Over the years, the North Star League and Region 12C have only gotten better and better. That was the case in 2022 as fans were treated to a thrilling regular season all year long as the NSL was loaded with talent from top to bottom.
An exciting season will continue as eight teams remain searching for a spot in the Class C State Tournament. With one of the deepest fields in years, the Region 12C Tournament hosted by the Litchfield Blues looks to be as exciting as ever.
The following is a preview of the first-round matchups for the Region 12C Tournament.
(1) Delano vs. (8) Loretto
Both these teams were playing in the Class C State Tournament a year ago. Now they meet in the first round of the Region 12C Tournament in the opening game. The A’s have been the top team in the North Star League all season long while the Loretto Larks have had a season filled with ups and downs. The Larks are coming into the region tournament after beating Rockford and Maple Plain in the league play-in games to secure the final spot.
When it comes to the A’s, it starts with their offense. One of the top-scoring teams in the state, Delano will be a tough out once again this postseason. The A’s are in their prime right now and will be looking to not only get back to the state tournament but also make a deep run as well.
Trevor Jaunich and Toby Hanson power the dangerous lineup for the A’s. Both have an average of over .400 to go along with some impressive power numbers. Jaunich led the team in home runs with six while Hanson finished with four.
Jack Paulson is another big bat to watch for Delano. He led the team with an average of .457 to go along with four home runs and 48 RBI.
Pitching has also taken a big step forward this season for the A’s. Delano has four players with three or more wins this season on the mound. Matt Arens led the way with five wins while Mike Weber and Jake Gleason each finished with four wins. Jake Nelson also racked up three wins.
For the Larks, it’s been a season filled with highs and lows. Loretto could never quite get things rolling with a hiccup at some point but found a way to get back to the Region 12C Tournament once again.
The offense has come alive lately with double-digit runs in their wins over Rockford and Maple Plain. Despite a record of just 10-14, the Larks have played well at times this season. Of their 14 losses, six of them have come by two runs or less. A play here or there goes their way and the Larks move up a handful of seeds but they enter the tournament as a dangerous No. 8 seed.
Keenan Hodgkin is the bat to watch for the Larks. Heading into the final stretch of the regular season, he led the league in hitting with an average of .585. He also led the league in doubles with 11. Ben Leuthner, Tyler Maher, Kent Koch, and Nathan Maher are other players to watch offensively for the Larks. Of course, Loretto also has former Twin Corey Koskie they can turn to in big spots like he did last season.
On the mound, the Larks will need to step up their game. That’s where the struggles have been this season but they’ve shown glimpses of being able to hold teams in check.
(4) Litchfield vs. (5) Buffalo
One of the more interesting matchups in the first round is the Litchfield Blues taking on the Buffalo Bulldogs. The Blues are one of the most improved teams in the state while the Bulldogs are one of those teams who are talented yet just had a tough regular season.
Avery Liestman is worth the price of admission for fans alone. Becoming one of the premier talents in the NSL, Liestman and the Blues will be looking to keep their stellar season rolling on their home field under the bright lights of the Region 12C Tournament. For the season, Liestman had an average of .493 to go along with 10 doubles, two home runs, and 19 RBI. If that’s not enough, he also posted a 1.73 ERA in 62 innings with a record of 4-2 while racking up 69 strikeouts. Jack Ramthun and Joey Hyde are two other pitchers to watch for the Blues as they both picked up three wins this year.
Other players to watch offensively for Litchfield are Andrew Loch and Jake Jones. Loch posted an average of .326 to go along with 10 RBI while Jones hit .395 with six doubles and 19 RBI.
For Buffalo, they still have one of the top offenses in the league. It just hasn’t resulted in wins this year. The bats are still a huge problem to deal with for opposing teams as Buffalo had a team batting average of .305 this year.
Colton Haight, Justin Johnson, Brett Renshaw, and Cole LaPlante highlight the offense for the Bulldogs. All four have an average over .300. Johnson and Renshaw each had three home runs while Tommy Eckstein adds even more power to the lineup with four home runs himself.
Like the Loretto Larks, pitching will need to improve for the Bulldogs if they want to make some noise at the Region 12C Tournament. As a team, they posted an ERA of 5.66, a number that will need to improve.
John Weber and Jon Euerle come in as the top two pitchers for Buffalo. Euerle posted an ERA of 3.92 while Weber finished with an ERA of 3.99. Both finished with three wins along with Michael Weber and Carter Vogt. The Bulldogs don’t have a true ace and will rely on their entire pitching staff to make a run at the Region 12C Tournament.
(3) Maple Lake vs. (6) Howard Lake
Another interesting matchup in the first round features the Maple Lake Lakers and Howard Lake Orphans. These are two good teams that can beat anybody and will be on the top matchups in the first round. The Lakers and Orphans split their two regular-season matchups with both games decided by two runs or less. Howard Lake won a 3-2 matchup while Maple Lake won the second meeting by a score of 2-0.
The Orphans are a team that is starting to see their young talent pay off. It has them back at the region tournament and looking to get back to state after missing out in 2021.
Cole Macziewski is one of the top hitters to watch for the Orphans. He finished the year with an average of .375. Other key bats for Howard Lake to watch are Jared Koch, Brad Bickmann, and Matt Streich.
Koch has also been one of their top pitchers this season. Combine him with veteran and manager Mike Dockendorf and Howard Lake has a nice one-two punch to lead the way on the mound. Bickmann also has given the Orphans some big innings this year and is an arm to watch.
For Maple Lake, they’ve had another strong season and are looking to capitalize on it by reaching the state tournament. They’ve been consistent all season long and are a team to watch not only at the Region 12C Tournament but at the state tournament as well if they’re able to make it.
Maple Lake has five terrific hitters who have been putting together a strong season. Ben Clapp leads the way with a .436 average while Riley Decker, Hunter Malachek, Logan Orazem, and Donnie Mavencamp all have an average of .333 or better. Malachek leads the team in RBI with 31 while also showing some power with a team-best four home runs. Clapp leads the Lakers in doubles with 13 and is second in home runs with three while Brock Goelz has two home runs himself.
On the mound, Malachek has been just as good. In nine starts, he’s earned seven wins while posting an ERA of 1.75. Ben Reilley (0.64 ERA) and Luke Fobbe (0.93) are also two legit arms for the Lakers to lean on.
(2) Hutchinson vs. (7) Cokato
The Hutchinson Huskies come into the Region 12C Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the state. After getting off to a tough start, the Huskies have been lighting up the scoreboard and racking up the wins. The Huskies opened the season with a 1-5 record. Since then they have won 23-straight games, 16 of which have come by 10 or more runs.
For the Cokato Kernels, they’re looking to try and slow down the red-hot Huskies. Another strong year for them has the Kernels back in the region tournament and looking to steal a state tournament bid away from the top four seeds.
Leading the way for Hutchinson at the plate have been Jayden Fleck, Lane Glaser, Zach Kueseske, and Jake Wendland. All four have an average of over .400 on the season. Fleck has been on a tear all season long with nine home runs and 31 RBI. As a team, the Huskies have hit 30 home runs this year as the power of their lineup is something to watch.
The pitching has been very good for the Huskies as well this season. With a team ERA of 2.79, Hutchinson has shown they can win low-scoring games or pile up the runs with their powerful offense.
John DeRock is one of the top arms for the Huskies. He has an ERA of 1.74 in 46 innings of work. Kueseske has also been nearly unhittable with an ERA of 1.03 in 61 innings of work.
For the Kernels, they bring a mix of experience and young talent. They’ll be looking for that to gel and make a run this year. They’ve shown they can play with some of the best teams in the NSL and will try and do that once again and make a run as one of the two bottom seeds in the Region 12C Tournament.