The Sobieski Skis, Waconia Lakers, Avon Lakers and St. Patrick Irish are the best bets to get to the final four of the state Class C amateur baseball tournament this year.
After examining the bracket, listening to a podcast or two and assessing how teams have done this year, it’s the best that I can come up with. Ask me after the weekend, of course, and everything will change.
In other words, don’t bank on these predictions, which I’ve been doing for years. They’re rarely right.
This year’s state tournament began Friday night in Waconia, Chaska and Hamburg. The state Class C tournament, which includes all of the West Central Tribune area’s teams, is a single-elimination, 48-team tournament. Thirty-two teams play this weekend, with the 16 region champions getting a first-round bye.
Two area teams — the Bird Island Bullfrogs and Paynesville Pirates — have qualified. Both are capable of long runs. Bird Island got into the final weekend’s elite eight last year, it’s best run under manager Mike Nagel.
Getting back is a notable achievement because Bird Island lost two of its top players, pitcher Logan Nissen and catcher/infielder Jordan Sagedahl. Nissen’s a pro, playing for the Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks. Sagedahl spent the summer in the Northwoods League with the Bismarck Larks.
Paynesville’s in the state tournament for the first time as the Pirates, though the community has had teams qualify for state in the past, most notably the Paynesville Lakers in 1982 and ‘83. That franchise folded. There wasn’t a team in Paynesville for a while, until the Pirates started up play 28 years ago.
The other neat thing happening is that this year’s tournament is past state champions are being recognized between games. For this area, that means the Raymond Rockets, the 2016 state Class C champions, will be honored before the game 11 a.m. Sunday at Waconia between the Kimball Express (the 2017 state champs) and the Union Hill Bulldogs.
The championship game is set for noon, Monday, Sept. 6 in Waconia. There’s a good chance at least one of these teams mentioned below gets there. But hey, that's a 1-in-48 chance if they were selected randomly.
Favorite: Sobieski Skis
Sobieski is back in Class C after a two-year stint in Class B. The Skis remain experienced and talented, just like they were prior to 2019.
Dark horse: Loretto Larks
These guys intrigue me. They play in a good league (North Star) and then there's Corey Koskie, the former Twin, on the roster.
The upset: Richmond Royals
I'm not sure if it's an upset, but look for the Richmond Royals to beat Dumont in the first round. Richmond has Eli Emerson back to pitch after the hard-throwing right-hander from St. Cloud
State spent the summer in the Northwoods League.
The sleeper: Sartell Muskies
Sartell remains one of the state's top teams, so the Muskies aren't exactly sleepers. But, they certainly have the horses to make a long state run. Of course, they have to get
past Hutchinson in the first round, and that will not be easy.
Favorite: Waconia Lakers
There's a reason Waconia has been at the top of the Class C rankings all season. Teams playing at home in the state tournament haven't always fared well, but Waconia might be the
Dark horse: The Foley Lumberjacks
The Lumberjacks are capable of knocking off some teams. Now in the Victory League and Region 8C, they've done this before in their Sauk Valley League/Region 11C days.
The upset: Maple Lake Lakers
Maple Lake winning at state is hardly an upset, but it might be this year if the Lakers can beat the Milroy Irish.
The sleeper: Jordan Brewers
I don't know how a franchise as storied as Jordan's could be a sleeper, but it's hard to not pick the Brewers to make a long state run. They are the other favorite in this quad.
Favorite: The Avon Lakers
The Lakers come in as a top seed in a tough region (8C). They're capable of a run into the final weekend.
Darkhorse: Bemidji Blue Ox
It's hard to find scores on them except when they venture south to play in weekend tournaments. But, Bemidji is talented and athletic. Key for the Blue Ox is getting the 'A'
lineup south and playing on Saturday or Sunday instead of Friday. That all happened for the Blue Ox, who should be at full strength on Saturday.
The Upset: The Eagle Lake Expos
The Expos are young, athletic and new to the state tournament. Beating New Prague, one of the state's well-respected programs, would qualify as an upset.
Sleeper: Milroy Yankees
Milroy's a very good team with a very good tradition that could be playing in the final weekend if it plays well and gets a break or two.
Favorite: The St. Patrick Irish
The Irish have the horses to get back into the state championship game, where they took second last year. And this time there's no Fairmont, which didn't make the tournament because it wasn't eligible.
Darkhorse: Watkins Clippers
Watkins has a mix of veterans and young guys and a dominant starter in left-hander Matthew Geislinger. They're also coming out of Region 11C, which includes a very strong Sartell
The upset: Young America Cardinals
I'm not sure if this is an upset or not, but take Young America to beat Ortonville in the second round. Ortonville won Region 9C and awaits the winner of Young America and St. Clair.
The sleeper: St. Martin Martins
St. Martin has had a great season so far, having the best record in the Stearns County League and earning the top seed in Region 15C. Brett Lieser is a very strong ace pitcher
with a minor-league background.