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State tournament storylines

By Star Tribune staff reports, 06/15/11, 8:44PM CDT

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Fifteen stories to follow throughout the 2011 finals

Class 3A

1. While the other two classes’ state format shifted from the previous year, 3A teams will be facing the same section in the quarterfinals as they did in 2010. For Stillwater and Forest Lake, that means the same matchup as a year ago.

2. After narrowly missing coming back against Eden Prairie in the title game last season, the Blaze could find a rematch — albeit a game sooner — if both teams are able to advance to the semifinals.

3. Due to availability issues with Target Field, the championship game is a full five days after the quarterfinals start on Thursday. Teams with pitching aces likely will be able to use them more, given they will have the proper rest. For other teams, it could prove to be an unwanted cooling period.

4. Team to beat? Until proven otherwise, that would be Maple Grove. The Crimson went undefeated in the regular season and has only looked stronger since its only loss — to Coon Rapids in the sections — by beating the Cardinals in consecutive games to make it to state. Pitcher Mitch Bauer is looking better than ever, the offense is clicking and the defense is solid.

5. The dark horse: Bloomington Kennedy has not made it to the big show since 2000, but the Eagles skirted the odds to arrive there this year as the 10th seed in their section. The Eagles started the season 1-8 but improved and then sped through the five games in their section.

Class 2A

1. Six of the top eight teams in the final state coaches association rankings – No. 1 St. Cloud Cathedral, No. 2 Fairmont, No. 4 La Crescent, No. 6 Delano, No. 7 St. Anthony and No. 8 Proctor – qualified, as did No. 14 Kasson-Mantorville. Only Fergus Falls was unranked, but the Otters are making their third tournament appearance in a row.

2. St. Cloud Cathedral will be making its 15th tournament appearance, the fifth-highest total in state history. The Crusaders, who call the St. Cloud MAC (site of the tournament) home, have won six state championships, all under coach Bob Karn, who is completing his 41st year.

3. You have to go back to 2005 to find a Class 2A championship game in which none of the teams in the current field played. St. Anthony won the title in 2006 and 2008. St. Cloud Cathedral won in 2007. La Crescent beat Fergus Falls in the 2009 title game and Delano fell to Rocori in the finals last year.

4. The format change mentioned in the 3A story lines applies to all classes and bodes well for a team like Kasson-Mantorville, which can lean on pitcher Lucas Unger (10-1, 0.95 ERA, 98 strikeouts).

5. Fairmont slugged its way into the field, having scored 227 runs in 23 games, nearly 10 per game. That is 20 more runs than any other team in the field.

Class 1A

1. Pitching ace Matt Geislinger is a big reason Eden Valley-Watkins (20-2) returns to defend its title. Geislinger is 11-0 this spring with a 1.40 ERA.

2. Wabasha-Kellogg is ranked No. 4 in the coaches poll, highest among 1A tournament teams. Also ranked in the top-20 are Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial (7th), Eden Valley-Watkins (8th), Deer River (13th) and Providence Academy (18th).

3. Providence Academy, located in Plymouth, reached the state tournament in its inaugural season. Watch senior pitcher Nick Krueger, who opened the season with a no-hitter and then opened the playoffs with a perfect game.

4. Doing things the hard way didn’t stop quarterfinal opponents Red Lake County Central or Wabasha-Kellogg from reaching state. None of the players who scored Red Lake County Central’s six runs in the section championship game reached base on a hit. And Wabasha-Kellogg trailed in each of its final three section playoff games.

5. Two teams, Providence Academy and Wabasha-Kellogg, are tied to the Twins. Providence Academy’s Ryan Tapani is the son of former Twins pitcher Kevin Tapani. And Falcons’ assistant coach Emil Gove, father of head coach Chris Gove, played minor league baseball in the Twins organization.

— David La Vaque, Jim Paulsen, Amelia Rayno

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