Baseball and boys’ lacrosse offer no clear favorites. In softball and girls’ lacrosse, however, the ones to beat would seem to be more clear-cut.
Here’s a look at the four sports heading toward section championship games to earn a spot in the state tournament next month.
The race for the Class 3A baseball championship, which will be played at Target Field on June 13, appears to be more up for grabs than at any time in recent history.
“I don’t think you have the super teams like you’ve had in the past,” Chaska coach Craig Baumann said. He is in his fifth season at the helm of the Hawks after serving as their pitching coach. “Everybody appears to be more on an even playing field.”
Baumann’s squad is a perfect example. It wasn’t even ranked in the top 10 in the preseason poll by the Let’s Play Baseball publication but now finds itself at No. 3 after finishing the regular season with an overall record of 17-3.
“Our kids have worked very hard to get to where they’re at today,” Baumann said. “They don’t want to leave the field when practice is over.”
That’s because the Hawks are trying to emulate the state’s top programs.
“We want our younger teams playing against the better schools,” Baumann said. “We don’t want to be intimidated by the school name on a jersey. The more you play the better schools, the less the name on the jersey means.”
One place where the field is still a bit skewed is in the section tournaments. Section 2, where Chaska falls, is packed with talented teams.
“It used to be the top four teams you had to worry about,” Baumann said. “I think three-quarters of our [12-team] section could do damage this year.”
It’s a section that boasts four conference champions. They are Chaska in the Metro West, No. 10-ranked Eden Prairie in the Lake, Shakopee in the South Suburban and Hutchinson in the Wright County. Shakopee went 1-2 in the section and was eliminated on Monday.
The section also has No. 2-rated Chanhassen, which dropped into the losers’ bracket after a 1-0 setback at the hands of Waconia in the quarterfinals. It ousted Shakopee 13-3.
Minnetonka, which started the season in the top 10, is also in the losers’ bracket after dropping a 5-4 decision to Hutchinson in the same round.
“We have nine teams in our section at .500 or better,” Baumann said. “It’s going to be a dogfight just to get out of our section.”
Mounds View coach Mark Downey feels the same way. The two-time defending state champion and No. 1-ranked Mustangs are the top seed in Section 5, followed by No. 4-rated Maple Grove.
The Mustangs and Crimson both won their first two section games by one run.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Downey said. “I think it’s wide open. I don’t think there is a dominant team.”
Unlike baseball, softball has a clear-cut favorite in No. 1-rated Maple Grove.
The Crimson (20-2) have eight starters back, including the best senior hurler in the state in Sydney Smith, from their Class 3A tournament runner-up group of a year ago. Smith has signed with LSU of the Southeastern Conference.
Sure, the Crimson has dropped two games this season, but both came in the Eastview Invitational when Smith was sidelined. It also marked the only two times this season when opponents have scored more than two runs against the Northwest Suburban Conference champions.
Maple Grove’s conference rival, Anoka, finished the regular season ranked No. 3. It lost to the Crimson 10-0 in the final week with the league title on the line.
If you’re looking for other teams to make a run at the title, keep an eye on the likes of No. 2 Bloomington Jefferson and No. 4 Eastview. They are both in Section 3, however, so only one of them will make the Class 3A field.
Boys’ lacrosse is the one sport that most resembles baseball. Why? There is one section loaded with quality teams.
The top-ranked schools, No. 1 Prior Lake and No. 2 Bloomington Jefferson, are the only unbeaten teams left in the state. Neither has previously reached the state tournament, and that will remain the case for at least one of them. Both are in Section 3.
Fifth-rated Rosemount also happens to be in the section, too. The Irish were the state tournament runner-up a year ago.
The most predictable tournament of the group.
Five-time defending state champion Blake and Eden Prairie have met for the championship in seven of the eight years of the tournament’s existence. No. 1-rated Blake has won six crowns; No. 2 Eden Prairie claimed the other two.
The two schools met in the regular-season finale, with the Eagles winning 12-10.
Could the Bears’ run of state titles come to an end? That sort of question in four sports will be answered in the next three weeks.