CLASS C PROGNOSTICATORS: Memories wait to be made at the 100th state tournament

By Nick Gerhardt

news@mnbaseball.org

Photo via: Jim Wellbrock

There are a lot of storylines heading into the 100th Minnesota Baseball Association amateur baseball state tournament. Fortunately, we’ve got a panel of experts to break it all down. 

The 2022 state tournament provided excitement all the way through with 18 one-run games and six that went to extra innings, one of which set a state record at 21 innings. 

With Delano hosting the state tournament, the Athletics will have the spotlight on them squarely to begin the tournament and why not? They’ve been the No. 1-ranked team the second half of the year, earning it unanimously in the last two polls. 

There are also the perennial contenders in Jordan, which won the 2019 title in Delano. Defending champion Nisswa is back and draws Carver to start the tournament. Runner-up Buckman is back, this time as a region champ and a first-round bye. And Faribault returns after a hiatus, this time with a new ace in Jake Petricka, who you might have heard about. 

We’ve also got teams in the tournament for the first time since 1945 and 1936 in Courtland and Minneota, along with others who experienced long absences in Veseli, Carlos and Chisago Lakes. 

How the tournament shakes out is anyone’s guess, but it’ll be fun to watch. Once again, we can’t thank our pollsters enough for their diligence throughout the season. It’s not an easy task and they do tremendous work. So, we’ll let them sum up their thoughts.

Aaron Worm — Mankato

Quad 1

The Favorite — Delano, I would say many brackets being filled out, will have the A’s winning the whole thing, or at least in the finals. 33-2 on the year, 19-1 in their home ballpark. Max Otto is the ace, 10-0 on the season, ERA of 1.63 with 102 strikeouts in 77 innings.  Batting .316 as a team. It would be a great story celebrating 100 years of the tourney with Delano winning on their home field.

The Dark Horse — Plato, when you see the name Plato, many would not associate this club ever being a dark horse, a four-time state champion, they got bounced in the first round last year by Ada. With the win over Watertown in the region tournament, the Jays eliminated a tournament favorite and drafted a couple of Red Devil arms in Pat Tchida and Zach Iten. If any team has a shot to prevent Delano from winning this quad it’s this team.

The Upset — Monticello over Raymond. This is one of the marquee matchups of opening weekend. The Polecats ran into Cinderella last year (the Webster Sox) losing their first game after winning the Region 11 title. This year they come in as the fourth seed in the region, a little bit under the radar. Raymond is good, but I must pick an upset in this quad, so I am going with the Polecats to win two and get to Labor Day.

The Sleeper — Minneota Mudhens, when you see the nickname Mudhens, you instantly think Miesville. Welcome to these Mudhens, first-time in the state tournament since 1936, and region champions. Tied with three other teams at 10-2 for the top spot in the Land O’ Ducks League. Tough bracket with a potential Labor Day weekend matchup with tournament favorite Delano.

Quad 2

The Favorite — Jordan Brewers, 31-2 on the season. Couple of familiar names leading the offense, in Nate Beckman who is batting .444 and Joe Lucas at .420. The Brewers got to the Final 8 last season before losing to the eventual champs Nisswa. A possible matchup with Green Isle to open their tourney play, is a tough way to start, but this veteran team has been there and done this many times. The team with the best shot of stopping Delano from making the finals.

The Dark Horse — Courtland Cubs, welcome back to the Show. First visit since 1945. That is the year World War II ended, so the Cubs were due. Winners of their region and they knocked off a good New Ulm team to take the top seed. Do these Cubs have some magic like the North Side had in Chicago in 2016. I heard from a co-worker Courtland has good pitching and with that a trip to the Final 8 is a possibility. This team could be the story of the tournament when it’s all set and done.

The Upset — Veseli over Chisago Lakes. The Warriors are in my backyard and a remarkable story out of Region 3. 4-17 during the regular season, they lost to Lonsdale in the first round of the regions, and then came back with wins against St Benedict, Montgomery and Lonsdale to punch their second state trip ever, first since 2002. Bill Dunker has been a mainstay at the tourney if not there with St. Patrick, being a draftee, and now as manager of the Warriors. If they do pull off the win, it will be a heck of a party at Brewster’s on Saturday night.

The Sleeper — Union Hill. The Bulldogs have had some of the toughest draws to open the tourney the last couple of years, including Waconia last year. This year it isn’t any easier with an opening round matchup against Maple Lake. You know I have a little bias toward DRS teams, and Conrad Masberg is a guy that can pitch the Bulldogs to Labor Day weekend. If it wasn’t for a Faribault comeback in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday, the Dogs would have had an opening-round bye.

Quad 3

The Favorite — Buckman.  The Goats beat the defending Champs in Nisswa three times this season and could see the Lightning for the fourth time this year in the state quarterfinals. The Goats have won 14 in a row and come in red hot to the state tourney. Last year’s runners-up will look to finish the job this year on Labor Day Monday

The Dark Horse —Faribault. The DRS has not seen much activity in the top 10 rankings this year. The league has two teams not eligible for the tournament (Webster and Prior Lake). But the league has a chance to make a lot of noise, thanks to the Lakers. Jake Petricka (former MLB Relief Pitcher from 2013-2021) can lead this team to the Final 8, by winning just two starts.  Throw in three Montgomery Mallard draftees, including Johny Krocak, the veteran Rost brothers, and the heart of the team in Joey Grote, I have the Lakers getting to at least the Final 8 against Buckman.

The Upset — Waterville over New Ulm. Both teams have been in my top 10 this season. 13/60 vs the Tomahawk East, another marquee game on opening weekend. Waterville had to win three elimination games to advance out of Region 6C. It would set Waterville up for a Hwy. 60 battle with Faribault in Round 2.

The Sleeper — Hutchinson. They only fit this role, because Delano is the talk of the tournament and the North Star League. But the Huskies are no strangers to the Dance and lost a 12-inning affair to Bluffton in the Round of 32 last year. Round of 16 matchup against Buckman would be a great game on Labor Day weekend.

Quad 4

The Favorite — Waconia. I haven’t mentioned the team I have winning the whole thing until now. The Lakers had to score three in the bottom of the ninth to come back and beat Plato in the region final to take the top seed. They do have losses this season to both Faribault and Delano, but I think they avenge both on their way to their first title. Waconia added three good arms in the draft, including Blake Tritch from Mayer. State runner-up in 2011, Waconia finally gets it done this year.

The Dark Horse — Watkins. Being the No. 3 seed out of their region, the Clippers might be flying under the radar a little bit. With that being said I have two words “Matt Geislinger” manager and ace of the Clippers can pitch his team to the Final 8. Tough second-round matchup against Waconia, but if Watkins can pull off that upset, they go from Dark Horse to tournament favorite quick.

The Sleeper — Bird Island. A team that I know I have not given enough credit to over the years. Why a sleeper?  Going into region play, Delano, Jordan and Watertown seemed to be overwhelming favorites to win the whole thing. Watertown did not qualify and Delano and Jordan sit on the other side of the bracket. Good pitching gets you to the final days of the tournament, and like many teams in the tourney, the Bullfrogs have that, led by Dylan Gass with a 0.29 ERA (according to their website) They could be the overall tournament sleeper and surprise everyone on Labor Day.

Tom Elliott — Willmar

The Delano Athletics are No. 1 in the state Class C rankings and have lived up to it in the Region 12C playoffs, where they dominated. The Jordan Brewers were No. 3 in the last poll and are really good. Buckman and Nisswa are two of the best coming out of Region 8C and considering they were in last year’s championship game (won by Nisswa), have good shots to be there again.

Once again, the Class C field is close. Of the 48 teams, you could make a case for half the clubs having a decent chance of winning it or at least getting to the state championship game. Here’s a look at the field:

Quad 1

The Favorite — Delano’s got the first-round bye and with a 33-2 record, outscoring opponents 20-0 in three regional wins. The Athletics are the team to beat.

Contenders — Elrosa, Raymond and Plato are all really good teams more than capable of getting to the second weekend.

Sleeper/upset special — Minneota won the Region 9C title, so it’s hardly an upset. But the Mudhens haven’t been to state since 1936, so getting this far is an achievement. They could surprise.

Quad 2

The Favorite — This is Jordan’s quad. The Brewers are perennial favorites, but this might be their best team in recent years.

Contenders — Sartell Muskies, Maple Lake Lakers and Nisswa Lightning. All these teams are capable of long runs. Sartell’s a veteran team with a handful of guys from their 2013 championship steam. Maple Lake is always in the middle of things and Nisswa is defending state champion and a runner-up in 8C.

Sleeper/upset special — Courtland. These guys won Region 2C and are making their second state appearance in team history, but their first since 1945.

Quad 3

The Favorite — Buckman. The Billygoats were state runners-up last year and won Region 8C, going back and forth with Nisswa during the season. 

Contenders — Cannon Falls, Waterville, Faribault. Cannon Falls is the Region 5C champ. Waterville and Faribault may meet in the second round if Waterville beats New Ulm, which should be a great first-round game.

Sleeper/upset special — Luxemburg. The Brewers are the second seed from 11C and have a lot of talent. They’ll need to deal with Loretto and Koskie clan in the first round.

Quad 4

The Favorite — Waconia. The Lakers play in one of the state’s toughest regions in 7C. They’re always in the conversation this time of year.

Contenders — Bird Island, St. Martin. Bird Island aims for the final weekend again after some wild wins last year, including a 21-inning victory over Loretto and then a 13-inning win over Red Wing. St. Martin won Region 15C and is one of the Stearns County League’s top teams, especially when Scott Lieser is pitching.

Sleeper/upset special — I don’t know if either of these teams is a sleeper, but Watkins vs. Carlos in the first round should be an interesting game. Watkins is led by left-hander Matt Geislinger, who is as good as it gets on the mound in Class C. Carlos should have ace pitcher JD Hennen, a hard-throwing right-hander from Augustana University. 

In the final four, I’ll go with Delano over Jordan and Buckman over Waconia, with Delano beating the Billygoats in the championship.

Chad Knutson — Heron Lake

Quad 1 

Roseau Royals, Spring Hill Chargers, Delano Athletics 

Elrosa Saints, Hadley Buttermakers, Minneota Mudhens

Raymond Rockets, Monticello Polecats, Bluffton Braves

Plato Blue Jays, St. Stephen Steves, Luverne Redbirds

Favorites — Delano Athletics, primed to make it to Labor Day weekend, top team all year. Can the host win it all? They definitely have the talent.

Contenders — Luverne Redbirds, Raymond Rockets, Plato Blue Jays, Elrosa Saints, all four of these teams are stacked with arms. I like Luverne’s chances to make a deep run if they can consistently hit, runs have been hard to come by in the past couple of state tourneys, but this may be the year for them.

Sleeper/upset — Minneota making it state for the first time as the Mudhens (2009). Cohesive group that plays the game the right way and I can see them winning a game. Bluffton is a region champ and the Dykoffs are tough and lots of talent around them. I would like to see a Redbird vs. Braves matchup.

Quad 2 

Jackson Bulls, Green Isle Irish, Jordan Brewers

Chisago Lakes Bulldogs, Veseli Warriors, Fergus Falls Hurricanes

New York Mills Millers, Regal Eagles, Sartell Muskies

Union Hill Bulldogs, Maple Lake Lakers, Courtland Cubs

Favorites — Jordan Brewers — perennial team, who has veterans and know how to win at state. They are a tough out for any team. Tough matchup with Green Isle-Jackson, both can give the Brewers trouble.

Contenders — Maple Lake Lakers from the tough North Star and Union Hill Bulldogs from the DRS.

Sleeper/Upset — Courtland Cubs, a very good young team, that is making state for the first time in a long time. They hit extremely well and will have a tough matchup with either Union Hill or Maple Lake. The Regal Eagles could also make some noise, beat a very good Raymond team in  regions.

Quad 3 

Nisswa Lightning, Carver Black Sox, Cannon Falls Bears

New Ulm Brewers, Waterville Indians, Faribault Lakers

Hutchinson Huskies, Fairmont Martins, Hinckley Knights

Dumont Saints, Kimball Express, Buckman Billygoats

Favorites — Probably the toughest quad top to bottom, but I will go with the Buckman Billygoats as my favorite.

Contenders — Nisswa, New Ulm and Faribault — Defending State Champs Nisswa has a gauntlet to get back to the title game. New Ulm vs. Waterville will be very intriguing game, winner gets a strong Faribault team

Sleeper/Upset— Fairmont Martins — When they have the full lineup there, they can beat anybody, tough first round matchup with Hutch. I can see them winning two games and have a potential game with the Billygoats and anything can happen on Labor Day weekend.

Quad 4 

Luxemburg Brewers, Loretto Larks, St, Martin Martins

Red Wing Aces, Avon Lakers, Hibbing Miners

Carlos Cougars, Watkins Clippers, Waconia Lakers

Blue Earth Pirates, Stark Longhorns, Bird Island Bullfrogs

Favorites — Waconia Lakers and Bird Island Bullfrogs — Lakers are a veteran team, but can they get by the Geislinger squad, should they meet Watkins. The Frogs had a great run last year and have played extremely well this year, could easily win the whole tournament with that roster.

Contenders — Watkins Clippers, St, Martin Martins, both have stud pitchers and can carry them deep. 

Sleeper/Upset — Avon Lakers are a very good No. 4 seed out of Region 8. I can see them winning two games and the Stark Longhorns made a good run last year. Can they upset the Bullfrogs if they get there? 

My Final 4 –  Luverne, Jordan, Buckman, Bird Island

Jordan over Luverne and Buckman over Bird Island

Buckman beating Jordan in championship

Kip Kovar — Howard Lake

QUAD 1

The Favorite: Delano Athletics — The A’s have been ranked as one of the top teams in Class C all season long. After making a run to the semifinals last year, Delano will be looking to be the first team since 2004 to win a state title in their own ballpark. Delano has answered the challenge all season long. They’ve added a few talented players and got a few core guys back as well. The Region 12C title gave them a much-needed bye to rest up and get healthy also while adding some legitimate arms to the rotation of what is already a strong staff.

The Dark Horse: Bluffton Braves — With a name like Dykhoff, it has to be good. The Bluffton Braves are always one of the most overlooked teams in the state and I’m not falling into that trap this year. The Braves are as good as it gets and the pitching is good enough to keep them in games. They come in battle-tested, coming out of the loser’s bracket to win Region 14C.

The Upset: Spring Hill over Roseau — The Chargers are making their second state tournament appearance in the past three years. They knocked off a really good Delano team in the first round in 2021 and I think they pull off another upset this year.

The Sleeper: Plato Blue Jays — The Blue Jays have two aces already in Drew Hedtke and Reece Schwirtz. They knocked off Watertown (Ranked No. 2 in Class C) to secure their spot in the state tournament. With the addition of Pat Tschida (Watertown) from the draft combined with the emergence of Will Hoernemann, Plato has a chance to surprise a lot of people if it continues to play well defensively and get the bats going.

QUAD 2

The Favorite: Jordan Brewers — A popular pick to win it all. It was business as usual for the Brewers as they come in as a legitimate title contender. The addition of a few Chanhassen guys along with a veteran and talented lineup will make the Brewers a tough out no matter who they play.

The Dark Horse: Sartell — The Muskies are back and they have their ace pitcher David Deminsky to lean on. If the offense gets going, Sartell will be a tough out with a great pitching staff.

The Upset — Veseli wins two. Not only will the Warriors win their opener, they’re headed to Labor Day weekend after knocking off Fergus Falls in the second round. A team that took a big step forward this year with some young talent that I think makes some noise this tournament.

The Sleeper: Maple Lake — The Lakers are really the only team that pushed Delano in the North Star League this season. They finished second in the NSL standings and gave Delano all it could handle in their pair of matchups. Hunter Malachek can lead them to a pair of wins on the mound and at the plate and they have a nice supporting cast around him to make a run.

QUAD 3

The Favorite: Buckman — The Billygoats are back once again and always a threat to win it all. They finished as the runners-up a year ago and they’ve been one of the top-performing teams in the state tournament the past few seasons making them the favorite in this quad.

The Dark Horse: Faribault — It’s been a while since the Lakers have been at state but the drought is over. Faribault is an experienced group with a legitimate ace in Jake Petricka. After missing out last year and not getting to play on their field in the state tournament, look for the Lakers to make a run.

The Upset: Kimball over Dumont. Just have a feeling about this one.

The Sleeper: Waterville —   They have one of the toughest draws in the first two rounds but the Indians are a team that not many people are talking about. After being ranked in the top 10 almost all of last year and losing in the first round, Waterville can be a sneaky team to watch and give Faribault a run in the second round if they can get past New Ulm.

QUAD 4

The Favorite: Bird Island — The Bullfrogs made headlines last year with some exciting games and wins in the state tournament. Josh Kingery was added to the squad through the draft once again and I see Bird Island as a legitimate state title contender.

The Dark Horse: Waconia — For the past five years or so the Waconia Lakers have been a top 10 team in Class C. They just haven’t had the postseason success some have expected out of them. This could be the year the Lakers put things together and make a deep run as they got even better through the draft from a talented Region 7C.

The Upset: Loretto over Luxembourg and St. Martin. The Larks know how to win this time of year. They are an experienced group with some young talent. Although the four seed out of Region 12, Loretto has the pieces to make a deep run and surprise people.

The Sleeper: Stark Longhorns — Success has been rare for Region 2 teams over the years. That was until last year. Both Stark and New Ulm made runs in the state tournament a year ago and I think the Longhorns have another run in them despite a tough matchup with Bird Island if they get past the first round.

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