STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: Waconia Lakers excited, ready to be back at state tournament

WACONIA – In 2019, the Waconia Lakers were one of the most talked about teams in the state. They didn’t get to show what they could do in the postseason, as they were ruled ineligible due to a roster mistake.

Flash forward to 2020 and the Waconia Lakers are back with a vengeance. Back at the Class C State Tournament for the first time since 2018, the Lakers are ready to show what they can do on the state’s biggest stage.

“It was a very tough thing to go through last season and being able to get back at it was not something that our guys took lightly,” Waconia manager Mike Friedrich said. “We were very happy to play postseason baseball again, and we are thrilled to be headed to the state tournament.”

It’s the Lakers first state tournament appearance in two years, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any experience. Waconia’s roster is still loaded with veteran talent, as well as some younger players eager to make their mark. Pitching is where Waconia has most of their experience, and will rely on that with a younger lineup offensively.

“We are definitely experienced when you look at our pitching staff,” Friedrich said. “With (Kodey) Simon and (Chris) Bullis leading the way, and (Ryan) Naughton, Ben Smothers, Erik Olson and others relieving, we send a lot of baseball years to the mound.  But with the line-up we’ve been using much of this season, we don’t have many state tourney games under our belt,  with the exception being Ronnie Olson.  Besides Ronnie, we have four guys that played one game and four guys that don’t have a state start yet. That being said, we do have a great veteran presence and those guys help our younger players immensely on the field and in the dugout.”

Waconia comes into the state tournament after dominating the Crow River Valley League regular season. They finished the regular season with a 12-1 record, and finished in third place at the Region 7C Tournament with wins over Carver and Green Isle. The Lakers have three losses to CRVL teams this season with all three coming to Young America.

The level of competition Waconia has faced all season in the CRVL, as well as their non-league schedule, has them ready for what waits ahead at the state tournament.

“The Crow is loaded with great teams so we feel very fortunate to have gotten through the region,” Friedrich said. “In addition to the tough slate of CRVL games, we played non-league games against Champlin, Chaska, Delano, and Hutchinson, so we have seen a very high level of competition thus far this season.  Hopefully, that helps us at state.”

Waconia will open the 2020 Class C State Tournament Saturday Aug. 22 against Cannon Falls in Springfield at 5 p.m. While it’s been a while since the Lakers have played in a state tournament, they know how important each game is, regardless of who they are playing.

“With the format used in Class C, you absolutely cannot take any game lightly,” Friedrich said. “You have to survive game one and then you have another week to worry about game two. That’s the way we look at it. By the time you get to the state tourney, every team you see is on somewhat of a roll and feeling some confidence, which makes every team dangerous. We got knocked out in our first game in 2018, so we know what that feels like and hope to avoid that in this year’s tournament.”

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