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Cards ready to deal

By David La Vaque, Star Tribune, 06/11/13, 6:53PM CDT


Top-seeded Coon Rapids, with four top pitchers, enters the state tourney comfortable in its role.

Twins draftee Logan Shore is Coon Rapids' ace, going 8-0, striking out 60 batters in 47-plus innings and posting a minuscule 0.44 ERA. Star Tribune photo: Kyndell Harkness * kyndell.harkness@startribune.com

Coon Rapids, playing in its third Class 3A state baseball tournament trip in the past five years, does so not as fodder but as the favorite.

The No. 1-seeded Cardinals (17-3) open play against Wayzata (15-6) at 10 a.m. Thursday at Midway Stadium in St. Paul. In 2008, the Cardinals grew from a 1-7 team to surprise state champions. Two years later, they exacted playoff revenge on previously unbeatable Northwest Suburban Conference foes to reach the state tournament.

Plucky underdogs no more, Coon Rapids must be mindful of upstarts looking for an upset.

“It puts a lot more pressure on you when you’re No. 1 or No. 2 and everyone is shooting for you,” Cardinals coach Jerry Coe said. “But we’ve had the pitching all year to take care of that pressure. We’ve got four kids who I wouldn’t mind throwing against anybody.”

Logan Shore, a recent Twins draft pick and Gatorade’s Minnesota player of the year, gets the attention. He backed it up with an 8-0 record, striking out 60 batters in 47? innings and posting a minuscule 0.44 ERA.

But he is one of four Cards capable of dealing. Fellow senior righthanders Jake Bruner, Grant Farley and Nick Hanzlick give Coon Rapids pitching depth. The trio posted a combined record of 7-1 with 44 strikeouts and a 1.96 ERA.

Said senior catcher Anthony Mrosla: “Sections were pretty spread out and Shore threw pretty much every game, so that’s all people saw. They didn’t see Bruner, who can throw 85 mph and has a dirty knuckleball. They didn’t see Farley, who throws about that hard. And Hanzlick comes on in relief and throws a lot of strikes. If anyone thinks we’ve got nothing after Shore, they are going to be surprised.”

Coe considers hitting to be the team’s “weakest link” but said it’s “coming around.” The Cardinals averaged 6.25 runs per game in four playoff games. But more importantly, Coe said, they put the right swings on the right pitches.

Mrosla, batting cleanup in the Section 5 championship game against Maple Grove, saw an outside pitch and drove the ball the opposite way into right field to score a third-inning run.

Improved hitting is one byproduct on an overall sharper focus. A 5-0 start to the season, Mrosla said, convinced players “we were a lot better than we thought we were.” The dose or reality came courtesy of a 3-2 loss in 11 innings to previously winless Robbinsdale Armstrong.

“They played well so I asked one of their players, ‘How did you lose seven games?’ ” Mrosla said. “He said four of them were one-run games. So I said, ‘Oh, so you’re not what your record shows.’ ”

From there, Coon Rapids players worked to ensure their record and No. 2 ranking were not just hollow numbers. The Cardinals were 12-1 before dropping close games to top-10 opponents Eden Prairie and Eastview. Coe considered the Eden Prairie game, a 3-2 loss in nine innings, “good for our confidence.”

Recent Coon Rapids state tournament teams embraced their unheralded status, played hard and surprised teams. Mrosla said this season’s Cardinals are just as comfortable with their distinction as favorites.

“We’re trying to stay within ourselves and play our game,” Mrosla said. “If we play as well as we can, no one can beat us.”

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574

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