By Nick Gerhardt
The start of the season appears a little farther out for our liking but that doesn’t mean we can’t get the conversation started for the upcoming season with preseason rankings.
It’s no surprise that Kimball begins the season as the team to beat after winning the 2017 Class C state title in dramatic fashion. Right behind the Express is the team they defeated: the Lake Henry Lakers.
Two Dakota-Rice-Scott League teams New Prague and Union Hill made the top 10 after both had lengthy runs at last year’s state tournament. It should make for an interesting state tournament with No. 3-ranked New Prague serving as one of the host’s for the 2018 state tournament. Not far behind is DRS foes, Union Hill, which is ranked No. 6 and Faribault.
Bemidji’s long run resulted in a No. 4 ranking to start the season and Sartell, which held the No. 1 ranking for much of last year, comes in at No. 5 to start this season.
Perennial contender Green Isle starts the year at No. 7 and another annual contender, Sobieski, ranks No. 8 before the season starts. Raymond at No. 9 and Carver at No. 10 round out the top 10.
Jason Kuerschner - Hollander
1. Kimball Express – Their impressive run in last year’s tourney is deserving of the number No. 1 spot going into the season. They have been perennial state tourney participants the past few years and earned this recognition.
2. Lake Henry Lakers – Champions of Region 15 and state runner-ups. Not a bad season for the Stearns County team, save for a walk-off home run they could have been the state champs!
3. New Prague Orioles – Also a very impressive run in the state tourney, knocking off some impressive competition along the way. Very good young team looking to stay in the top of the DRS in 2018.
4. Bemidji Blue Ox – Perennial tourney team but this past year finally strung together a couple of wins, knocking off both Blue Earth and Sartell Muskies. The Blue Ox look to be the top competition of the northern part of the state.
5. Union Hill Bulldogs – Came out the DRS and Region 3 as the top seed and played very well until knocking heads with the Blue Ox. Another young team in the DRS to keep your eyes on in 2018.
6. Carver Black Sox – Had a very impressive 2017 campaign and tasted the state tourney for the first time in 38 years. This is a young group that is just starting to find their groove, should be interesting in the CRVL as they continue to compete with the other top teams.
7. St. Peter Saints – The Saints had a very impressive tourney knocking off some very tough competition and getting their first tourney win in quite some time. The Saints also have some young talent to keep an eye on in the upcoming years.
8. Faribault Lakers – Consistently a contender in the tough DRS and yet they are coming in as my third best out of that league. As long as Reverend Lane can continue to pitch for this group at a high level they will always have a chip, chair and a chance.
9. Sartell Muskies – They may not have made it as far as they would have liked in the state tourney, but that pitching is hard to look past. Past years they have been in my top five and I just can’t keep them out of this preseason poll either.
10. Sobieski Skis – Arguably the Skis are considered the best of the Victory League and I would be remiss if I didn’t include one Victory League team. Can Jendro continue to carry this team or is their window beginning to close? Although rumors are that they may have quality additions to the club for the 2018 campaign.
Honorable Mention: Fergus Falls Hurricanes, Raymond Rockets, Elrosa Saints
Trent Sukalski - Jackson
3. Lake Henry
4. New Prague
6. Green Isle
Aaron Worm - New Prague
1. Kimball - Defending champs always have to be put on top. Walk-off winner in the state tourney, to capture first ever state title, went through a lot of good teams on their path to the title.
2. New Prague - The O’s knocked off some top-notch teams on their way to the final four last year, including Watkins, Jordan and Sobieski. New Prague looks to continue the momentum this season with the final destination, state at their ball field.
3. Raymond - When making a preseason poll, a lot of ranking goes into, what have you done recently. The Rockets won the title two years ago, that’s why I have them here, after a loss to a good Faribault team last year at state.
4. Lake Henry - Lose on a walk-off in the state title game, after a fantastic state run. Beat a couple of good DRS teams to get to the title game last year.
5. Union Hill - One of three DRS teams to reach the final eight last year, plenty of arms, good defense and a tough lineup.
6. Sobieski - Recent history shows the Skis are always a top 10 team, wouldn’t expect anything different this summer
7. Carver - One of many classics at the state tournament last year, was the Labor Day matchup with Union Hill, that went to the dogs. Young, dangerous team in the Crow River.
8. Bemidji - Can’t ever forget about the northern half of the state, last year I jumped on the Fergus Falls bandwagon, and they loss to the eventual champs Kimball. Bemidji also had its summer end in the final 4 to the Express. Shutout a tough Union Hill lineup in the final eight.
9. Green Isle - Theme continues, its season ended against the boys from Kimball, too. Year after year, always in the mix.
10. Fergus Falls - Sound like a broken record, but guess what, they lost to Kimball, too, at state. Great nickname by the way, as the Hurricanes wrap up my top 10.
Tom Elliott - St. Cloud
1. Kimball Express – Kimball earns the top spot simply for finishing No. 1 in 2017. Walk-off home run hero Scott Marquardt and crew are expected back to defend their championship after a summer full of rugged Central Valley League games.
2. Lake Henry Lakers – Lake Henry was oh-so-close to the first state championship for any Stearns County League team, becoming the first to finish second since Richmond in 1998. Look for the Lakers, with their power-laden lineup, to again contend.
3. Bemidji Blue Ox – A northern team makes it to the state semifinals and does so impressively. They may fly under the radar a bit during the regular season, but expect Bemidji to contend come tournament time.
4. New Prague Orioles – Another state Class C semifinalist from last season, the Orioles hope to open the 2018 season with another top 10 contender, the Union Hill Bulldogs.
5. Green Isle Irish – Green Isle has been a perennial state contender and made it to the Elite Eight in Class C in 2017.
6. Faribault Lakers – Faribault knocked off defending state champion Raymond in the state quarterfinals last season and were often mentioned in the state polls last year.
7. Sobieski Skis – Sobieski is likely the team to beat in the Victory League. The Skis are always a team to watch in the state tournament after making it to the finals in 2016 and the Elite Eight in 2017.
8. Jordan Brewers – This is another perennial state power back to see where it can go in 2018.
9. Sartell Muskies – This is a veteran club with a proven track record in tournament play. Expect them to be back at state after the Sauk Valley League season.
10. Union Hill Bulldogs – Expect Union Hill to be one of the top teams again in the Dakota-Rice-Scott League.
CLASS C RANKINGS
Tiebreaker goes to team with highest single vote
1. Kimball (40)
2. Lake Henry (34)
3. New Prague (31)
4. Bemidji (22)
5. Sartell (13)
6. Union Hill (13)
7. Green Isle (13)
8. Sobieski (13)
9. Raymond (10)
10. Carver (9)
Others receiving votes: St. Peter, Jordan, Watkins, Fergus Falls, Elrosa