Amateur baseball: Red Wing Aces know about Bird Island
Red Wing beat the Bullfrogs 4-3 on July 9 at Jordan, plus the Aces manager was the official scorer in Bird Island's 21-inning win Sunday
FARIBAULT — Justin Plein knows all about the Bird Island Bullfrogs.
Plein is the manager of the Red Wing Aces. They play Bird Island at 11 a.m. Saturday in the final weekend of the 99th annual state amateur baseball championship.
Besides his managerial duties, Plein also got about as good a peek at the Bullfrogs as could be imagined. He was the official scorer of Bird Island's 3-2, 21-inning victory over the Loretto Larks last weekend in Dundas.
Plein said he went up to Bird Island manager Mike Nagel to congratulate him after the victory, the longest game in state tournament history.
"Thank you for giving me plenty of innings to scout you guys," Plein said he told Nagel.
The scouting report on Red Wing suggests the Aces are certainly worthy of playing in the 48-team, three-weekend tournament's final weekend.
Red Wing has a 19-18 record, but plays in perhaps the toughest league in outstate Minnesota, the Classic Cannon Valley League. The CCVL includes a division of Class B teams including the Dundas Dukes, Miesville Mudhens and Rochester Royals.
"We also try to bring in some Class A teams during the week," Plein said. "We try to play as good a schedule as possible so that we're ready for right now."
Red Wing won the Region 5C championship. The Aces are coming off a 1-0 victory over the Watkins Clippers last weekend in Dundas. Aaron Johnson tossed a two-hitter in that one, striking out 10 and walking two.
Plein, however, said he plans to throw Ben Kuehni. The 6-foot, 160-pound left-hander is a 2020 Red Wing High School graduate who is on the baseball roster at St. John's University, though he only has pitched on the junior varsity so far.
"He doesn't throw hard," Plein said. "But he's been really good for us. He keeps you off-balance. He and our catcher, Dixon Irwin, a St. Mary's alum, do a really nice job working together."
The Aces started the season 0-9, but got better as the season wore on. Among their wins was a 4-3 decision over Bird Island in the Jordan Tournament. In that July 9 game at the Mini Met, Aidan Elfering went 6-1/3 innings for the Bullfrogs, before giving way to Eric Gass in the seven-inning game.
Red Wing recorded a walk-off win. The Aces went with Brady Schroeder and Johnson on the mound in that one.
Plein said he expects Atwater Chuckers draft pick Josh Kingery to start on the mound for Bird Island.
"He looks really, really good," Plein said.
The left-hander went the first 12 innings of the win over Loretto, striking out 13 and walking three.
The Bullfrogs, who won Region 4C, also used Jaret Dettmann and Casey Lewandowski, their ace, against Loretto. Besides Kingery, Atwater teammate Koby Holtz, a hard-throwing right-hander, also threw for Bird Island.
Plein expects a good game.
"I know Doc (Nagel, a state board member) pretty well," Plein said. "We talk quite a bit, text back and forth. They have a really good program."
The winner of Saturday's game advances to the quarterfinals at 11 a.m. Sunday in Faribault of the single-elimination tournament. A win there means another game at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in Faribault. The championship game is noon Monday in Faribault.
Bird Island has never won a state championship, though the Bullfrogs are in their fourth straight state tournament and have advanced to the final weekend for the second time in three years.
Red Wing is making its 33rd state tournament appearance since 1932, winning state titles in 1935, 1974, 1990 and '93.
State Class C pairings
Webster vs. Watertown, 7:30 p.m. at Faribault
Dumont vs. Stark, 7:30 p.m. at Dundas
Bird Island vs. Red Wing, 11 a.m. at Faribault
Buckman vs. Waconia, 1:30 p.m. at Dundas
Isanti vs. Delano, 1:30 p.m. at Faribault
Avon vs. St. Patrick, 4:30 p.m. at Dundas
Nisswa vs. New Ulm, 4:30 p.m. at Faribault
Jordan vs. Bluffton, 11 a.m. at Dundas