Chad Knutson — Heron Lake
The Favorite: Jordan Brewers — Defending champs and a very tough out with their experience, tough road back to Labor day weekend.
The Dark Horse: Fairmont Martins — Ranked No. 2 in my final ranking … maybe the best team they have had and they flat out hit and have a stacked pitching staff who can make a long run.
The Upset: Ft. Ripley over Buffalo — Rebels from the always tough Victory League face a Buffalo team who ran through the North Star league unscathed.
The Sleeper: Hanska Lakers: These boys will sneak up on some teams … good lineup and solid pitching.
The Favorite: Buckman Billygoats — Won the Victory League and Region 8C and my pick to make it to the Final Four.
The Dark Horse: Maple Lake Lakers — Made a good run in Region 12C and tournament tested … know how to win.
The Upset: Prior Lake Mudcats — Veterans Ben Morrison and Jonny Houston win over a very solid New Ulm squad.
The Sleeper: Starbuck Stars —Ver Steegs and Grubers lead this talented team and they field it very well.
The Favorite: Young America Cardinals — Very tough road to the Final Four, they have the talent to win it all.
The Dark Horse: Lamberton Long Sox — Veteran team that have two outstanding pitchers and picked up some good draftees. If they get the offense going, they will be tough to beat.
The Upset: Luverne over Mora — Redbirds come in as the third seed out of Region 13, but may be playing the best ball right now.
The Sleeper: Dilworth Raildogs — First state appearance facing St Clair Wood Ducks who are also making their first state appearance.
The Favorite: Delano Athletics — They have the talent to win it all.
The Dark Horse: Rochester Roadrunners — a team not talked about a lot. Region 5 champs — beat some very good teams.
The Upset: Clinton Cards over Carver Black Sox.
The Sleeper: Bluffton Braves — Good matchup and teams may overlook this northern Braves squad who is becoming a regular at state.
Kip Kovar — Winsted
The Favorite: Jordan Brewers — Last year's state champions back again to try and repeat. It's hard to repeat, but Jordan has been solid all season long. Veteran group who knows how to win games.
The Dark Horse: Hanska Lakers – Come into the tournament as the No. 3 seed from Region 2. A team that's been to two of the past three state tournaments. Hanska plays in an overlooked Tomahawk East League in which they went 11-1. A trip to the final weekend is possible for this group.
The Upset: Fort Ripley over Buffalo. Buffalo has been one of the top teams in the North Star League all season. They get a tough draw in the first round against a veteran Fort Ripley team. Buffalo is making their first state tournament appearance since 2017.
The Sleeper: Waconia Lakers — Hard to call the Waconia Lakers a sleeper this season, but their draw for this tournament is not easy. It's been two years since the Lakers have been at state, so some people may have forgotten about them. Waconia has one of the best offensive lineups in the state, and has the pitching to back it up. A tough road awaits the Lakers as they could face Fairmont and Jordan in their section of the bracket.
The Underdog: Cannon Falls — A tough matchup for the No. 2 seed from Region 5. They get the Waconia Lakers in the first round. If they get past Waconia, the Fairmont Martins await the second round.
The Favorite: Buckman — One of the best teams all season long. Veteran group who knows how to win games this time of year. Have made deep runs in past state tournaments.
The Dark Horse: New Ulm Brewers — Another Tomahawk East League team that gets overlooked sometimes. Veteran group of players looking to make another run.
The Upset: Cold Spring over Starbuck. The Rockies are one of the most consistent teams in the state. A tough draw for Starbuck after getting the No. 2 seed from Region 4.
The Sleeper: Watertown Red Devils — Back for the first time since 2008. A team most people don't know much about. Pat Tschida has been the big winner for teams from Region 7C the last handful of years. This year he and veteran manager Jared Duske are on a mission to make some noise.
The Underdog: Alexandria — A tough matchup with a good Maple Lake team who knocked off Hutchinson to get here. If they get past the Lakers, Bemidji awaits them in the second round. Tough draw for Alexandria.
The Favorite: Young America Cardinals — One of the popular favorites to win it all. Deep runs the past two years have Young America looking for more. A deep pitching staff only got better through the draft. One of the best offensive lineups from top to bottom. This could be the year for the Cardinals.
The Dark Horse: Watkins Clippers — A team that gets overlooked each year. The Clippers have talent all over the field. Fought against Kimball for the top seed from Region 15. Could be one of the toughest obstacles in Young America's way.
The Upset: St. Clair over Dilworth.
The Sleeper: Howard Lake Orphans — This goes against my dark horse prediction, but the Howard Lake Orphans are a team to keep an eye on. Ace Mike Dockendorf is good enough to keep the Orphans in any game. Howard Lake plays in a tough North Star League and boasts wins over Delano and Maple Lake. If they can get past Watkins, the Orphans have a chance to reach the final weekend if they get the bats going.
The Underdog: Luverne — A tough matchup the first round against Mora. Doesn't get easier if they win with Young America waiting in the second round.
The Favorite: Probably the hardest favorite to pick, but going to get the edge to Sartell. A team that’s had lots of success at the state tournament. They get the edge over Delano with their veteran crew.
The Dark Horse: Carver Black Sox — The Carver Black Sox were the No. 10 seed in the Crow River Valley League and the No. 8 seed in the Region 7C Tournament. Here they are back at state for a fourth-straight year. The Black Sox are playing as well as anyone. A team that’s capable of another deep run.
The Upset: Regal over St. Patrick.
The Sleeper: Gaylord Islanders — A team that’s capable of pulling off a few wins. The Islanders are always good and will be looking to surprise some people this year.
The Underdog: Clinton Cards — A tough break for the No. 2 seed from Region 9. The Carver Black Sox are not your ordinary No. 4 seed and will be a tough matchup for the Cards.
Aaron Worm — New Prague
The Favorite: Jordan — The Brewers are the defending champs, and have been ranked No. 1 all year. Talented enough to win back-to-back crowns.
The Dark Horse: Fort Ripley, You can’t sleep on any team from the Victory League, they are the fourth team out of the region, and will be a tough out.
The Upset: Waconia over Cannon Falls and Fairmont: Upsets just based on seeds, the Lakers out of the Crow, could find themselves in a great sweet 16 matchup against Jordan.
The Underdog: Midway: The Snurbirds, are in a tough half of the bracket, with Jordan waiting in the wings in the second round, putting them in the underdog roll.
The Favorite: Buckman — The Billygoats are always a team I pull for each state tournament, and I have the Goats in the championship this year.
The Dark Horse: Watertown — First visit to state since 2008, The Red Devils could come out of this quad. Their first state game in 12 years will be a test when they face Red Wing in the first round.
The Upset: Prior Lake over New Ulm — The Mudcats are scrappy, they are a tough out and if the veteran Ben Morrison is on the hill, the Cats will get to round two. #GetMuddy
The Underdog: Maple Lake — The inventors of the Shoe Beer, have a tough road to get out of this quad, with Bemidji and Kimball possible matchups.
The Favorite: Young America — I have a soft spot for this team, spending a good amount of time cheering on the Cardinals from birth to 10 years old. I have Y.A celebrating the title when this thing wraps up on Labor Day.
The Dark Horse: Watkins — The Clippers could easily be the favorite in this quad, and I know I have probably slept on them this season, I like their draw, with Y.A waiting for them in the final eight.
The Upset: Union Hill over Avon and Lamberton — The Bulldogs are an exciting young team to watch that can hit the ball all over the park.
The Underdog: St. Clair — First ever trip to the state tourney, welcome to the show Wood Ducks!
The Favorite: Sartell — Muskies are always a favorite in whatever quad they show up in, but I do have them falling in their first game to Gaylord.
The Dark Horse: St. Patrick Irish — The Irish look to show the state they are the new dominant team in the DRS, with New Market moving up to Class B this season. I think this might be the toughest quad, with Rochester, Delano or Carver, Gaylord and Sartell all possibilities down the road.
The Upset: Gaylord over Sartell and Bluffton: The Islanders were region runners up behind Jordan, and will represent the RVL well at state.
The Underdog: Carver — I saw a bracket that had the Black Sox winning the whole thing. Those that follow them in the Crow would say they could be a favorite in this quad. I put them in this role, because they have to beat a lot of quality teams to get to the final four.
Tom Elliott — Willmar
The Favorite: The Jordan Brewers did it last year, so why not again? They’ve played an ambitious schedule, even getting in their annual tournament. They’re 20-4 since a mid-June start and have rolled off a 10-game winning streak. It’s a team everyone will have their eye on.
The Dark Horse: The Buffalo Bulldogs aren’t one of the first teams that come to mind when you talk about state powers, though they’ve been really good lately. Buffalo went 10-0 in the very good North Star League and finished second in Region 12C, finishing runner-up to the Delano Athletics (another good team). The North Star is also where the Hutchinson Huskies, last year’s state runner-up to Jordan, play. And, Howard Lake and Maple Lake are strong state-tournament teams from the North Star.
The Dark Horse: Waconia — The Lakers had the best record in the Crow River Valley League, going 12-1. They’re talented and the CRVL is a very competitive league. They enter state as the No. 3 seed from Region 7C, so that’s a dark horse in my opinion.
The Upset: They went 2-7 in their league and bring a 6-9 record into the state tournament. Three of their best hitters retired after last year’s tournament run. And while they were one strike from a state title in 2017, not a lot of folks were expecting the Lake Henry Lakers to be back at state. They need to beat Midway in the first round to make this happen.
The Sleeper: The Rochester Roadrunners: It’s been a while since a Rochester team made some noise and this one is a good candidate. The Roadrunners started slow, starting the year 2-3. They have reeled off nine straight wins, including winning the Region 5C title.
The Favorite: The Isanti Redbirds have won Region 1C, which I can’t remember having a state champ. They’ve also beaten the Jordan Brewers, which should get everyone’s attention. The Redbirds have been to state before, so they know the routine. It’s time for an Eastern Minny team to have a long run.
The Favorite: The Buckman Billygoats emerged as the top seed out of Region 8C, which is all Victory League teams. Victory League teams have always done well at state, including the Billygoats. They’re talented and playoff-tested.
The Favorite: The Kimball Express won it all in 2017 and slipped through Region 15C by beating their Central Valley League rivals, the Watkins Clippers. They’re a veteran club with four Marquardts in the lineup, including 2017 state tournament MVP Scott Marquardt and his son Caden.
The Dark Horse: Watertown — I guess I’m a sucker for the Crow River Valley.
The Dark Horse: The Bemidji Blue Ox won Region 10A, earning a first-round bye. There’s some good talent and northern teams winning is always a nice surprise.
The Upset: Sticking with my Region 1C/Eastern Minny theme, take the Mora Blue Devils to beat the Luverne Redbirds. Mora went 6-0 in the Eastern Minny North Division and 11-3 overall, so they’re far from a classic underdog.
The Upset: How about Alexandria beating Maple Lake in the first round? The Black Sox aren’t exactly a household name at state, but they’re very tough when Blake Stockert, a former North Dakota State left-hander, is pitching.
The Upset: Not sure if this is an upset, but I could see the Avon Lakers beating Union Hill, Lamberton and Young America. That’d be two top seeds (the Long Sox and the Cardinals). Avon’s the No. 2 seed from 8C.
The Sleeper: With Matt Geislinger on the mound, the Watkins Clippers can beat anybody in the state. With a format where you don’t need a second starting pitcher until the final weekend, the Clippers are definitely in the state title conversation.
The Sleeper: The Bird Island Bullfrogs slipped in under the radar a bit in the Corn Belt League because they had to forfeit some games because of some missing paperwork on a couple of high school kids. They’ve got a big ace in Bethany Lutheran star Logan Nissen and they drafted well: high school stud Josh Kingery of Atwater, Tyler Vaughn of the Milroy Yankees and Raymond Rockets ace Alex Lotthammer.
The Sleeper: It’s hard to call these guys sleepers, since the Sartell Muskies are a perennial state tournament team. But it’s been a while since their state title in 2013, though many of the same players remain.