On Friday, after teams advancing from their freshly won semifinals untangled from their celebratory piles, many of them had the same thought: And now we wait.
Unlike in years past, when the span from the state baseball quarterfinals to finals was gone in the blink of an eye, this season the format — because of when Target Field was available for the championship games — is significantly different.
There were three scheduled days off between the semis and the championship games — and now at least one more, after forecasted rain caused the Minnesota State High School League to push the title games back from Tuesday to Wednesday.
Coaches see the positives, such as resting a pitcher for longer. They also see the negatives, like losing momentum. But most agree that whatever the side effects of the schedule, the most important aspect of the games has remained the same from last year: the location.
“Some coaches are in favor of it, some coaches are not too excited about it, but as long as it stays at Target Field, I think everyone is in favor of it,” Burnsville coach Mick Scholl said. “It’s just such a great venue.”
Here is a look at all three championship games, focusing on the impact of the additional days off, particularly on the pitching staffs:
For Scholl, whose squad lost 7-5 to Eden Prairie in last year’s title game, the advantage of the scheduling is obvious: It provides plenty of rest for Quinn Johnson — the Blaze ace who had an ERA just over 2 in the regular season, and who allowed just two hits and struck out nine in the quarterfinals — to go again in the championship game.
“I do like that both of our No. 1’s will be pitching against each other, and I guess that’s what they want for baseball — the best pitchers going again, not your No. 3,” he said. “But Maple Grove, as good as they are, I’m not sure if it will affect them that much, because they have more than one good pitcher.”
That last bit may be true, but the Crimson — which came into the tournament with the best record in Class 3A and is now 26-1 — doesn’t have one true ace. So while the schedule might not affect how coach Darby Carlson would use his staff, his team could suffer from facing another team’s best pitcher, who might not have been available in previous years.
“The argument against it would be that you don’t get a sense of the true strength of the team, as far as depth,” Carlson said, “if you don’t have to march out your No. 3 or 4 pitcher — as opposed to somebody that can kind of get by with one or two guys.”
While pitching is always the bottom line, so far in the Class 2A tournament, it’s been the entire page.
A total of 31 runs were scored in six championship-round games — an average of about five per game — and only once did a losing team score more than one run. The St. Cloud Cathedral and La Crescent pitching staffs bring a combined tournament ERA of 1.50 into the title game.
“It’s the pitching,” said La Crescent coach Rick Boyer. “You had pretty much the top eight teams in the state, and there was some really good starting pitching.”
Both teams have their full complement of pitchers available, but it’s likely that each will only need two. Cathedral is expected to start hard-throwing 6-4 righthander Andrew Thome, who held St. Anthony to just four hits and an unearned run over seven innings in the quarterfinals. The Crusaders’ No. 2 starter, Matt Dietman, struggled in the first inning of the semifinals, giving up three runs to Fairmont, but settled down and gave up just two hits over the final six innings.
La Crescent’s starters were just as good. Lefty Eric Veglahn opened the tournament by scattering eight hits in a 5-1 victory over Delano. Righthander Travis Krukow, who is expected to be the Lancers’ championship-game starter, dominated Fergus Falls 2-0 in the semifinals, allowing four hits.
“We are lucky enough to have two No. 1 starters,” Boyer said. “Unfortunately for us, St. Cloud Cathedral is in the same boat. They had two guys pitch tremendous games for them. This is the way the championship games should be: both teams in full strength.”
Undefeated on the mound the past two seasons, Eden Valley-Watkins senior pitcher Matt Geislinger likes to work fast and throw faster.
With more time between state tournament starts, Geislinger has been a bigger factor in the Eagles’ pursuit of a second consecutive Class 1A championship. He held a perfect game through 6 innings in the quarterfinals, then pitched two innings of flawless relief in the semifinals. Going into the title game, Geislinger is 24-0 in the past two seasons.
“Matt is without a doubt one of the best pitchers in Class 1A,” Eagles coach Mike Tomsche said. “Being able to rest him and bring him back sharp is our best-case scenario.”
Last season, Geislinger threw a combined 11 innings in two of the three tournament games. He already has logged nine innings in the current run and will appear in all three games.
“We don’t have the same number of legitimate pitchers as a Class 3A school,” Tomsche said. “This format gives us more flexibility.”
Another undefeated starter, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial’s Mitch Kelly (10-0), is likely to oppose Geislinger. After spotting Deer River a 3-1 lead through two innings in the quarterfinals, Kelly regrouped and allowed just one more run. He added 1 innings of shutout relief work in the semifinals.
“I feel we have pretty good depth, so we could live with either format,” Knights coach John Madsen said. “But when Mitch pitches, we have our best defensive lineup out there.”
– Staff writers Amelia Rayno, Jim Paulsen and David La Vaque contributed to this report.