Defense is postseason key for JM, Century, Mayo
There are 12 coaches saying the same thing as they enter the Section One, Class AAA baseball tournament.
"If we play good defense, we have a chance to win."
The three Rochester teams in the 1AAA tournament echoed those sentiments this week as they prepared to break down 12 teams all capable of beating each other on any given day.
The seeds were scheduled to be announced today. Only five teams enter section play with a winning record.
How even is the section? Winona (13-5) is expected to be the No. 1 seed. Austin (8-12) will be around the No. 10 seed. The Packers and Winhawks split one-run games this season. Throughout the Big Nine Conference season, teams split doubleheaders on a regular basis.
"It's a very different season," Mayo coach Dan Hoefs said. "Winona has been pretty consistent. But top to bottom, everybody probably feels if they play defense, they have a shot."
John Marshall's doubleheader sweep of Mankato East on Tuesday night made it the only Rochester team with a winning record. The Rockets enter postseason play at 9-8. Mayo is 9-10 and Century finished 8-11.
"We have shown signs of being a pretty good team this spring but not on a consistent basis," JM coach Dutch Heiderscheit said. "We have some good hitters, and while we don't have an overpowering pitcher, we have several guys that when they throw strikes they can be effective."
All three city teams have dangerous hitting lineups, sluggers who have given them a chance to win every game. However, lackluster defense, particularly on the infield, has made for an unpredictable spring.
Winona, Faribault (14-5) and Northfield (12-5) likely will be the top three seeds. Owatonna, JM and Albert Lea will be close behind. But, after those top three teams, the rest of the teams have similar records.
The section also adopted a new format this season. Thursday's opening-round games will be at the high seeds, while the top four seeds will receive first-round byes. The four losing teams from Thursday night are eliminated. The winners move on to face the top four seeds Saturday, with the top seeds hosting and the tournament format switching to double-elimination.
The action heats up Monday at two sites, with the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds hosting. The four winners square off, with the winners of those two games punching their ticket to the Final Four in Red Wing. Two teams in the losers bracket also will advance to Red Wing.
"We will go as far as our defense takes us," Century coach Keith Kangas said. "Our pitching, led by Matt Sturchio and Josh Bakken, has been pretty solid and in most games we have scored enough runs to win."
The city coaches all felt Winona had the best chance to make it through the tournament. The Winhawks have three solid pitchers and have been hot at the end of the season.
"Winona has a deep pitching staff," Heiderscheit said. "They've been consistent and so has Faribault. But this thing is wide open. Many teams have a guy or two that can beat any team in the section. It should be a fun tournament."