--by Brett Kruschke
The Class A state tournament is set to begin Thursday evening, with all games throughout the tourney taking place at Red Haddox Field in Bloomington. By the end of the day on Sunday, August 21, a new champion will be crowned – unless, of course, it’s the defending champion and overwhelming favorite: the Minnetonka Millers.
The five gentlemen below have taken time out of their busy lives each two weeks this summer to submit the Class A team rankings, the latest of which you can find here. We’ve gathered them together one last time for a little fun and what may serve as your Class A state tournament preview.
Look next week for similar preview articles for the Class B and C state tournaments.
RYAN MEEHAN – Skyline League
The Favorite: Minnetonka Millers. There is just too much depth on this team to pick anyone else. Even if they somehow get upset early in the tournament, they have the pitching to climb back through the losers’ bracket. But it won't come to that. They've won 22 games in a row. It's going to be 26 in a row when they hoist the trophy in a couple of weeks.
The Dark Horse: St. Paul Shamrocks. Per usual, the Shamrocks sleep-walk through the regular season and flip the switch come playoffs. They dispatched a pretty good Air Freight team with two blowout wins in the St. Paul League playoffs, and it's conceivable to think they could do the same at the state tournament. A Shamrocks-Shark slugfest would be fun to watch. If the Rocks make it past the single elimination game, they will see a familiar face on the mound: their former ace, Matt Schuld.
The Upset: Minneapolis Cobras. The Cobras outscored their opponents by a 3:1 margin in Park National League play this summer. They have a deep, veteran lineup that is capable of matching up against a variety of pitching styles. The Bandits and Diamond Cutters will need to keep it a low-scoring game because if it turns into a slugfest, the Cobras will win going away.
JEFF OSTROM - Skyline League
The Favorite: The Minnetonka Millers are the clear favorite, with a 43-4 record and riding a 20-game win streak. Everyone talks about their lineup – and rightfully so – but the top-end arms and pitching depth provide a huge advantage.
The Dark Horse: The St. Paul Capitals probably can't be considered a dark horse, but it seems they've flown under the radar for much of the season. Yes, they've been ranked top 5 all year, but the battle for No. 1 has been Park and Tonka. The Capitals are the 2015 runners-up and 2014 champs, and they are one of the few to take out the Millers this year. I expect a deep tourney run for the Capitals, and they can certainly be the last team standing. A second-round game with Park will likely be the best matchup of the first weekend.
Other candidates: Minneapolis Cobras - they mash and tied for 1st in top-heavy PNL; I expect them to be playing in the winners’ bracket this Sunday against the winner of Capitals versus Park.
The Upset: What kind of manager would I be if I didn't pick my own squad? The St. Anthony Hogs over the Millers in Round 2 would be a massive upset. The Hogs will have to get there first and overcome a history of first-round exits in recent years. But if so, maybe the third time is the charm, having dropped two games to Minnetonka earlier this year. The Millers waxed the Hogs in May 11-2 and won 6-3 in 11 innings the second time around after the Hogs threw 8 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball. If not, well at least at that point, it's double elimination.
MATT PAULSEN– Riverview League (Matt's Minnesota Amateur Baseball Blog)
The Favorite – The easy route is to say Minnetonka. So I will. But here is why. They are good, but they also may have a pretty good draw. I am not knocking the quality of teams they are playing; they are all good. However, their first draw will either be the Hogs or Kelley Fuels Diesel.
The Hogs may have a hard time putting up enough runs off Tonka’s number one pitcher. But this is baseball and the Hogs have some pitching of their own, so who knows. I know nothing about Kelley Fuels Diesel, except that their name is a mouthful. So maybe they will roll through the tourney and win.
Then, should Tonka win, they will play the Angels. How do you know the Angels will win their first game, you ask? They will be throwing Schuld, that’s why. And he seems to be unbeatable this year. Then Tonka will face someone who isn’t Schuld. Or will the Angels think to themselves, maybe we can get by game one without using Schuld and save him for Tonka, since we will be kind of in the same place if we lose the first game or the second game. Or is that over-managing? I’m not sure, because I have confused myself in this whole discussion. Whatever; Tonka is the favorite.
The Dark Horse – Kelley Fuels Diesel. Once again, I have never seen these guys play. I don’t know who is on the team. I don’t know what their record is. I am not even sure they are human beings. So I am completely in the dark about them. Hence, they are my dark horse.
The Upset – in Round 2, Tri City or the Shamrocks are going to beat the Angels and Schuld. Ha! You didn’t see that coming after all that garbage I wrote in the “favorite” section. He has to lose sometime – right? It always happens in the tourney. You throw your stud and a ball bounces over the second baseman’s head and you lose in the 10th (that has happened to me). Hmm … maybe the Angels should save Schuld for Tonka to avoid this very thing from occurring.
PHIL McDERMOTT - St. Paul League
The Favorites – Minnetonka, St. Paul Capitals (2015 and 2014 champions, respectively, and the bye week is very helpful).
The Dark Horse – Shamrocks - they elevate their game at playoff time and have enough pitching to make a deep run.
The Upsets – Shamrocks over Angels (they would have to beat Schuld), Cobras over Continental Diamond (CD lost some pitchers to the Northwoods League and the Cobras are dangerous).
JON-ERIC URSETH - Park National League
The Favorite: Minnetonka Millers: the reigning champion is 44-4 entering the state tournament with a first-round bye? Yeah, I'd guess they are the favorite. In single elimination, sure, anyone left has a fighting chance of nine innings of superiority ... but in double elimination? It is going to take some top-notch baseball to unseat the Millers.
The Dark Horse: Minneapolis Angels (21-23) The Park National League No. 1 seed has a losing record? Well, I've seen this team firing on all cylinders and it certainly can make a long run. Matt Schuld leads the pitching staff and is backed up well. Him potentially pitching against Minnetonka has town ball fans salivating. Get your popcorn ready.
The Upset: This is going to tie into my overall prediction ... St. Louis Park beats Tonka. In a prime matchup – perhaps on Championship Sunday – I think that Park takes down Tonka, eventually taking the Class A title. In any event, this year's state tournament is prime for some fireworks at the beginning, middle and end.
Disclaimer: I play for the Minneapolis Cobras. While I obviously hope that we win the state title ... making the Cobras The Favorite, The Dark Horse and The Upset would have been a boring read for you. I am also the Park National League commissioner. If the Cobras are not state champions, I hope that it comes from the Park National for the first time since 2005. I do not get to watch a lot of games on the East Side of the River, but each year St. Paul and Skyline teams consistently perform in the tourney ... I would not rule out a team like the Capitals or Shamrocks to make a run. The Capitals took us to the woodshed last year.
First and foremost, come out this and next weekend ... celebrate Minnesota amateur baseball ... whether you are from Minneapolis, St. Paul, Cold Spring, Dundas, Duluth or Rochester ... there is some good baseball in the city, and it’s worth the watch.