Amateur Baseball: Area teams ready for journey to state title
A quick start will be imperative for the three area teams opening play in the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament the next two weekends.
For the first time this season, the Class C field has been expanded to 48 teams, but those teams will get just one shot and keeping their seasons alive since the tournament also for the first time has adop-ted a one-and-done format instead of double elimination.
"I told our guys that if we play well we have a good chance of winning," said Bird Island manager Mike Nagel, whose Bullfrogs play Ada in the first round at 7:30 p.m. today at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud. "We have a lot of good, young players, but if we don't play well, it can be over in a hurry. There's not a lot of margin for error."
The tournament will be played at Putz and Joe Faber Field, both in St. Cloud's Municipal Athletic Complex.
Bird Island's Region 11C rival Raymond returns to the tournament to play Waterville at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Region 15C champion New London-Spicer is one of 16 top seeds in the tournament and has the week off before taking on the Belle Plaine-Leavenworth winner on Aug. 26 at 5:30 p.m.
Region 11C and Cornbelt League champion Milroy also is a top seed and opens again the Loretto-Wilmont winner on Aug. 25 at 2 p.m.
NLS well-armed for tourney
The Twins have a solid ace in Kevin Soine and they stocked up for a tournament run by adding even more reliable arms, especially draftee Brad Mergen, of Farming. Mergen threw 7-2/3 innings, allowing six hits and striking out nine Twins in NLS' 1-0 win over the Flames in the region tournament.
Twins manager Jamie Scheevel said the team hasn't chosen a state tournament starter yet.
"We wouldn't be where we are without Kevin," Scheevel said. "But Brad can really throw the ball. It's a tough decision but it's a fun one to have. We have some solid arms we can trust so we just have to play solid defense behind them. We know we can hit the ball."
The Twins, 18-7 overall, are riding a seven-game winning streak and have won 14 of their last 16. To keep that edge, the team traveled on Friday to scrimmage against 12C No. 1-seed Howard Lake.
"We're playing our best baseball of the year right now," Scheevel said. "Our pitchers are throwing strikes, the defense is making plays and we've been getting some timely hits. We're due for a break-out game."
Bird Island: Good and young
The Bullfrogs (19-13) will make only their second state tournament since the team was founded in 1990 and its first trip since 1998.
It will be young outfit, too. Except for starting pitcher Jesse Bjur and veteran Mark Neubauer, the other Bird Island starters will all be 21 years or younger.
Bjur leads the team with a 6-2 mark and a 3.84 earned-run average. Ben Maiers, a 2012 Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart graduate, leads the team hitting .328 and Tyler Hebrink is hitting .327 average with 23 RBI. Neubauer is hitting .316 with a team-leading 24 RBIs and is the team's hottest hitter, Nagel said.
"He's really playing well," Nagel said. "He starts slow but he's hitting about .450 the last half of the season."
Nagel told his young players to get to Putz early to take in the atmosphere and get ready. He doesn't doubt they will.
"This has been one of my most enjoyable years," Nagel said. "These guys come for games and practices and you almost have to shoo them off the field. They love the game, they come early and stay late and just like being around the game."
Raymond a tournament regular
The Rockets earned their return trip to the Class C state tournament by finishing second in the Region 11C tournament last weekend.
In fact, the Rockets are making fairly regular trips to the tournament in the last 10 years.
Raymond opened this year's region with a 5-2 win over Cold Spring, then took out Eden Valley 11-6 in last Sunday's semifinals to set up a showdown with Milroy in the winners bracket.
But the Rockets fell just short of a earning a shot for the 11C top seed, falling to the Yankees 1-0.
Rain last week forced the cancellation of the loser's bracket final and the overall final and Milroy was awarded the top seed, followed by the Rockets and Bird Island, all of which qualified for the state tournament.
This will be the Rockets' sixth trip to the Class C tournament since 2004. They made three straight trips from 2004 to 2006, and on Sunday they will make their third straight appearance (2010-2012).
Last year, the Rockets opened the tournament with an 8-5 win over Brandon-Evansville but lost in the second round to Big Lake 4-2.