AUSTIN EDITION Greyhounds are right where they want to be
It would appear that my old friend Mike Cummins was right on track when we discussed his son Tate and the fate of the Austin Greyhounds a few weeks ago at Marcusen Park.
At that point, the regular season was just drawing to a conclusion and the Greyhounds had lost three times to the other Class B amateur team in town, the Austin Blue Sox. The Hounds did indeed look regular as they posted a near .500 record in those meaningless games.
Mike Cummins, a former Austin American Legion coach and Austin High pitching star, has watched his son's team rise to the lofty heights they've occupied over the last six years. He snickered when I raised the theoretical notion that the sun may have set on the glory days of the Hounds.
"You know Kolby that these guys will step it up when the playoffs come around," Cummins said. "They're veterans of the amateur baseball wars and have played at a high level for years. They'll be heard from at state."
After a pair of impressive wins during the first weekend of the state tournament, the Greyhounds are alive and well in the winners' bracket. I've traveled all over the state watching the Hounds in the postseason for years, and my instincts always told me to believe in what Mike Cummins says about his favorite team.
For all their hard work in winning the first two games of the tourney, the Greyhounds have been rewarded with a rematch against the Mankato Twins, the defending state champion.
These two teams used to be in the same section and battled it out yearly for a trip to state. Now, they're playing for much higher stakes on Saturday.
The winner advances to the semifinals Sunday and has the inside track into the championship round Labor Day. The loser of the Hounds-Twins game has a much harder road to the finals and that takes its toll.
"We're going to have our hands full," Hounds player/manager John Frein said.
"If we can get some runs early and try to contain their offense, then play good defense and use our good pitching, we might be able to beat them. I'm not sure who our starter will be, but our pitching is in good shape. We're looking at the Mankato game as the championship."
Prior to their trip to state, I reported in this column about the resurgence of an old tradition among the Hounds. Some of the guys start growing out their mustaches come playoff time in order to acquire that rugged look much coveted in baseball circles.
According to Frein, the tradition has helped the Hounds refine their focus as they make a run for a third state title this decade.
"The 'staches are coming along," Frein said. "We're focused and ready for the biggest game of the season."
The last few meetings with the Twins haven't gone so well for the Hounds. During the regular season, the Twins hammered the Hounds by the 10-run rule in a game at Marcusen Park. Last year, the Twins beat the Hounds by nine runs to win the state title.
Funny fads and talk about playoff mentality are all fine, but there's no way around it -- the path to the title goes through the Twins. Little wonder that Frein and his teammates all believe that the game on Saturday morning is really for all the marbles.
Scott Kolb is a sports reporter for the Post-Bulletin. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org