Champlin Park and Blaine are used to ending the regular season atop the Northwest Suburban Conference standings and making postseason runs in recent years.
Champlin Park didn't make the state tournament and tied Totino-Grace and Robbinsdale Armstrong for second place in the conference standings a year ago, which may have felt like a step back for a Rebels program coming off impressive back-to-back seasons — appearances in the previous two Class 4A tournaments, a runner-up finish in the Northwest Suburban in 2017 and conference co-champions with Blaine in 2016.
A great way for the Rebels (0-0) to take a step forward this season is to win close contests, especially those early in the schedule, including Thursday's showdown with Blaine. Champlin Park started last year with a 2-5 record, losing all five games by just one run. Experienced returners such as Noah Christianson and Braden Higgins should help solidify the lineup as new talent is developed.
Neither player experienced a victory over the Bengals a season ago, but the Rebels program has defeated their rival in each of the previous two years.
Besting Blaine may not be easy this season. The Bengals have won the last three Northwest Suburban titles and are coming off a fourth-place finish in last year's Class 4A tournament — their second trip to state in the last three seasons.
The Bengals (0-0) shut out nine opponents in the regular season last year and feature experienced pitchers who have helped the team post zeros on the scoreboard. Mac Enlow struck out 18 and posted a 3.00 ERA while pitching 20 regular-season innings as a junior last year. Jason Kaul, who’s pencilled in as an outfielder this season, also has plenty of experience on the mound, tossing 18 1/3 innings with a 0.78 ERA last spring.