Following a third-place finish in last year's Division I state tournament the Brainerd American Legion baseball team is prepared to take another run at a championship this week.
Brainerd (29-3) opens 10 a.m. Thursday against Coon Rapids as the double-elimination event gets under way at four St. Cloud area locations. If it loses Brainerd plays the New Ulm Gold/Woodbury Blue loser at 4 p.m. If it wins Brainerd plays the New Ulm Gold/Woodbury Blue winner at 7 p.m. Either way, both Bluegills games will be at Cold Spring.
"I'm not too worried about what other teams have done," Brainerd coach Mark Germain said. "Right now, records and stats don't mean much to me. We just have to continue to do what we have done to get there."
What: Division I state tournament
Where: St. Cloud, Sartell, Cold Spring
When: Thursday through Sunday
Opening round: Brainerd vs. Coon Rapids, 10 a.m. Thursday at Cold Spring
Brainerd has qualified for its third state tournament in four years with consistent starting pitching, hitting in clutch situations and playing solid defense.
Justin Huether, Adian Kummet and Blake Eller have been mainstays on the mound. Huether is 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA, Kummet is 6-0 with a 1.60 ERA and Blake Eller is 4-0, also with a 1.60 ERA.
"We've kind of snuck by," Germain said. "For the last three weeks we haven't pitched Mike (Germain) or Justin because their arms have been sore. They've been going to physical therapy and treatment for their arms. Both should be ready to play.
"Our starters have been pretty consistent. We've got some good guys in relief too. We don't really have a closer. We haven't filled that or haven't had a need to fill that role. Our pitching staff has been pretty strong. They're throwing strikes, letting the defense work behind them."
The defense often includes Kyle Holbrook behind the plate, Carl Sneep at first, Tony Hennen at second, Kummet at short, Mike Germain at third, Grant Eller in left field, Blake Eller in center and Brady Prince in right.
"At times we've had to tighten the noose a little bit, but overall our players are making the plays," Mark Germain said. "We've been hitting the ball well, we're getting good pitching, and our pitchers are throwing strikes."
Sneep leads the team with a .441 average, followed by Huether .433, Holbrook .433 and Zach Heidmann .432.
Prince leads the team in RBI (26) and home runs (3). Kummet has 21 RBI, Blake Eller 20 and Huether 20.
Blake Eller leads in doubles with nine, Prince and Holbrook each have seven and Kummet five.
"We don't have one or two players that are heads or tails above the rest," Mark Germain said. "We have players that more or less spread out our offense. Teams can't focus on one person. They have to pitch to a complete order.
"Guys batting toward the bottom of our order, on any other team, might be batting in the middle. We've had good production from Tony, Adian and Grant, the guys in the bottom third of the order. They have come along and hit the ball. That takes the pressure off guys at the top of the order. We've got players, top to bottom, who can hit the baseball."
The rest of the state will find out beginning Thursday.
Mike Bialka can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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