Few amateur baseball teams have been able to step up to the plate and challenge the Brainerd Braves this season.
The Braves cruised through the Victory League North Division with an 11-0 record, winning all but three league games via the 10-run rule. They have batted .419 as a team, hit 73 home runs, averaged 12 runs per game and have lost only three of 25 games overall.
"I think a lot of other teams come in with a different attitude when they play us," first-year Braves manager Derek Schmeck said. "Once they get behind they kind of fold up."
The Braves hoped the Randall Cubs were the first team to fold against them in the playoffs. Brainerd was scheduled to host the Cubs 5 p.m. Saturday at Adamson Field in the opening round of the double-elimination league playoffs.
Regardless of how it does in the league playoffs Brainerd has already clinched a berth in the Region 8C tournament, which opens July 29 at Pierz. The top two teams in the region advance to the Class C state tournament at Sleepy Eye and Fairfax.
"It would be a real disappointment if we didn't go back to state again," Schmeck said. "That's everybody's goal."
The Braves attained their goal last year by beating eventual Class C state champion Buckman 8-5 in the region final. Brainerd opened state play with a 9-2 win over Elko but suffered a heart-breaking 3-2, 11-inning loss to Princeton when a fly ball that would have been the third out in the 11th was dropped in the outfield.
"It was a real big disappointment," Schmeck said. "It left a sour taste in a lot of guys' mouths the way we lost that game."
The Braves have helped remove that taste by terrorizing opposing pitchers this season, led by former Brainerd High School standouts Jade O'Brien of Iowa State and Chris Studer of South Dakota State. O'Brien has hit 15 home runs, seven doubles and three triples and is batting .648. Studer has cranked 12 home runs and is hitting .559.
"It's real tough to pitch to," Schmeck said of the Braves' lineup. "We have nine solid guys. When you look on the bench there are four or five guys who can step in and hit the ball too."
The pitching staff is led by right-handers Tony Whitlock, Luke Weiland and Brad Streiff. Whitlock is 8-1, Weiland 8-2 and Streiff 3-0. Jeff Barrett is the Braves' top reliever.
"Whitlock has walked maybe five guys all year," Schmeck said. "He's always around the plate. Luke had kind of a rough start. The last two or three games he has pitched real well. (In a 14-0 win) against Flensburg he was real tough. Streiff has pitched well lately."
Defensively, the Braves usually start Studer behind the plate, Ryan Thiesse (.463, 7 home runs) at first, Nic Hanson (.384) at second, Mike Bjerkness (.389) at short, O'Brien at third and Dan DeChaine (.417), Streiff (.378) and Adam Browning (.403) in the outfield. Nick Weiland is batting .447 with eight home runs.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.