By James Howell
Playoff baseball is a funny thing. After playing 30 plus games in the regular season, any successes or failures can be erased with an unlucky hop or a suddenly hot hitter. It’s the randomness of playing a handful of games to determine a season’s worth that makes any playoff series a maddening, yet enjoyable experience. In these playoffs, it’s state tournament or bust for the Saints.
After 2 years of playoff let down, the Saints are in a better position to qualify this year. For starters, the Saints will have the advantage of being the home team against Delano at Maple Lake. While the neutral site lessens the advantage, it is still worth something. The Saints also can count on a healthy John Hohenstein. The speedy center fielder went down with a leg injury in the postseason last year, which hurt their offense. This time around the Saints will also have Jon DeRock, whose 1st year with the team could be worthy of league MVP consideration. All of these factors improve the Saints chances of winning the 2 games necessary to advance.
A win on Friday would in all likelihood put the Saints in a game against Maple Lake. The Lakers lost a few games down the stretch, but had the best run differential in the league by 49 runs.
A loss to Delano and the Saints would likely find themselves in the midst of another game in the ‘bike path series’ against Cokato.
Looking at the playoffs from a broad view, Maple Lake seems to be a lock to qualify for state. Howard Lake usually would be, but they will almost certainly face Maple Plain hurler Ben Hendrickson in their opening game. Hendrickson, a former major league pitcher, makes the Diamond Devils more of a threat than their 7 seed would indicate. Any of the top 7 teams could reasonably qualify for state.
The Saints have as good a chance as any of those teams to find themselves moving on, but must first navigate through a very tough region. Any team that can make it through regions will be poised to play deep into August.