CLASS C PRESEASON RANKINGS: Who will rise to the top?

By Nick Gerhardt

How do you top last season’s Class C state tournament? It’s going to be tough after the 2022 tournament saw 18 one-run games and six that went to extra innings, including a state tournament record 21-inning affair between Bird Island and Loretto in the second round. We saw wild walk-off home run games, including back-to-back games in Dundas where St. Patrick defeated Avon 5-4 with a walk-off home run, only to fall to Delano 6-5 in the next game on a walk-off home run. There were also players flying in from North Dakota on game day and teams like Willmar and Richmond ending long state tournament win droughts. Meanwhile Nisswa mashed its way to its first state title over league foe Buckman. 

The 2023 100th anniversary state tournament has a tough act to follow, but the Class C field has parity once again and some familiar names in new places. 

Our pollsters took a look at the field to come up with their thoughts and some tournament darlings, like Webster left them impressed. 

Jordan has added significant pieces in Brandon Arnold and Tommy Thompson from Chanhassen while Delano has added several pieces, including Blake Ask and Marcus Riewer from the folded Blaine Fusion. Plus, the Sartell Muskies should return ace David Deminsky and Watkins should have its ace Matt Geislinger back after both missed the state tournament last season due to injury.

Will it be another Victory League team in the championship game for the third straight year or will someone from the Crow River, like Watertown, emerge and make good on its 2021 state runner-up finish? Perennial contender St. Patrick has moved to Class B for the next two seasons, which opens things up a little more in Class C this season, too. Find out what our pollsters think as we head into the season.

Chad Knutson — Heron Lake Lakers

1. Nisswa Lightning — 2022 state champs are my preseason No. 1. Nate DeChaine, Jeremiah Piepkorn and Kody Ruedisili lead the Lightning, who won their first title after being serious contenders the last decade and play in the tough Victory League with lots of success at state 

2. Buckman Billygoats — Victory League foes with Nisswa, state runner-up to the Lightning and led by Matt Tautges on the mound and slugger Noah Boser, who hit .520 at state and Jack Suska.

3. Delano Athletics — Lots of talent and it was on full display at last year’s tourney led by Toby Hanson and Trevor Jaunich, came up just short in the semis versus Nisswa. Look for the Athletics to make another run. They host the 100th annual state tournament. 

4. Watertown Red Devils — My No. 1 team all year last year, got knocked off in the semi by the hot Billygoats. Probably the deepest pitching staff and will be one the favorites again, led by veterans Pat Tschida and Zach Iten.

5. Jordan Brewers — Veteran team with lots of good young talent, a perennial contender, led by Scott Hollingsworth, the Beckman and Lucas boys

6. Bird Island Bullfrogs — Had a very good run. Beat a  good Waterville team before taking Loretto to 21 innings (state tournament record), Red Wing,1-0 in 13 innings, before Watertown got them in the Elite 8   

7. New Ulm Brewers — Won more than 30 games last year and went undefeated in the Tomahawk East. The Brewers have a deep pitching staff and scored a lot of runs last year, lost to state champs in round of 16. The Brewers as well as Stark Longhorns represented Region 2 well at state.

8. Bluffton Braves — A solid team from Region 14, led by the Dykhoffs. Beat a good Hutch squad in extras and lost to perennial power Jordan Brewers in a tight one. Lots of good young talent.

9, Webster Sox — Surprise team of the year last year, look for them to get better and better. Peter Tveite and Jordan Huwe are their two aces.

10. Dumont Saints — Another surprise team who rode the arm of Jordon Roos to Labor Day weekend, losing in the Elite 8 to state runner-up Buckman. Can they make another run? 

Should be another fun summer following these teams and seeing how they do and watching others try to rise in the rankings

Honorable Mention: Waconia Lakers, Luverne Redbirds, Red Wing Aces, Avon Lakers, Isanti Redbirds, Loretto Larks, Stark Longhorns, Bemidji Blue Ox, Watkins Clippers, St. Martin Martins, St. Clair Wood Ducks, Raymond Rockets, Fairmont Martins, Hutchinson Huskies, Urbank Bombers, Monticello Polecats, Hastings Hawks, Ada A’s, Elrosa Saints, Wanamingo Jacks

Aaron Worm — Albert Lea

1. Jordan Brewers

2. Watertown Red Devils

3. Nisswa Lightning

4. Waconia Lakers

5. New Ulm Brewers

6. Buckman Billygoats

7. Delano Athletics

8. Webster Sox

9. Waterville Indians

10. Faribault Lakers

Kip Kovar — Howard Lake

1. Delano A’s — The A’s were finally able to break through at the state tournament as they made it to the state semifinals. Not only did they return all their talent, but they got even better by getting Hunter Hart and Max Otto back for this season. If that’s not enough, they also added some big-time players that were signed in the offseason. The A’s are all in for the 100th anniversary of the state tournament, a tournament they’re hosting, and I expect them to be one of the favorites come August.

2. Watertown Red Devils — Coming off another deep state tournament run once again. Watertown will be just as good this season if not better. With St. Patrick out of the way now, they have to be one of the top favorites to win it all again this year. Pitching will still be their biggest strength and if the offense stays consistent they are as good as it gets.

3. Buckman Billygoats — One of the perennial state tournament teams across the state. Always seem to get it done when it matters most. Knocked out Watertown and Waconia (two best teams in the CRVL) on their way to reaching the state title game last year. I expect another big year for the Billygoats.

4. Nisswa Lightning — The defending champions deserve to be on this list. While I don’t see them repeating what they pulled off last year, you’re one of the best coming into this season if you won it all last year.

5. Jordan Brewers — Had another outstanding season overall and made it to Labor Day weekend once again last year. The Brewers are a consistent team as you’ll find which always makes them dangerous.

6. Bird Island Bullfrogs — The 2022 season for the Bird Island Bullfrogs was a memorable one, to say the least. Whether it was their second-round game against Loretto that went 21 innings or their thrilling 1-0 win over Red Wing in 13 innings, the Bullfrogs found that state tournament success they’ve been looking for. After getting a taste of success last year, watch out for Bird Island this season.

7. Waconia Lakers — They’ve been one of the top teams in the state for the past handful of years. Although the state tournament success hasn’t been there, the Lakers will be looking to run things back once again this year as they still have the pitching and talent to make them a top-10 team.

8. New Ulm Brewers — The Brewers skyrocketed up the rankings last year after dominating their way through the Tomahawk East League. They ran into a red-hot Nisswa team in the state tournament but New Ulm is a team that I’m keeping an eye on again this year.

9. Hutchinson Huskies — You can never count out the Huskies. Hutchinson has one of the most complete lineups in the state and they should be very good once again this year. After how last season ended in a tough loss to Bluffton in 12 innings in the state tournament, look for the Huskies to go on a revenge tour this year.

10. Webster Sox – Every year there seems to be a darling of the state tournament and last year it was the Webster Sox. From going to a team that was on a 50-plus game losing streak just a few years ago to winning two state tournament games a year ago, the Sox are a team on the rise and should be a fun one to watch this year.

Honorable Mention: Bluffton Braves, Dumont Saints, Isanti Redbirds and Bemidji Blue Ox

Tom Elliott — Willmar

1. Nisswa Lightning — All hail the Victory League, which had last year’s state Class C championship game in Faribault all to itself, with the Lightning beating fellow Victory League member Buckman in the final.

2. Buckman Billygoats — The Goats had quite the state run last year and will be another top team in the Victory League. Also, watch out for the Avon Lakers and the Pierz Lakers, who were also in last year’s state tournament.

3. Delano Athletics — These guys always seem to be in or near the top 10 and this year should be no different. The A’s will be one of the teams to beat in the North Star League.

4. Watertown Red Devils — The Crow River Valley is another tough league and the Red Devils were in the state semifinals last year.

5. Jordan Brewers — Here’s another team that always seems to be in the conversation of state powers.

6. Bird Island Bullfrogs — Bird Island is one of the teams to beat in the Corn Belt League, which includes the Raymond Rockets and Willmar Rails, who were both in last year’s state tournament.

7. Waconia Lakers — Here’s another team always in the state contender conversation and also another strong club from the Crow River Valley.

8. New Ulm Brewers — Expect the Brewers to be one of the Tomahawk League’s top teams.

9. Cold Spring Rockies — The Central Valley League always should be in the conversation of top Class C teams, with the Watkins Clippers and Kimball Express other noteworthy CVL teams.

10. Elrosa Saints — Elrosa looks like one of the top teams in the Stearns County League and Region 15C, where St. Martin and St. Martin are other teams to watch.

Class C Preseason Rankings

1. Nisswa Lightning (35)

2. Watertown Red Devils (32)

3. Buckman Billygoats (31)

4. Delano Athletics (30)

5. Jordan Brewers (28)

6. New Ulm Brewers (16)

7. Bird Island Bullfrogs (15)

7. Waconia Lakers (15)

9. Webster Sox (5)

10. Bluffton Braves (3)

Also receiving votes: Dumont Saints, Waterville Indians, Faribault Lakers, Hutchinson Huskies, Cold Spring Rockies, Elrosa Saints, Isanti Redbirds, Bemidji Blue Ox, Luverne Redbirds, Red Wing Aces, Avon Lakers, Loretto Larks, Stark Longhorns, Watkins Clippers, St. Martin Martins, St. Clair Wood Ducks, Raymond Rockets, Fairmont Martins, Urbank Bombers, Monticello Polecats, Hastings Hawks, Ada A’s and Wanamingo Jacks

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