Class C prognostications: Will it be Watertown on Labor Day?

By Nick Gerhardt

ScoreMonster Contributor

news@mnbaseball.org

There’s nothing quite like arriving at the state tournament for the opening night of play. You take in the sight of the field and the improvements to the park the hosts have made, savor the smells from the grill and anticipate the sound of the crack of a bat once the first pitch gets thrown. Then you get to watch excellent baseball through Labor Day, culminating with the Class C championship game.  

This year’s Class C tournament will have a new champion with Sobieski rising to Class B this season. The Skis have a unique opportunity to capture a B title this season after they reached the tournament through Section 2. 

We watched some amazing region tournaments that saw Delano claim a title after an opening round loss to Loretto, which made the tournament as a No. 8 seed from Region 12. Plus, we’ve got new teams from nearly every region, too. There will be some incredible matchups throughout and people are already talking about Kimball-Hutchinson in the first round. 

We asked our four experts for their analysis of the tournament and they obliged with their picks of a favorite, sleeper, dark horse and upset in each quad of the bracket. We thank them again for their service throughout the year by providing rankings for some townball chatter. 

The state tournament begins Friday with games at Faribault, Dundas and Miesville starting at 7:30 p.m. If you can’t make it to the park, or you want to catch what’s going on at the other sites, go to NSPNTV to catch all the action. 

If you haven’t subscribed to the MBA YouTube channel, you’re going to want to do it now because there is going to be a load of videos getting added to the channel.

Let’s see who the experts picked to navigate through the tournament.

Chad Knutson — Heron Lake Lakers

Quad 1: Loretto Larks, Waterville Indians, Bird Island Bullfrogs, Watkins Clippers, Pierz Lakers, Red Wing Aces, Milroy Irish, Webster Sox, Monticello Polecats, New York Mills Millers, Cold Spring Rockies, Watertown Red Devils

The Favorite — Watertown has been my top team all year and I will stay with them as my favorite. The Red Devils will have a tough matchup for their first game Labor day weekend as the top half of this quad is tough. 

The Darkhorse — Monticello Polecats, this is a good up-and-coming team that can really swing it. Champs out Region 11, they could surprise some teams.

The Upset — Webster Sox, making their first state appearance, will face a Milroy Irish team that won a club-record 29 games this season, led by Dominic Dolan, Tyler Peterson, Ben Heichel, Brady Lanoue and Derek Smith and will likely pitch, Windom Pirates draftee Collin Lovell. The Sox have two young stud pitchers, expect this to be a low-scoring game.

The Sleeper — Red Wing Aces, a little hard to be considered a sleeper as a region champ, but probably overlooked by some. They play a tough schedule and could make a run to Labor Day.

Quad 2: Hinckley Knights, Richmond Royals, Dumont Saints, Stark Longhorns, Maple Lake Lakers, Bemidji Blue Ox, Cannon Falls Bears, Buckman Billygoats, Luverne Redbirds, 

Waconia Lakers, Union Hill Bulldogs, Fergus Falls Hurricanes

The Favorite — Luverne Redbirds are my pick to win this quad and make a deep Labor Day run. They have the talent to win it all … deep pitching staff and can out-hit anyone. Jake Haugen, Ben Serie and Derek Lungren are their top three pitchers and all can swing just as well. Veteran Phil Paquette, still mashing, leads this Redbird squad. Solid 1-9 lineup.

The Dark Horse — Stark Longhorns, a lot of guts guys in this quad and they play hard. They play perennial state team in Maple Lake and Bemidji if they get by them. Region 2 has not had a lot of success at state and their region lost a state bid this, might have something to prove.

The Upset — Union Hill Bulldogs, play in the DRS that prepares them well, they get a Waconia Lakers team that is always a contender to win it all every year. I see the Bulldogs pulling the upset and potentially making in to the Sweet 16.

The Sleeper — Richmond Royals, the Royals are a No. 4 seed out of Region 15. They finished behind three teams in their region that could win it all and they have some good matchups and wouldn’t be surprised to see them playing into September. 

Quad 3: Gaylord Islanders, Brownton Bruins, Isanti Redbirds, Clinton Cards, Willmar Rails, Delano Athletics, Avon Lakers, Fairmont Martins, St. Martin Martins, Urbank Bombers, Sartell Muskies, St. Patrick Irish

The Favorite — St. Patrick Irish, these guys are my favorite to win this quad. They do not need many runs to win ball games as they play all three facets of the game well, but it definitely will not be easy with possibly six to eight others in the mix.

The Dark Horse — Fairmont Martins, still have a good nucleus from the state championship team in 2020, Tennyson and Chirpich bolster the pitching staff. Could be getting Derek Shoen (Mankato Moondogs) and Luke Becker (Wild Health Genomes) for another Labor Day push, both are swinging it extremely well this summer.

The Upset — Urbank Bombers, a teram that doesnt get much attention, but they beat two  good teams to get here in Alexandria and Sauk Centre. I can see them pulling off another vs Sartell, who is not the same team as they have been over the last decade.

The Sleeper — Brownton Bruins, the  Bruins are my sleeper because of Ryan Grams, almost nobody has been able to score off him when he is on the mound. If they get a little offense and Grams is dominant, they will be playing in September. 

Quad 4: Raymond Rockets, Wanamingo Jacks, Nisswa Lightning, Montgomery Mallards, Elrosa Saints, New Ulm Brewers, Ada Athletics, Plato Blue Jays, Jordan Brewers, Kimball Express, Hutchinson Huskies, Bluffton Braves

The Favorite — New Ulm Brewers, 30 wins on the year and a top five team all year. Can they continue their hot hitting into the state tournament? They have kind of hit a wall the last few years. They added some good arms in the draft to add to their already great deep staff.

Hutchinson, Kimball and Jordan are all right there as well.

The Dark Horse — Raymond Rockets, this team can rake, led by possibly the best catcher in the state in Ty Steen. If they can pitch it as well as they are hitting, look for them to make a lot of noise.

The Upset — Montgomery Mallards over the Elrosa Saints. Mallards first time back in state since 2016. Led by their ace Johnny Krocak. Elrosa has a solid squad that has an ace in Payton VanBeck.

The Sleeper — Bluffton Braves, a top 10 team for me early in the season, led by the Dykhoffs, who will keep the Braves competitive in every game. There are a few guys from their state legion championship team on the roster, so they know how to win.

Tom Elliott — Willmar

Here we go again. There are 48 teams in Class C that believe they have a shot at a state championship. About 20 of them legitimately do. In Class C, all it takes is a good run, a break here or there and likely some drafted pitching help. Do that five or six games in a row and you get the well-deserved trophy. Here’s one person’s opinion:

Upper bracket/Quad 1

The Favorite — The Watertown Red Devils are No. 1 in the state Class C rankings for a reason. Watertown’s my pick here.

Contenders — Bird Island, Monticello and Watkins. The Bird Island Bullfrogs are back in the tournament for the fourth year in a row and have a nice balance of young and veteran talent. I think there’s a chance they could replicate their 2020 Sweet 16 game with Watkins. Watch out for the Monticello Polecats. No, they haven’t done much in the past few state tournaments. But they were the best team in the Sauk Valley League this year and should make some noise.

Sleeper/upset special — I’m not sure how much of an upset it actually is, but how about the Loretto Larks beating the Waterville Indians in the first round? Loretto finished second in a strong Region 12C, upsetting No. 1 Delano in the first round. Waterville has been state-ranked most of the year and was No. 5 in the last poll, so the Indians are no pushovers and potential final four candidates. 

Upper middle bracket/Quad 2

The Favorite — This bracket is tricky. Let’s take the Waconia Lakers, who’ll need to get past a tough Union Hill Bulldogs squad in the first round before taking on Region 16C champion Fergus Falls. 

Contenders — The Dumont Saints deserve some respect. They’re back and have a first-round bye. Their first game is against the winner of Richmond and Hinckley, a winnable game. Luverne would be my other major contender. The Redbirds are always decent and also get to enjoy the first weekend off.

Sleeper/upset special — How about Buckman over Cannon Falls in the first round? The Billygoats, from Region 8C, are good enough to make it to the second weekend.

Lower middle bracket/Quad 3

The Favorite — Delano. The Athletics were ranked No. 2 in the last Class C state poll and are playing well. They’ll likely have to fend off the St. Patrick Irish to get to the final weekend.

Contenders — St. Patrick is ranked fourth in the state and likely has to get past the Sartell Muskies on the second weekend. Watch out for the Isanti Redbirds, who’ve had a great year in the Eastern Minny League.

Sleeper/upset special — Avon would need to get past Fairmont in the first round, then could beat St. Martin in the second round, though it’ll be difficult. I’m not sure Avon is exactly a sleeper. But watch out for them.

Lower bracket/Quad 4

The Favorite — The New Ulm Brewers are ranked third in the state. This might be their year.

Contenders — The Raymond Rockets will be tough. If they beat Wanamingo in the first round, they’ll face a strong Nisswa squad the second weekend. I’m never counting the Jordan Brewers out, either. Whoever wins the Hutchinson/Kimball game in the first round — that might be the best first-round game — also should contend. Both have the horses to get to the final four.

Sleeper/upset special — Let’s pick the Ada A’s over the Plato Blue Jays. It’s a longshot, yes. But somebody from northern Minnesota is going to win at state. Why not Ada? 

In the final four, let’s take Watertown over Waconia and Delano over New Ulm. I’ll take Watertown to win the whole thing. 

Aaron Worm — Albert Lea

Quad 1

The Favorite — Watertown. The Red Devils were the Cinderella team last year, getting to the finals before losing to Sobieski. Unfinished business this year for last year’s runners-up.

The Dark Horse — Red Wing.  Plays in a good region and one of those teams you never want to see in your quad. I like Red Wing to reach the final eight.

The Upset — Webster. Welcome to the Show Webster! A team that had never made it to a region, not only made it this year, but punched its first-ever ticket to state. This year’s Cinderella will win two.

The Sleeper — Waterville. Maybe the most dangerous No. 3 seed coming out of any region.  Not a far drive to Faribault or Dundas from Waterville, so the Indians should see good crowds

Quad 2

The Favorite — Waconia. Really talented team that had to settle for second behind Watertown in their region. I see a Crow River Final Four matchup between the Lakers and Watertown.

The Dark Horse — Bemidji. The Blue Ox have a been a constant at the state tourney for many years, I don’t think they are going to surprise anyone if they are the team to come out of this quad.

The Upset — Richmond. Talking to other media members during the bracket reveal, a lot of praise for this team, that I have beating Hinckley and Dumont to get to Labor Day weekend.

The Sleeper — Union Hill. I thought the Bulldogs got one of the toughest draws to open the tournament, matching up with Waconia. Talented team, that if they can get by the Lakers, Dogs could go on a run.

Quad 3

The Favorite — St. Patrick. The Irish are headed to Class B next season, unless another class is added in amateur baseball. St. Patrick probably has the deepest pitching staff in the tourney.  The Irish started the season 1-2, and have not lost since. They are my pick to win on Labor Day.

The Dark Horse — Isanti. A team I am not very familiar with, but have been told on Twitter numerous times these guys are good. I have them getting to Labor Day weekend but then falling to Delano.

The Upset — Sartell. The Muskies over Urbank in the first round. I think as the third seed in their region they get out of round one, but no farther, matching up with St Patrick in round two.

The Sleeper — Fairmont. I heard they are missing some pieces from the 2020 state champion team that cruised to a state title, and did not participate last year at state. I assume there is a chip on their shoulders, I have them winning two and getting to Labor Day weekend.

Quad 4

The Favorite — Jordan.The Brewers always seem to get a tough draw and this year is no different, with the possibility of Plato, Hutchinson and New Ulm on their way to winning this quad. Experienced team that is in the conversation to win the whole thing, something they last did in 2019.

The Dark Horse — Montgomery. Quack Quack to my hometown team. The Ducks led by the arm of Johnny Krocak could surprise many at state. I only have them winning one game, but it wouldn’t surprise me if  they win more than that. Home-grown team made up of players who at one time went to Montgomery-Lonsdale or now Tri-Ctiy United Schools. 

The Upset — Wanamingo. The Jacks will get by Raymond, coming out of a good region. I see this quad as the second-best quad behind quad 3. Wanamingo could also be a sleeper team.

The Sleeper — Hutchinson. You win 19 games in league play, but the Huskies had to settle for the third seed coming out of their region. They are in my pool of six to eight teams that could win the whole thing. Hutchinson/Kimball pretty marque round one matchup.

Kip Kovar — Howard Lake

Quad 1

The Favorite: Watertown Red Devils — There was no hangover for Watertown after losing in the state title game a year ago. Watertown dominated the regular season in the Crow River Valley League and won the Region 7C tournament, beating Waconia twice. It’s going to be hard to repeat what they did last year but it’s also hard to pick against them. With four legit starters and four or five bullpen weapons, the Red Devils are set up nicely to represent the CRVL deep into the tournament once again.

The Dark Horse: Watkins Clippers —  There was no Matt Geislinger on the mound for the Clippers in the final weekend of their region tournament. Still, the Clippers found a way to get back to state. Watkins opened the season as one of the top 10 teams but dropped out of the rankings later on. Even without Geislinger, the Clippers are a talented bunch who seem to always play well this time of year.

The Upset: Webster Sox over Milroy Irish. Aaron Worm talked me into this one. The Sox have two legit arms to use on opening weekend and pitching reigns supreme this time of year. Webster is used to playing tough teams in the DRS. First-timers often don’t fare well, but the Webster Sox can get the Twitter account fired up as they move on to the second weekend.

The Sleeper: Waterville Indians — If the Indians can get past Loretto who is red-hot, I like their chances to make some noise. A perennial state tournament team that knows how to win. A matchup with Bird Island in the second round could be one of the best of the second weekend.

Quad 2

The Favorite: Waconia Lakers — Flying under the radar a bit this year, the Waconia Lakers are still a legitimate state title contender. The Lakers have one of the best lineups in the state and have the pitching to go with it. After coming up short in their own park at state last year, look for Waconia to bounce back with a deep state tournament run this year.

The Dark Horse: Luverne Redbirds — A really good team that I haven’t got to see play much. The talent is there and the Redbirds could be one of those teams that rise to the top that nobody is talking about.

The Upset: Maple Lake over Stark. The North Star League might have been the best league in the state this year. After losing their first game of the Region 12C tournament, bounced back with wins over Cokato and Litchfield to return to state. The Lakers are a well-balanced team with pitching and hitting. Maple Lake often gets overlooked but always seems to make it to Labor Day weekend.

The Sleeper: Bemidji Blue Ox — Always seem to make it to Labor Day weekend and no one really ever talks about them. The Blue Ox are for real and a team that might surprise a few people once again.

Quad 3

The Favorite: This section of the bracket is absolutely loaded with talented teams. Isanti, Delano, St. Martin and St. Patrick are all state title contenders and only one can make it out of this section. I’ll go with St. Patrick being the favorite as they’ve been the most consistent team all year. The Irish are loaded with talent and got even better through the draft. St. Patrick is in their final year of Class C most likely and will be a favorite to win it all for a lot of people. 

The Dark Horse: Delano A’s — When it comes to talent, Delano has just as much if not more than anybody. It just hasn’t resulted in wins on the big stage. The A’s are 0-4 in the past four state tournament appearances but that changes this year. They got a legit ace through the draft and this is the year Delano makes some noise at the state tournament.

The Upset: Brownton over Gaylord. The Bruins are back at the state tournament for the first time since 2016. Ryan Grams is a big reason why. The ultimate gamer, Grams turns in another signature performance on the mound for the Bruins and his teammates back him up with the bats as Brownton moves on to round two. 

The Sleeper: Fairmont Martins — It was only two years ago the Martins were celebrating a state title. After missing out last year, Fairmont is back again. Although they lost a few key players from the state title team, Fairmont is a team to be taken seriously again this year. 

Quad 4

The Favorite: Jordan Brewers — One of the top teams in Class C in my opinion. They often get forgotten about but it was another dominant and impressive season for the Brewers this year. I like the draw they got and it could be another special season for Jordan, which returns an experienced and talented group to the state tournament.

The Dark Horse: Hutchinson Huskies — One of the most explosive offenses in the state. Won 20-plus games in a row before dropping back-to-back games in the Region 12C tournament. Have hit more than 30 home runs as a team as their lineup is stacked. Got a tough draw with Kimball in the first round but if they can get past the Express, look for the Huskies to be playing on Labor Day weekend.

The Upset: Plato over Ada. The Blue Jays were one of the most consistent teams in the CRVL all year long. While their ceiling might not be as high as Waconia or Watertown, the Blue Jays have a chance to make some noise. Assuming Adam Prehn is ready to go, Plato can roll out him along with Drew Hedtke and hold opposing teams in check on the mound. The Blue Jays do the little things and that will be the difference as they move on to round two.

The Sleeper: Raymond Rockets — Another team that isn’t that far off from claiming a state title. The Rockets are always a good team and play well in this format. I look for them to make some noise and even reach Labor Day weekend.

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