Saturday, June 04, 2016

Baseball playoffs

The top four baseball teams in the Central Minnesota Conference are all making deep playoff runs in their respective section tournaments.

Regular season co-champions, Pierz and Maple Lake, are blazing their way in Class 2A playoffs. Pierz, ranked eighth in Class 2A, is undefeated so far in Section 6AA and 19-4 overall. (Two of their four losses this year were at the hands of B-B-E; they are having their best playoff run since 2006 when they finished 19-5 overall.) Maple Lake just evened the score with Annandale with a 5-1 loser's bracket win over the Cardinals on Thursday in Section 5AA. Annandale was the second-place team this season in the Wright County West Conference. Maple Lake ended the season for WC-West Conference champion Glencoe-Silver Lake (19-3) with a 6-3 loser's bracket win on June 1.

Paynesville Area is 2-0 so far in Section 3AA, and they face 19th-ranked Minnewaska Area on Saturday, June 4 at Richter Park in Granite Falls. The Bulldogs handed state-ranked Pipestone-Jasper a 5-4, eight-inning loss on June 1 to remain in the winner's bracket. Pipestone-Jasper, also known as Pipestone Area, is 18-6 overall and went 8-2 to tie Jackson County Central for the Big South Conference, Small-School division title. The Arrows were eliminated from the playoffs by New London-Spicer by a 9-5 score in 10 innings on June 2.

NL-S has surprised the area after winning just seven games in the regular season and then blazing their way deep into the Section 3AA playoffs.

Rockford Area is one of the biggest surprises in the Class 2A playoffs. The former members of the CMC won just six regular-season games and took a 6-12 record into the Section 5AA playoffs. Now they're 9-12 overall with wins over Breck, Providence Academy and Watertown-Mayer. The No. 3-seeded Rockets face Norwood-Young America (a No. 5 seed) on Monday in Maple Lake in the winner's bracket final. Rockford took third in the CMC in 2015 and was runners-up in 2014, missing out on the title by one game to Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted.

For the fifth-ranked B-B-E Jaguars baseball team, they have to reel off five wins in the Section 6A tournament in order to gain their first state tournament berth in school history. The quest resumes on Tuesday, June 7, at 1 o'clock at Minnewaska Area high school against Hillcrest Lutheran Academy. The Comets were the third-place team this year in the rugged Pheasant Conference. The Jaguars are 17-6 overall after beating  26th-ranked New York Mills in the sub-section playoffs and then losing to No. 1-ranked Parkers Prairie in the sub-section championship.

Noteworthy: the 2015 Pheasant Conference champion, Brandon-Evansville, took third place at the Class 1A state tournament and finished 21-7 overall. Parkers Prairie, the favored team to win the Section 6A title, went 12-2 in the Park Region Conference to claim the title alone. The Panthers only losses are to Ottertail Central by a 6-4 score on April 15 and then to New York Mills by an 8-3 score on May 20. In 2015, Parkers Prairie took sixth place (3-9) in the seven-team Park Region Conference before losing their playoff opener to finish 8-12 overall. They tied for last place in the PRC in 2014 and 2013. In 2011 they tied for second place in the PRC, and back in 2010 they won a sub-section title and finished as runners-up in Section 6A despite entering playoffs just 6-12 overall and sixth in the PRC.

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