By Nick Gerhardt
After an extended offseason, the 2018 season has finally started. Some teams around the state are off and running while others wait for field conditions to improve after one last snow storm delayed the start of the season.
As teams start to find their way back to field, we’ll preview upcoming games that will be worth taking a look at. Each week we’ll pick some featured matchups and preview the games.
If you’ve got a big game coming up, let us know on Twitter @MinnBaseball, Facebook or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know of any schedule changes, too, so we can keep up-to-date on the upcoming games.
Baseball 365 at Elko, 7:30 p.m.
Two state tournament teams from their respective classes will meet in Elko after both fell in the first round.
The Express lost 3-2 to Brooklyn Park in a 20-inning game the first weekend of the Class B state tournament that had everyone talking when the game ended well after midnight.
Elko played in its first state tournament since 2014 and finished with a 27-12 record.
Mike Mehlich led the Express pitching staff with a 1.99 ERA and an 8-1 record in 77 innings. He struck out 95 in that span and is complemented by Nick Bentley, who went 6-2 in 68 ⅔ innings with 2.49 ERA and 56 strikeouts.
TJ Evanson leads the lineup after hitting .439 with 18 home runs and 51 RBIs in 37 games. Ben Jensen hit .407 while Ash Larsen and Dylan Thomas each finished with 30 or more RBIs.
Baseball 365 reached the Class A state tournament last season but fell in the first round against the Rosetown A’s. Baseball 365 went 14-4 in Park National League play last season, with a plus-80 run differential in divisional games. Baseball 365 was 23-11 overall and 6-6 in non-league play.
Baseball 365 won its opening game of the season 7-5 against Carver.
Elrosa at Raymond, 2 p.m. POSTPONED
Elrosa and Raymond each reached the final 16 of the Class C state tournament last season and will get an early season test with each other.
Elrosa fell 4-0 to Jordan at the state tournament in its second consecutive trip to the tourney.
Ethan Vogt and Aaron Vogt threw the majority of the innings for the Saints. Ethan Vogt went 7-1 with a 3.26 ERA in 88 innings with 94 strikeouts. Aaron Vogt threw 75 innings and finished 4-3 with a 1.92 ERA and 68 strikeouts.
Elrosa has lost Matt Middendorf, who retired, and Austen Hadley, who drove in a team-high 29 runs and hit four home runs but the team is off to a 1-0 start after beating Spring Hill 15-9 in the Battle for the Keg.
Raymond, which won the 2016 Class C state title, bowed out of last year’s state tournament with a 7-1 loss to Faribault.
The Rockets come into the season ranked No. 9 in the Class C poll.
Baseball 365 at Carver, 2 p.m.
Carver starts the season ranked No. 10 in Class C after winning two games at the state tournament. It was the first state tournament appearance for the Black Sox since 1983 and their run ended with a 7-6 loss to Union Hill.
Carver is coming off a 24-14 season where Mark Ulrich threw 108 ⅔ innings and had a 2.15 ERA with 91 strikeouts. Ulrich went 9-3 in 11 starts.
Kyle Dalton led the Black Sox with a .401 batting average, 25 RBI and 12 stolen bases and will pace the team again. Anthony Gross finished with 20 RBI and David Dolan hit .358.
Faribault at Elko, 2 p.m.
The Dakota-Scott-Rice League heats up when Faribault and Elko meet for the first time. The Lakers and Express were two of the five teams that made state tournament trips last year from the league. New Prague, Union Hill, New Market were the others from the league to play at state.
The Lakers finished 28-12 and had their season end in a 3-2 loss to Lake Henry in the final eight of the tournament.
The big right-hander Matt Lane returns for Faribault after he threw 94 ⅓ innings and finished with 11 wins. He struck out 111 hitters and finished with a 1.24 ERA. He did not lose a game.
Blake Langerud led Lakers hitters with a .366 average.
Elko, which is ranked No. 9 in Class B, won last year’s meeting 14-0 in Faribault behind a 16-hit attack. The Express lost their opening game of the season April 29 12-8 against the Prior Lake Mudcats.
Watkins at Kimball, 2 p.m.
Watkins had a short state tournament trip last year. Kimball’s lasted a little longer. The Central Valley foes will face off for the first time of the 2018 season as the No. 1-ranked Express begin defense of their 2017 Class C state title.
It’ll be a meeting of the three Geislinger family members of Watkins and the four Marquardt on Kimball’s roster.
New Market at New Prague, 2 p.m.
The Muskies match up with New Prague, which is fresh after a run to the final four of the Class C state tournament. The Orioles will try to make it a longer run this season as one of the hosts of the 2018 state tournament after losing to Lake Henry 4-2 last year.
The Muskies finished 23-12 following a 5-3 loss to Kimball on the second weekend of the state tournament.
New Prague, which enters the year ranked No. 3 in Class C, went 22-11 last year and open this year with a brand new $1 million grandstand.
Champlin at Howard Lake, 2 p.m.
Howard Lake had a two-game run at the state tournament in Class C. After a 4-0 opening-round win over St. Martin, the Orphans fell 11-7 to the Sartell Muskies.
Champlin finished 22-19 last year and saw Jeff Heuer throw 56 ⅓ innings to lead the staff. He finished with a 3.83 ERA and 32 strikeouts. Zach Heckert threw 48 ⅓ innings with a .74 ERA and 41 strikeouts. Four others threw 12 or more innings.
Heuer led the team with a .402 average in 38 games and drove in a team-high 30 runs. Ryan Lust and Levi Brening each drove in 18 RBIs with Lust hitting .344 and Brening hitting .291.