Class C rankings: No title but a No. 1 ranking for Bird Island

A Bird Island player slides into second base to break up a double play.

By Nick Gerhardt

nickgerhardt@mnbaseball.org

The start of the 2024 Minnesota Baseball Association amateur baseball season has finally arrived. This season brings more questions than answers as teams prepare for reclassification in 2025 and the Class C field for 2024 has changed slightly.

Perennial state title contender Young America makes its return to Class C following two seasons in Class B. Last year’s semifinalist Bluffton deals with a postseason ban for 2024. We also saw several upstarts in last year’s state tournament with the Minneota Mudhens, Courtland Cubs, Veseli Warriors and Chisago Lakes Bulldogs. 

We asked our pollsters for their thoughts and despite Maple Lake beginning the season as the reigning champ, there wasn’t unanimity as to the Lakers starting the season ranked No. 1. Instead, our experts decided Bird Island, last year’s runner-up, should claim the top spot behind one first-place vote and a pair of second-place votes. Maple Lake did receive two first-place votes.

Buckman, a semifinalist last year and the 2022 runner-up, claimed the second spot. The Billygoats lost to Bird Island in last year’s semifinals. 

Last year’s state tournament host, Delano, claimed the No. 3 spot following a gaudy record that landed the Athletics in the quarterfinals before they fell 1-0 to Bluffton.

The final spots in the rankings might look familiar with Maple Lake at No. 4, 2024 state tournament host Jordan at No. 5 and 2022 state champ Nisswa at No. 6. The Lightning have added former MLB pitcher Blaine Hardy, who is the head coach at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.

Young America garnered votes to claim the No. 7 spot. New Ulm came in at No. 8. Webster, returning from a 2023 postseason ban, returns to the top 10 at No. 9 and Luverne claimed the No. 10 slot.

Tom Elliott — Willmar

1. Maple Lake Lakers — The state champs get to start at the top. 

2. Bird Island Bullfrogs — Bird Island is coming off its best finish in team history by taking second to Maple Lake last September.

3. Buckman Billygoats — This is a very good, young team that has a top-four finish last year and a second-place finish in 2022.

4. Nisswa Lightning — This is a team loaded with talent that won the state Class C championship in 2022.

5. Jordan Brewers — What would one of these polls look like without the Brewers in it?

6. Delano Athletics — This is another team that is always in the state conversation at the end of the season.

7. St. Martin Martins — The Martins advanced the furthest of any Stearns County League team in 2023.

8. Sartell Muskies — A veteran squad and one of the teams to watch in the Sauk Valley League.

9. Watkins Clippers — A top team in the Central Valley League that should be among the state’s top teams.

10. Raymond Rockets

Aaron Worm — Mankato

1. Maple Lake Lakers

2. Buckman Billygoats

3. Delano Athletics

4. Jordan Brewers

5. Webster Sox

6. Bird Island Bullfrogs

7. Young America Cardinals

8. Watkins Clippers

9. Nisswa Lightning

10. Watertown Red Devils

Kip Kovar — Howard Lake

1. Bird Island Bullfrogs — The Bullfrogs made their run last year that many thought they were capable of. They ultimately came up short in the state title game but they have a solid core of players to build around once again this year. I expect the season for Bird Island to be another exciting one.

2. Jordan Brewers — The Brewers came into last year’s state tournament as one of the more popular picks to win it all. Jordan ended up running into a red-hot Maple Lake team that ended up winning it all. As hosts of the state tournament this year, it’s unfinished business for the Brewers as they will be loaded once again.

3. Delano Athletics — Like Jordan, the A’s were a popular choice to win it all. They had another monster season last year coming up just short of the ultimate goal. Another year of experience for the younger guys combined with some darn good veterans make Delano another one of the top teams in the state heading into the 2024 season.

4. Buckman Billygoats — I don’t think I’ve ever had a ranking with the Billygoats not on them. One of the most consistent organizations in the state, Buckman should be in for another exciting season.

5. Nisswa Lightning — Nisswa is another one of those teams that always seem to be a factor. I believe the Lightning will once again be a top team this year.

6. Young America Cardinals — They’re back. After playing in Class B the past two seasons, the Cardinals make their return to Class C and immediately become a state title contender. It feels like the core of Young America is getting old but they’re extremely talented and still in their prime. The return of the Cardinals made things even more interesting in an already-loaded Crow River Valley League.

7. New Ulm Brewers — Region 2C has often been overlooked in the past few years. The New Ulm Brewers have changed that a lot as they have broken through at the state tournament. Playing in an underrated Tomahawk East League, New Ulm should be in store for another exciting season.

8. Maple Lake Lakers — The Lakers made a run to remember on their way to winning the state title last year. Maple Lake caught fire at the right time and will be looking to carry that momentum into the 2024 season.

9. Waconia Lakers — Every year the Waconia Lakers are a popular pick to make a deep postseason run. They’ve been close but haven’t been able to get it down. Is this the year?

10. Watertown Red Devils — For two seasons the Watertown Red Devils were one of the most dominant teams in the state, making deep postseason runs in back-to-back state tournaments. The 2023 season was a different story as they fell short of even qualifying for the state tournament. It’ll be interesting to see how the Red Devils respond in 2024 as the CRVL is loaded once again.

Chad Knutson — Heron Lake

1. Delano Athletics — Won over 30 games and potentially have the most talent in the state, my preseason pick to win it all. 

2. Bird Island Bullfrogs — Great run to the title game last year, outstanding talent and young team.

3. Buckman Billygoats — Always a great tourney team. They get tested all year in the Victory League.

4. Luverne Redbirds — Birds lost tough one to Bluffton, dominated all season with their good young core of players. They can make the final four.

5. New Ulm Brewers — A 30-win team and lead a tough Tomahawk East League. Deep pitching staff and a lot of speed throughout the lineup. Can score in bunches.. 

6. Maple Lake Lakers — Defending champs, got great pitching from the draftees and clutch hitting. Can they run it back?

7. Young America Cardinals — Back in Class C and the will be a favorite to make a deep run.

8. Watertown Red Devils — Got knocked out by Plato in regions, but will be hungry to make another run in the Crow River and state.

9. Webster Sox — Very good, young team led by Peter Tveiete and will be looking to prove how good they are. Play in tough DRS League.

10. Jordan Brewers — Perennial talented team, who is tough to beat. 2024 state tourney host, would not be surprised if they won it.

Honorable Mention

New Ulm Brewers, Hutchinson Huskies, St. Martin Martins, Union Hill Bulldogs, Raymond Rockets, Fairmont Martins, Waconia Lakers, Watkins Clippers, Nisswa Lightning, Courtland Cubs, Clearwater River Cats, Elrosa Saints, Ada A’s, Chisago Lakes Bulldogs, Kimball Express, Red Wing Aces

Class C Rankings (As of May 5)(Pts)

1. Bird Island Bullfrogs (33)

2. Buckman Billygoats (32)

3. Delano Athletics (31)

4. Maple Lake Lakers (28)

5. Jordan Brewers (23)

6. Nisswa Lightning (15)

7. Young America Cardinals (13)

8. New Ulm Brewers (10)

9. Webster Sox (8)

10. Luverne Redbirds (7)

Also receiving votes: St. Martin Martins, Sartell Muskies, Watkins Clippers, Watertown Red Devils, Waconia Lakers, Hutchinson Huskies, Union Hill Bulldogs, Raymond Rockets, Fairmont Martins, Courtland Cubs, Clearwater River Cats, Elrosa Saints, Ada A’s, Chisago Lakes Bulldogs, Kimball Express, Red Wing Aces, Raymond Rockets

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