--by Brett Kruschke
Not unlike the wildly-popular NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, the first weekend of the Class B and C state tournaments are a positive overdose of seemingly non-stop action. It’s like sitting close-by for a fireworks finale and almost not knowing which direction to look.
Perhaps that’s a bit overstated for a game without a clock, but for those who’ve made it this far, a season of hopes and dreams boils down to a few hours on a nicely-manicured field and the ultimate desire to just keep playing. The “Final 64” also realize that almost 200 other B & C teams they competed with all year are either at home or in the stands.
This week is the longest week of the amateur baseball season, as everyone is antsy for the games to begin. With just one more day until the Class B tournament begins, we’ve assembled our Class B rankers for a closer look at the tournament and what to watch for as the games play out. Of course no-one will be exactly right or likely even close to it, but that’s the beauty.
We asked each of our pollsters to choose a favorite, a dark horse and an upset. We have also kicked out some Twitter poll questions to see what the masses think.
AARON OLSON - Shakopee
The Favorite: The Moorhead Brewers have been #1 for most of the season and deserve to be the favorite. Blaine has a good shot as well, but Moorhead gets my vote. Tough bracket, but a solid team to make a run.
The Dark Horse: Dundas has to be the dark horse as they come out of Sections as the #2 seed; not a good draw for St. Michael, as the defending champs try to repeat. They have great pitching and could see a matchup with Moorhead the second weekend.
The Upset: Chaska is my upset with a matchup against Rochester. They also have a solid team that could beat anyone – including a possible matchup with Miesville in the second round.
JAMIE HEIPEL – Blaine
The Favorite: 2016 has been filled with several "hot streaks" and teams peaking at the opportune moment. Although it is difficult to bet against the top-ranked Moorhead Brewers, whom have been ranked #1 for a majority of the year, I believe that the Mudhens from Miesville will take home the title in 2016. Expect the Hens to be playing with a chip on their shoulder after an early exit in 2015.
The Dark Horse: It's hard to consider the defending champion Dundas Dukes as a dark horse, however, I believe they have the best chance coming into the tournament as the #2 seed from section 1B. Chaska could be poised to make a deep run, but they will surely miss the right arm of Austin Lubinsky.
The Upset: Both teams can rake, but I could see Forest Lake out-slugging Shakopee in the first round. Considering this wouldn't be a significant upset, I will go with the Cinderella story. Soon-to-be high-school senior Trent Palmer from the Champlin Logators has a career day and outduels Moorhead Brewers' stud Dylan Deavy in a low-scoring thriller on Sunday night.
ERIC KRAUSHAR - Chaska/Chanhassen
The Favorite: Moorhead has been the best team all season in Class B, but the road to the championship is treacherous against veteran teams in potential matchups against Dundas, Shakopee and Cold Spring. My pick is Miesville. Hard to argue against Jacob Dickmeyer (9-0 record), with Steve Maher and Ryan Fritze getting the second game of the weekend. Matt Van der Bosch and Deryk Marks give the Mudhens two potent bats in the lineup.
The Dark Horse: Beaudreau's Saints are making a third straight state tournament appearance. With a roster full of college kids and an ace in Brad Haag who gets it done, there's a lot to like about this team. Got a Coon Rapids draw; a team that wasn't in many top 10’s, but has played its best baseball late.
The Upset: Two section champions in Rochester and St. Michael are underdogs, so hard to pick those. How about Champlin? The new guys. Trent Palmer dazzles the favorite in Moorhead ... can you picture it?
MATT MAREK - Champlin
The Favorite: Can't really say anybody else but Moorhead. The Brewers are sitting on two losses this season, and have run roughshod over the competition. They boast plenty of quality wins and 11 shutouts on the season.
The Dark Horse: Can you really be a dark horse if you're the defending champ? Maybe not, but I'll go with Dundas. I think most of the talk has been centered around Moorhead and Miesville this season, and with Cold Spring and Blaine putting up solid campaigns, the Dukes have slowly slid to the back of people's minds.
The Upset: There are four possibilities for really SURPRISING upsets (Champlin over Moorhead, Austin over Cold Spring, Monticello over Miesville, Duluth over Blaine). However, I'll go with a lower-wattage upset and will say Beaudreau's over Coon Rapids. Brad Haag has thrown well all year and with Reese Gregory off to professional ball, the Saints have been off the radar a bit.
KELLY McMONAGLE - Moorhead
The Favorite: Miesville Mudhens. The Hens have had a very strong season this year breezing through a tough section that featured three top-ten ranked teams all season. They also went 4-1 on the season against top teams in the Class A tournament, so they have put together a strong resume. Getting bounced in the opening round last year will have them focused on making a run.
The Dark Horse: Chaska Cubs. The Cubs had their hands full with Victoria, having to come back from a 2-1 deficit and win the final two games to qualify for the State Tournament. They have a solid lineup with plenty of talent that saw them catch fire throughout the month of July, losing only to the Minnetonka Millers. I see them poised to make a deep run in the tournament.
The Upset: St. Cloud Beaudreau's. This young, talented squad has pitching and offense to knock some teams off in the tournament. They have played deep into state tournaments the last two years, finishing runner-up to Cold Spring in 2014. This could be their year, with the Springers in the other half of the bracket.