Amateur baseball: Region was tough; now comes state
The Jackson Bulls and the Luverne Cardinals are feeling confident in advance of the state Class C amateur baseball tournament, in part because of what they experienced this year in their region.
Jackson comes off best-of-three series victories over Fairmont and Luverne and is the No. 1 seed from Region 13. Luverne is the No. 2 seed following series against Wilmont and Jackson.
“We have Fairmont and Luverne rated as two of the best teams in the state,” said Jackson manager Scott Bahr on Sunday. “And to be able to beat those two teams makes us pretty proud.”
The Bulls own a 29-2 record and have a first-round state tournament bye. They open Saturday, Aug. 23, in Jordan in a 1:30 p.m. game against an opponent yet to be determined.
Luverne opens this coming Sunday against the Delano Athletics in a noon start in Jordan.
Luverne’s James Fisher said despite the fact that his team is coming off 6-5 (in 10 innings) and 4-1 setbacks against Jackson, the Redbirds (20-7) haven’t lost any confidence.
“We played two good games. Jackson’s really tough,” Fisher said.
In Delano, the Redbirds will be facing a team making its first trip to a state tournament in 10 years. Luverne participated in the state tournament as recently as last year, when it defeated defending Class C champion Maple Lake before falling in the quarterfinals.
Fairmont has also qualified for the 2014 tournament. The Martins play their state opener Saturday afternoon in Jordan.
Jackson, Luverne and Fairmont drafted two players apiece for state tournament play over the weekend. The Bulls took Wilmont’s Lucas Henning and Joe Ahrens and the Redbirds chose Wilmont’s Justin Saufley and Hadley’s Nick Bruning. Fairmont took Blake Rogers of Wilmont and Bryce Christopher of Lakefield.
Fisher said he couldn’t be more pleased at getting Saufley and Bruning. “They’re both great athletes and gamers,” he declared.
Bahr praised Henning and Ahrens as “good competitors” and he said the pitching help comes in mighty handy this time of year.
Highly regarded for their outstanding hitting lineup, the Bulls are also an outstanding defensive team.
“(Ryan) Rasche (leftfield) made two unbelievable catches against Luverne. Crazy catches,” Bahr recalled Sunday. “And Andy Wolf (shortstop) made a great diving play to keep a runner from scoring.”
The Bulls have plenty of time to enjoy their defensive gems before they play their first 2014 state tournament game.
That, of course, is part of the problem. The wait, said Bahr, “comes with mixed emotions.”
After playing three 10-inning games over their last four contests, Bahr said, “Our pitching staff is just a little bit tired. But the rest is not good for our competitive nature.”