By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
The Section 2 amateur baseball playoffs kick off this weekend at the St. Michael Recreational Center and the host team is hoping for a chance to improve on their super-section playoff showing from a year ago.
A year removed from advancing past the sub-section field, the St. Michael Saints are hopeful to erase super-section playoff losses to both Victoria – the defending Class B state champs – and Moorhead.
St. Michael and Elk River both finished 9-5 in section play, but by virtue of tie-breaker, Elk River received the top seed in sub-section play and the Saints – the No. 2 seed – will open play Saturday with a 4 p.m. tilt against Champlin (10-13) of the Metro Minny League.
Saints skipper Mike Freske said the regular season had its share of ups and downs. A highlight win came July 23 on the road against the defending Class B champion Victoria Vics 14-8.
“Victoria is a good team. They can hit and we can hit,” Freske said. “That win didn’t help as far as seeding, but it definitely helps our confidence to know we can compete with that type of team.”
The Saints’ opening-round opponent – the No. 3 seed LoGators – previously defeated St. Michael twice in the regular season by scores of 7-6 and 12-9. St. Michael starting pitcher Mitch Bauer started and suffered the loss in both games. Freske said he hasn’t decided yet who will get the ball against Champlin.
“Bauer is probably our ace, yet they beat him both times,” Freske said. “We have five guys we could throw out there. That first game isn’t always the biggest game. The teams on the other side are all good, so the field is wide open.”
Bauer and Alan Frank both lead the Saints with identical 5-1 records on the mound.
The winner of Saturday’s St. Michael-Champlin game will play at 7:30 p.m. Sunday against the Big Lake-Rogers winner. The two losers will play earlier that day at 1:45 p.m.
The Albertville Villains received the North Star League’s No. 3 seed and will play Metro Minny’s No. 2-seed Anoka at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Bucs defeated Albertville 12-7 and 13-3 earlier in the season.
Albertville finished 8-12 overall, but struggled in games that counted most. The Villains tied with Rogers for last place with a 1-5 NSL record and went 2-12 in section play.
Albertville catcher JT Sokolowski said the team received a setback when all-star pitcher Drew Bebus was shut down after the all-star game due to arm soreness. Bebus was leading the team with a 3-0 record and 2.25 ERA. One reason for optimism comes from red-hot outfielder Jake Saari, who leads the North Star League with a .500 batting average.
“Our biggest highlight of the season came when Saari went 5-for-5 in a 9-8 loss to St. Michael,” Sokolowski said. “He’s been hitting the snot out of the ball. We’re heading into the playoffs on a losing streak. But we’re hoping to get some pitching and get out of the first weekend. Once you get into the second weekend, anybody can run the table.”
The Albertville-Anoka winner will play at 4:45 p.m. Sunday against likely No. 1-seed Elk River, with the loser taking on the Elk River-Hamel loser at 1 p.m.
The No. 4-seed Rogers Red Devils struggled all season for wins and its lone win came in a 10-1 victory June 26 at Albertville. Rogers (1-13) will open play Saturday against top overall seed Big Lake at 1 p.m. Winners and losers square off Sunday against either St. Michael or Champlin.
Head coach Aaron Cook of Rogers said earlier in the season that the teams all gear up for this time of year.
“Obviously you want to do well in your league and try and get the best possible seed,” Cook said. “But once the playoffs come, that’s an entire different season. That’s when things really start.”