AMATEUR BASEBALL: North Star League Playoff Scenarios (July 22)

With five teams in the Herald Journal coverage area, the North Star League is as familiar of an amateur baseball experience as it gets in the neighborhood.

The Delano Athletics, Loretto Larks, Howard Lake Orphans, Dassel-Cokato Saints and Cokato Kernels all partake in the league and Region 12C — and they are scattered throughout the standings with just a couple games left on the regular season schedule. Today we’ll talk through playoff scenarios for all of them and what the greater region standings can result in by July 25 as well.

As of July 22, the standings look like this:

1. Loretto (14-4)

2. Hutchinson (14-4)

3. Delano (13-4)

4. Buffalo (13-5)

5. Howard Lake* (11-8)

6. Litchfield (8-10)

7. Maple Lake (8-11)

8. Maple Plain (7-11)

9. Cokato* (6-14)

10. Dassel-Cokato* (5-14)

11. Montrose/Waverly* (2-16)

*Cannot move up or down in standings

The race for first place

The Loretto Larks picked up a much-needed win over Buffalo Wednesday to earn the advantage in a crammed top-four race. Ace pitcher Colton Petron’s complete game and some timely late offense made it a 7-2 final, the Larks splitting the season series and winning the next tiebreaker by head-to-head runs scored, 18-17. Now Loretto has a game up on Buffalo along with the tiebreaker.

Loretto had Corey Koskie in the lineup Wednesday and he delivered with a solo homer in the eighth inning — if he’s around for region playoffs that adds another big bat to the Larks artillery. They’ll need some reliable starting pitching after Colton Petron during that stretch as well. Look for George Faue and Donny Schroeder will be names to watch in that regard.

Delano beat Loretto twice, but the A’s are in a bit of a slump with three games in three days to finish the season. The Athletics have a big one with Hutch Friday, a rescheduled rematch with recent upstart Maple Plain after that and a finale at home against Litchfield. If Delano wins against Hutch by more than one run, they’ll overtake the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Huskies. They lost the runs scored matchup with Buffalo in a split.

Delano is in deep search of a consistent arm on the mound, and though the lineup is quiet right now, you can’t count out their offense at Municipal Stadium for the entirety of the tournament. Should the Larks take care of business against Maple Lake Friday, they’ll be looking at a possible deciding game with Hutchinson for first place in the season finale. The Huskies would need to beat Loretto by more than five runs to leap them for a tiebreaker.

Hutchinson has the most important schedule left with the chance to clinch an advantage against Delano and get revenge on Loretto. Beating the A’s and knocking off the Larks by more than five runs would earn them the number one seed. I like the Huskies’ balance of solid defense, deeper pitching than the other three teams and enough offense to get the job done.

Buffalo is the only team among the four with five losses as of July 22. They have the offense to fight with anyone (and Cal James will return to the lineup for the playoffs), but they’ll need some things out of their control to break the right way for a chance to get out of the fourth seed. Add James to the hard-hitting lineup of Jake Duske, Justin Johnson, J.D. O’Donnell and Brett Renshaw and that’s a fearsome gauntlet for any pitcher.

The three-way tie scenarios and single four-way tie possibility favor Hutchinson (and Delano) as of this moment. The matchup between Loretto and Hutchinson Sunday will be the last domino to fall in the league leader race.

Maple Plain and simple

Ever since upending Delano a couple weeks back 11-10 at the Muni, the Diamond Devils have found some newfound momentum trying to escape the play-in tournament for the region’s eighth seed.

It’s been an up-and-down league schedule for Maple Plain but one key win and a close loss early on are coming back to help them out. The Devils beat Maple Lake by two runs recently to even the series, and the next applicable tiebreaker between them is record against teams higher in the standings — Maple Plain has that advantage as well.

The Litchfield Blues are dangerously close to dropping behind the Lakers and Devils as well after losing to Maple Plain 5-3 for a total of 8 runs to 7 in the Devils’ favor. For Maple Plain to escape the play-in round, the easiest route would be to win out against Delano and Dassel-Cokato. That gives them nine wins and no worse than a tie with Maple Lake and Litchfield, who lose the tiebreakers.

If the Devils win just one of their last two, they’ll need Litchfield or Maple Lake to lose one more time as well to clinch the seventh seed or better.

Orphans have a home

Few teams in the NSL are playing as well as Howard Lake in the stretch run of the season. Noah Bush is as reliable a leadoff man as any team has, and Brad Bickmann followed by Jared Koch is not a run of easy outs by any means. The Orphans smoked Delano with 21 hits Tuesday night in a 13-2 win. Mike Dockendorf, Koch and Bush are a tough three pitchers to beat on good days, and Howard Lake needs them at the top of their games if they want a state bid from Region 12C.

The Orphans are locked in all alone as the fifth seed. The way they’re playing, I would not want to be the fourth seed playing them in round one of the playoffs. That makes the race between Loretto, Delano, Hutchinson and Buffalo all the more interesting at the top.

In the back of your mind

Howard Lake isn’t the only seed set for the playoffs before the end of the regular season slate. Cokato, Dassel-Cokato and Montrose/Waverly are all locked in as the ninth, 10th and 11th seeds, meaning they’ll play in the four-team tournament to decide who earns the eighth spot in the region tournament. The last team will not be decided until Sunday — it could be Litchfield, Maple Lake or Maple Plain.

Waverly’s two wins are against D-C and Cokato, and Cokato topped D-C twice in the Bike Path Series this year by a combined score of 8-3. We’re guaranteed a third game of that series in the play-in first round July 31 at Cokato and you can expect a possible matchup of Steve Schmitt and Jordan Flick on the mound for that one. Both teams have dangerous hitters at the top of the order, too — will the winner be able to surprise the eighth seed in the next round for the last region tourney spot?

For NSL updates, coverage and more, watch for the latest issues of the Herald Journal, Delano Herald Journal and Dassel-Cokato Enterprise-Dispatch and follow Jared Martinson and Kip Kovar on Twitter: @JaredNHR @Kovar_HJsports

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