STATE TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: Young America to lean on talent, experience for another tournament run

YOUNG AMERICA – The Young America Cardinals are no longer a secret when it comes to amateur baseball. After back-to-back thrilling runs at the state tournament the past two seasons, the Cardinals are on everyone’s radar now.

After winning their second-straight Region 7C title, the Young America Cardinals come into the 2020 Class C State Tournament as the No. 1 seed from Region 7.

While expectations might be high for the Cardinals outside of the team due to their recent success, the Cardinals know how important it is to take it one game at a time.

“As far as our expectations coming in, I feel like we should take it one game at a time because that’s what it really comes down to,” Young America manager Adam Kostecka said. “If you don’t win the first one, you don’t get a second chance.”

Taking things one game at a time can be hard for a team like Young America. The Cardinals have been playing on the final weekend of the tournament the past two seasons, including playing in the semifinals in 2018. The taste of getting so close the past couple of years only fuels the Cardinals to make another deep postseason run this year.

“I also want the guys to feel like we deserve to be here.” Kostecka said. “The last two years were great, but we want more. Someone told me after the 2018 loss to Sobieski to not worry, and this team is built to do this for years to come. That may be true, but it takes some luck and some breaks and not just talent. I want our guys to remember that we aren’t guaranteed anything and still have to earn every win.”

Experience is one thing the Cardinals bring to the state tournament. Young America is back at the state tournament for a fourth-straight season. While state tournament experience is always nice, a majority of the Cardinals players have been playing in big games long before their amateur baseball careers took off.

“As far as experience goes, I honestly believe that most of these guys truly don’t look at it any different than any other big game they have played in,” Kostecka said. “Most of them have some college experience and know what it’s like to play in important games on big stages. It helps to have been there a few times in a row, but overall, I feel like most just treat it like any other elimination game they have been a part of.”

Talent goes hand-in-hand with experience for Young America. From top to bottom, the Cardinals are one of the deepest and most talented teams in the state. Whether it’s pitching or offense, Young America ranks near the top in all the state.

A talented pitching staff of Josh Lenz, Dillon Whittaker, and Isaac Hormann only go better for Young America this year. All three have showed up in big games on the mound for the Cardinals, and will be relied on even more this time around.

Young America has also added some more depth to their pitching staff through the draft. With the first overall pick in the draft, the Cardinals selected Cologne’s Christian Johnson. He is coming off a breakout season last year in which he pitched the Cologne Hollanders into the final weekend of the state tournament.

Young America also added Tanner Luebke (Cologne) and Pat Regan (Green Isle) to their pitching staff, as the rich got richer heading into the state tournament.

“Our pitching staff was pretty solid before the draft, and adding three good pitchers obviously helps,” Kostecka said. “Christian’s track record speaks for itself, and is a great addition to our staff for sure. I have seen both Tanner and Pat pitch, and feel like they could be very useful if we can make a deep run. I am not sure how the draftees will exactly be used yet, but if we get to Labor Day weekend, we know that’s a lot of innings in three days, so more good pitchers never hurts.”

With the addition of three strong pitchers, pitching and defense will be the key for the Cardinals as they look to make another deep run. While Young America might be known for their dangerous lineup at the plate, pitching and defense is where it starts for the Cardinals.

“If we want to make a deep run, we have to pitch and play defense,” Kostecka said. “That’s what I think we do well, so hopefully that continues. I know our lineup is capable of scoring us runs, so if we don’t kick the ball around and give people free passes, I believe we have a chance to win every game.”

Young America also comes into the state tournament battle-tested. Playing in the Crow River Valley League and Region 7, the Cardinals have been grinding it out since the season began.

“Playing in Region 7 is a battle every year,” Kostecka said. “In normal years with 18 games, the difference between three losses and four losses could mean you drop two or three spots in the seeding. That’s the difference between a bye into the region tournament and becoming the No. 5 seed. It’s a good region with a lot of good teams and it definitely helps to see that level of competition going into state.”

The Cardinals have a bye into the second round of the state tournament after winning their region. The time off is a welcomed thing for Young America, as they’ve had one of the most grueling schedules of any team in the state. The Cardinals played four games in four days midway through the regular season, and followed that up with three games in three days near the end of the regular season. To top it all off, the Cardinals had to beat Waconia and Watertown in back-to-back games on the same day, just to win the Region 7C title.

“Down the stretch we played a lot of baseball, and I think the guys are welcoming a little break,” Kostecka said. “It will be good for the guys to be able to step away for a bit and get rested for hopefully a long state tournament run. If we get to Labor Day weekend, I have no doubt we’ll be ready to play four games in three days. We have the pitching staff to do it, and adding three more gold arms is going to help.”

As Young America awaits to see who they will play in the second round of the state tournament (Luverne or Mora), they know how crazy the state tournament can be. The Cardinals have played in their fair share of thrillers over the years,  which shows them just how important each inning is at this time of year.

“As far as crazy games, I guess we like it that way,” Kostecka said. “We know every team at the state tournament is there because they’re a good team. You can’t take an inning off, or your season could be over, just like that. I believe defense and pitching wins most games at the tournament, especially if you are deep in pitching. If you play defense and score more than three runs, you have a chance to win every game.”

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