Vics — Both of these teams play competitive sections and leagues games and don’t shy away from the tough non-league games also. These teams come in battle tested. 

The Upset: Hopkins Berries — I think this team is dangerous with the talent they have and could shock some teams in the field.

LOWER BRACKET

The Favorite: I would say the favorite in this half is Miesville Mudhens. This should be pretty easy, always in it until the end and always have a tough team to beat.

The Dark Horse: I look at two teams in this half, one is the Moorhead Mudcats and the other Anoka Bucs. Both have strong cases that they can win games here and probably are under the radar of most people. 

The Upset: Hard to call this team the upset but I think the Dundas Dukes will shock people this tournament.

Patrick Sheehy — Highland Park Beavers

UPPER BRACKET

The Favorite: Air Freight Unlimited — Everyone in the lineup can stick it and the best pitcher in state? As long as they have the pitching depth to play three games the final weekend, I like their odds here.

The Dark Horse: Moorhead Brewers — I do not know much about this team except that they have an exceptional track record and are well respected throughout the state.

The Upset: Metro Knights over Sobieski. I know the Knights have a couple really solid arms. As long as the bats are working they have a shot here.

The Sleeper: Hopkins Berries — We have not faced them since their hiatus, but I hear they revamped their lineup with a lot of U of M talent on their roster.

LOWER BRACKET

The Favorite: Lyon’s Pub — Look at what they did this season. Good group of dudes, good group of ball players. Went 18-0 in a competitive Pnash league and 32-8 overall. The top-ranked team in the state.

The Dark Horse: Plymouth HitDawg — We haven’t seen these guys since the World Cup style Class A tourney during the COVID year but from what I have heard and gathered via Twitter is that they are on the up and up.

The Upset: Minneapolis Cobras over Coon Rapids. This may not seem like an upset but given the seeding we are going with it. Don’t let the league record fool you. These guys can ball. Not having Borman hurts but they have plenty of talent to make up for it.

The Sleeper: Stockmen’s Irish — A couple great arms to get them through the three game final weekend and a ton of great bats. These guys mash and are lefty heavy, which generally is a plus in townball. Plus, they have Kelby; the heart and soul of two teams simultaneously. Impressive.

Jordan Wiggins — St. Anthony Hogs

I’m excited for the St. Anthony Hogs to be a part of the 100th year of the Townball State Tournament and look forward to seeing how the merger of Class-A and Class-B shakes things up. Here is what I think we have to look forward to:

Quadrant 1

St. Patrick Irish vs. St. Paul Capitals

Baseball 365 vs. Andover Aces

Sobieski Skis vs. Metro Knights

Minnetonka Millers vs. Victoria Vics

The Favorite: I’m assuming the most popular pick here will be Minnetonka, which is a fair and deserving choice. Their 12 titles since the turn of the millennium speak for themselves. But my choice as the favorite to come out of this quadrant is Baseball 365. I haven’t seen St. Patrick play in years and they have extremely impressive wins against Rochester, Dundas, New Market and Northfield throughout the year. But I’m going to assume Noah Danner is the best pitcher in this quadrant and will have the green light to throw all three games to advance to the semifinals. 365 has a lot of talented bats throughout its lineup as well, two of which are brothers who I’m sure will be heard by all throughout their games.

The Dark Horse: Good pitching can carry you a long way in the postseason, especially when you only play one game the first two weekends. The Metro Knights have several top-end arms that could do exactly this. Jean Marcelino and Onas Farfan are two former pro-ballers who still have a lot of life left in their arms and Josh Gaworski has ramped back up to where he has been in the past. If they play defense behind these guys and scratch runs across, they’ll be a tough beat. 

The Upset: Off my dark horse pick, I will have to go with Metro Knights (7B No. 3) upsetting Sobieski Skis (2B No. 2). I have no merit when analyzing Section 2B, but the Knights are my dark horse and unfortunately the Skis are who they match up with. 

The Sleeper: Dark Horse, Upset and Sleeper all seem similar, especially when this quadrant has high-end teams as the headliners. To shake it up a bit, I’ll give a nod to the St. Paul Capitals. I assume Josh Kubitschek is still the ace of the staff and I’ve seen him throw 10-plus innings in a tournament game before. He’s good enough to cause problems for any team. 

Quadrant 2

Air Freight Unlimited vs. Northfield Knights

Champlin Park LoGators vs. Minneapolis Angels

St. Anthony Hogs vs. Moorhead Brewers

Chaska Cubs vs. Hopkins Berries

The Favorite: Air Freight has been my No. 1 team in the newly put together Class B since my second rankings of the year. So, they’re my favorite here. It’s become an echo chamber of “Laubscher, Laubscher, Laubscher” all year but he is that good and the rest of the team is dominant around him as well. The interesting part will be a potential matchup with Sam Riola in round two, with an equally good Champlin team behind him. This is a long tournament with a ton of really good teams, but that game has a chance to determine the 2023 champion. 

The Dark Horse: I’ve heard rumblings of Hopkins having a buzz saw arm this year. Not sure who it is or if it’s true. But IF that is true, a good arm can carry you out of your quadrant assuming you can find a few runs each game. 

The Upset: I’m not here to ruffle any feathers in our own quadrant, so I’ll go with Moorhead Brewers taking down my very own St. Anthony Hogs. If I’m right, so be it. If I’m wrong, then that’s great for us. We shall see.

The Sleeper: The Northfield Knights are a great sleeper and maybe my favorite in the entire tournament. Though they’re a No. 4-seed, they’re coming out of maybe the toughest section in the tournament and could be a top-two seed in any other. Running off a high after knocking out the 2022 champ, Rochester, they may just have the momentum needed to beat two of the top teams in the state and make a run.

Quadrant 3

Cold Spring Springers vs. North St. Paul Snowmen

St. Louis Park Pirates vs. Young America Cardinals

Miesville Mudhens vs. St. Paul Mudhens

Lyon’s Pub Warriors vs. Anoka Bucs

The Favorite: Pub should probably be the No. 1 overall seed in this tournament, but they were done no favors in being matched up with the No. 4 seed out of a great Metro Minny and a forecasted second round matchup against the greater of the two Mudhens. This being the case, I’m going with Cold Spring as the favorite out of this quadrant. Tons of tournament experience on this stage and a supremely talented and deep lineup. This is a stacked quadrant.

The Dark Horse: The St. Paul Mudhens used to be in our league and they were always a tough team. A team made up of youth can be a blessing and a curse, but this is the only team to take down Air Freight this year so they’re capable of beating anyone. 

The Upset: I wouldn’t bet on an upset in the first round, but if I’m forced to choose one, I’ll go with my dark horse, the St. Paul Mudhens, to shock Miesville early on.

The Sleeper: No. 4 seeds out of good sections are my favorite sleeper. Similar to Northfield, Anoka is a No. 4 seed that could be a top two seed in many other sections. Their road is extremely difficult but I’m sure they won’t go down quietly after being battle tested all year. 

Quadrant 4

Stockmen’s Irish vs. Moorhead Mudcats

Shakopee Indians vs. Plymouth HitDawg

Highland Park Beavers vs. Dundas Dukes

Coon Rapids Redbirds vs. Minneapolis Cobras

The Favorite: Stockmen’s Irish has been a top-five team all year and for good reason. Brody Paulson and Bryan Knight produce runs at a high rate in the middle of this lineup and they’re surrounded by a lineup of good bats with speed. Ryan Duffy is a top-end ace to lead the way and the rest of their staff can fill in just fine. Rumor has it Teddy Klingsporn got himself eligible and you never know when his flight from down south may come in…

The Dark Horse: It doesn’t seem right to have Dundas as a dark horse but as the No. 3 seed out of 1B, they find themselves in that position a bit. Really impressive playoff series win over New Market after a bit of a cold streak to wrap up their regular season. 

The Upset: Another popular pick, I’m sure, will be Minneapolis Cobras over Coon Rapids Red Birds. Coon Rapids is a good team but they were the unlucky No. 1 seed to draw the Minneapolis Cobras as the No. 4 seed out of section 5B. The Cobras have a number of deep runs in the Class A tournament the last few years, including champions in 2019 and second place in 2020. Injuries and absences plagued this group most of the year but I believe most of the guys are back and I’m sure will have their typical energy when they show up round one.

The Sleeper: Plymouth HitDawg may be the surprise of the year out of the old Class A teams. Went 9-3 in league play and have wins over Minnetonka, St. Louis Park, St. Anthony, Metro Knights, Elko, Cold Spring and Hopkins to name a few. Really impressive season out of these young bucks and it’ll be interesting to see what they can do in the tournament. 

Additional Pick

Championship:

Air Freight Unlimited def. Cold Spring Springers

Tom Kolar — Air Freight Unlimited

The 2023 state tournament is here, and we are days away from first pitch. There may be some mixed feelings about combining Class A and B, but I think this will be awesome and there will be a bunch of great baseball played.

Quad 1

Matchups:

St Pat vs St Paul Capitals

Baseball 365 vs Andover Aces

Sobieski Skis vs Metro Knights

Minnetonka Millers vs Victoria Vics

The Favorite: Minnetonka — They have been around forever and have won a lot of games. Their lineup still brings the punch 1-9 and they have pitching to go with it. No disrespect to Victoria, Metro Knights or Sobieski, but I don’t see them losing in the first two rounds. I would love to see St. Pat vs Tonka in the quarterfinals.

Teams to Watch: St Pat/Baseball 365 — I don’t know a ton about St. Pat. I know they have a bunch of Mankato guys which will obviously help. They took the No. 1 seed from Section 1B, which counts for something. I would expect this team to be there on the third weekend. Baseball 365 came in third in 2021 and second last year. They stomped us 9-0. Danner is a legit ace, and they have some thumpers in their lineup. The Rogers brothers are solid bats and Nate Behlen crushes baseballs.

The Dark Horse: St Paul Capitals — This may be a homer pick, but don’t forget that they were third in Class A in 2021. Not making the state tournament last year obviously rubbed them the wrong way, and Josh Kubitschek has been an ace for as long as I can remember. Guy just knows how to pitch. If their bats can get going this team could surprise a lot of people.

Team to win this quad: Tonka

Quad 2

Matchups:

Air Freight vs Northfield

Champlin Park LoGators vs Minneapolis Angels

St Anthony Hogs vs Moorhead Brewers

Chaska Cubs vs Hopkins Berries

The Favorite: Air Freight/ Champlin Park LoGators — I’m going with two favorites here because obviously I’m biased. I can talk all day about our team so I will try to be quick. Laubscher is arguably the best pitcher in the state and he’s having one of the best townball seasons I have seen (101 Ks in 49 Innings). Lineup is deep 1-9 and the defense is legit. 22-1 this year outscored opponents 168-28. (102-5 since July 10)

If there is anybody out there that is better than Graham, I would argue for it to be Sam Riola, who I think is the best all around town ball player in the state. Ethan Moochi can rake and they have a solid lineup. 

Teams to watch: Chaska Cubs, St Anthony Hogs — I don’t know a ton about Chaska other than they have great uniforms and the No. 1 seed from their section. They historically have been a good team and I expect them to have good pitching.

St Anthony is a gritty team who can compete with anybody in the state any night. Bennett Wiggins is a good ace, I’m not sure who else they have behind him. They are going to play good D, and manufacturer runs. 

The Dark Horse: Minneapolis Angels

They have good pitching and have lost two heartbreakers the last two years. If they can score some runs they are able to shut you down. I’m not sure they can get by Champlin but I would not be shocked.

Team to win this quad: Air Freight

Quad 3

Matchups

Cold Spring Springers vs North St Paul Snowmen

SLP vs Young America

Miesville Mudhens vs St Paul Mudhens

Lyon’s Pub vs Anoka Bucs

The Favorites: Lyon’s Pub/Miesville — Lyon’s pub has been great all year going undefeated in the P-Nash. They have good arms and a solid lineup and have won a lot of close games this year. Been an awesome season for them after missing out on State last year.

Miesville is a Class B mainstay. Joey Werner is Joey Werner, LaDoux hits baseballs very hard, Vandy is still raking, and it looks like they have some fresh blood there as well. Dickmeyer is back and will pound the zone like prime Dallas Kuechel while laughing at all the weak contact he generates. They are a veteran squad and have played in front of big crowds before, so the lights won’t be too bright.

Teams to watch: SLP/ St Paul Mudhens — SLP had one of the best state tournaments I have ever seen last year. They gave up one run in five games and dominated the entire way. I don’t know their record; I don’t have any stats on them. They are going to show up, toss a football around in the outfield before the game and then hit the ball while maybe letting the other team get to second once all game. 

St. Paul Mudhens gave us our only loss this year and have gotten back a lot of Northwoods talent. They are a young team and may just be naïve enough to go deep. I’m not sure if they will have all of their college guys but if so they will be a tough out.

The Dark Horse: Cold Spring Springers — Look, I know having a No. 1 seed as a dark horse is not very “out there” but I think they are the fourth- or fifth-best team in this quad. They have been to 98/100 state tournaments so they have experience. I can’t find their record or stats anywhere. They got an auto-bid out of Section 2 and won two seeding games, but that section may be harder to find info on then the Riverview League (Section 5). I would be surprised to see them win this quad.

Team to win this quad: Miesville

Quad 4

Matchups

Stockmen’s vs Moorhead Mudcats

Shakopee Indians vs Plymouth HitDawg

Highland Park vs Dundas

Coon Rapids vs Minneapolis Cobras

The Favorite: Stockmen’s Irish/ Minneapolis Cobras — This team can hit, Duffy is a top five pitcher in the state and Brody Paulsen has like 30 bombs this year. They have the ammo to make a run and a favorable draw in the first two rounds.

The Cobras are not your average No. 4 seed. They won state in 2019, runner-up in 2020 and third place in 2022. They have been a team to beat in Class A for years. They had a head-scratching P-Nash season but lost a bunch of close games and half their lineup was gone with injuries. They are all back now and they are raking. This team is too good to be a No. 4 seed.

Teams to Watch: Shakopee Indians/Coon Rapids — I really could list Dundas and Hit Dawg here as well but I’m trying to keep this under 2,000 words so I had to only pick two.

Shakopee Indians have been solid all year, the Schlepers are great. It looks like they have a good lineup, I can’t speak to their defense and I don’t know who they have pitching but I’m sure they are solid as well.

Coon Rapids Redbirds, No. 1 seed from the Metro Minny. It looks like they have good pitching and Jimmy Brinda having nine home runs in 30 games is pretty impressive. They got a really tough draw with the Cobras in round one, but if they win that they could make it to the third weekend

The Dark Horse: Highland Park — Highland is probably an out-there pick but they have been a constant in the Class A tournament the last three years. They are the most “townball” team there is in the STP league. They got smoked by Dundas this year but looking at that box score they had an Iron 9. I wouldn’t put much stock into that. Mitch Mo can deal, Corey throws 90, can rake (weird, I know) and the Selim twins are grinders. This team won’t hit a bunch of home runs but they will kill you by a thousand paper cuts.

Pick to win Quad 4: Cobras.

Final 4:

Freight vs Tonka

Miesville vs Cobras

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