REGION 7C PREVIEW: Region 7C Tournament poised to be exciting as ever with talented teams

The Region 7C Tournament is back again and the tournament looks to be as exciting as ever. The Crow River Valley League is once again well represented as each game provides some intriguing matchups as fans flock to Denis M. Campbell Field for the next two weekends.

The Watertown Red Devils come in as the No. 1 seed after a dominant regular season. When most thought there would be a hangover from the loss in the Class C state title game a year ago, the Red Devils haven’t missed a beat and have picked up right where they left off last year.

The Plato Bluejays come in as the No. 2 seed after winning their second-straight CRVL South title. After going 0-2 last year as the No. 2 seed, the Bluejays are more experienced and hungry to make a run this year as they will trot out some young talent this tournament combined with some key veterans.

The No. 3 seed is the Waconia Lakers who were business as usual this year. After a slow start, the Lakers turned things on late to finish with the second-best record in the CRVL this year. The Lakers still have one of the best offenses in the state and have been deemed a top 10 team in Class C all season long.

Carver rounds out the top four seeds as the No. 4 seed. The Black Sox had some ups and downs during the regular season but always seem to be a tough out in August no matter what.

The young and talented Green Isle Irish come in as the No. 5 seed. The bats have been on fire for the Irish lately as they look to play spoilers and steal a state tournament bid after missing out on the Region 7C Tournament a year ago.

Brownton once again finds itself playing for a shot at reaching the Class C state tournament. They’re back at the Region 7C Tournament for the second-straight year and looking to pull off a few more upsets as they’ve been known to do. The Bruins are the No. 6 seed after beating New Germany 2-1 in a best-of-three-game series.

Another team back at the Region 7C Tournament after missing out last year are the Glencoe Brewers. Known as one of the hardest teams to figure out, Glencoe comes in playing some of their best ball as the No. 7 seed and coming off a 10-0 win over St. Boni in Game 3 to get back to regions.

The Cologne Hollanders are no strangers to the Region 7C Tournament. Back for the fifth-straight season, the Hollanders have the bats rolling heading into the highlight of their summer.

(1) Watertown Red Devils

After making an incredible run to the Class C state title game a year ago, there has been no slowing down the Watertown Red Devils this season. When some thought there might be a hangover following the state tournament run, Watertown picked up the 2022 season right where they left off and haven’t missed a beat all season long.

The Red Devils are Crow River Valley League North champions and the No. 1 seed in the Region 7C Tournament after posting the best record in the league this year. Watertown dropped just two games this season with one of them coming in the regular-season finale in which they had nothing to play for.

When it comes to Watertown it starts with their pitching. The Red Devils are loaded from top to bottom when it comes to arms and that’s been on display all season long. In 18 league games this year, Watertown racked up seven shutouts. In their first seven games of the season, the Red Devils allowed no more than one run as they jumped out to a perfect 7-0 start.

Holt Hunziker highlights a talented and deep pitching staff for the Red Devils. He made eight starts for Watertown this season and finished with eight wins in which he allowed just two runs. His ERA of 0.37 was the best in the league and he also finished second in strikeouts with 69.

The depth on the mound for the Red Devils goes beyond Hunziker. Patrick Tschida also posts an impressive ERA of 1.09 in 33 innings of work. He posted a 4-1 record this year. Zach Iten, Ansen Dulas, Andrew Nichols, Matt Butler, Jonah Lewis all give Watertown a boost as well. As a team, the Red Devils posted a team ERA of 1.39 in 18 league games this year. They allowed just 36 runs all year, 23 of which were earned. Watertown also racked up 220 strikeouts as a team.

As good as Watertown’s pitching has been throughout the season, the offense has been just as good. Pitching is the thing everyone will talk about when they mention the Red Devils but their offense has been sneaky good dating back to their state tournament run in 2021. In their five wins in the state tournament, Watertown scored six or more runs in all but one of them as they got hot at the plate at the right time.

This season, the Red Devils have stayed hot at the plate all season and have come through in big spots time and time again. On the year, Watertown has 11 different players hitting .300 or better with a minimum of 30 plate appearances. Tschida leads the way with an average of .412 as he continues to be a leader out of the leadoff spot. Not only can he get on base, but also hits for power as he finished the regular season with three home runs, five doubles, and 17 RBI. He also led the team in runs scored with 23 as he set the tone for the rest of the order all season long.

Ben Smith and Zach Iten are also big bats to watch for the Red Devils. Iten finished with a .381 average to go along with 17 RBI and seven doubles. Smith finished with an average of .373 while hitting one home run and driving in 16 runs. Ryan Hangartner led Watertown in RBI with 21 to go along with an average of .333. As a team, the Red Devils had six different players drive in 10 or more runs this season.

With a talented roster from top to bottom, manager Jared Duske will have a hard time putting together his lineup. He’ll need all his guys at some point as the Red Devils will be looking to continue their stellar season and get back to the state tournament for the third year in a row.

(2) Plato Bluejays

The Plato Bluejays are back at the Region 7C Tournament once again and will be looking to make up for the showing in last year’s tournament. After getting upset in the first round by the Brownton Bruins, the Bluejays were unable to recover as they were knocked out of the tournament by the Cologne Hollanders.

As tough of an ending it was for Plato in 2021, all they did was respond with their second consecutive CRVL South division title to earn the No. 2 seed in the Region 7C Tournament. With a young and talented team back that gained some valuable experience last year, the Bluejays are poised to make this postseason last a bit longer than their showing last year.

Pitching remains a big strength for the Bluejays this season as they posted a team ERA of 2.05 in 17 league games this year. With two aces in Drew Hedtke and Adam Prehn, Plato is set up nicely entering the Region 7C Tournament with a handful of arms behind them to make a run. 

Hedtke finished the season with an ERA of 1.33 in 27 innings of work. He posted a perfect 5-0 record in which he finished with 51 strikeouts, nearly averaging two strikeouts per inning.

Prehn turned in another strong season for Plato as well on the mound. He finished with a 4-0 record and an ERA of 1.56 in 52 innings of work. He also hit the 50 strikeout mark finishing with 54.

Other arms to watch for the Bluejays are Reece Schwirtz and Zack Stockmann. Schwirtz was the third pitcher to rack up 50 strikeouts for Plato this year while Stockman brings experience to the mound. Plato is also hopeful to have Will Hoernemann available in some form for the tournament who is coming back from a wrist injury.

Offensively, the Bluejays came through in big spots when they needed to all season long. They had a team batting average of just .273 but can score runs in bunches.

Dylan McCormick had a big year for Plato to spark the offense. He finished with a team-best batting average of .431 to go along with four doubles and 15 RBI. Bennett Lepel, Matt Odegaard, Beau Lepel, and Dane Schwirtz all post averages over .300 as the Bluejays get production from all over the lineup. Veteran Joe Nix has also shown he can still swing it and come in and pinch hit or play a whole game for the Bluejays if called upon.

2021 was a disappointing finish for the Bluejays as they went 0-2 as the No. 2 seed. Look for them to use last year as a learning experience and make a run at things this year as they look to get back to the state tournament for the first time since 2018.

(3) Waconia Lakers 

After the 2021 season was a record-setting year for the Waconia Lakers they are back once again. The Lakers are the only team to reach the Region 7C Tournament every year since 2014 and are once again looked upon as a Top 10 team in Class C.

Waconia finished the regular season with an impressive 15-3 season after they shook off early losses to Hamburg and Mayer. The Lakers lost just one more game the rest of the way, which came against Watertown. 

It’s the same old Lakers in 2022 as they once again feature one of the top offenses in the CRVL and state. As a team, Waconia finished with a batting average of .327. They led the league in runs scored with 166 while giving up just 47 runs, which was the second-fewest in the league. Watertown led the league in the fewest runs allowed with 37.

It’s picking your poison with the Lakers for the opposing teams when they match up. Waconia is loaded with big bats from top to bottom and are capable of putting a big number in a hurry. Both Derek Martin and Robbie Smith have had big years nearly hitting .400 on the year. Max Kalenberg remains a huge threat at the plate while Jake Hendricks, Chris Baso, Ronnie Olson, Justin Schultz, and AJ Friedrich all have come through in big spots at times for the Lakers.

Waconia is just as good on the mound and defensively as they don’t beat themselves. The Lakers posted a team ERA of 2.18 in the regular season in which they allowed just 47 runs. Kodey Simon remains one of the premier pitchers in the league. He posted a 4-1 record with an ERA of 1.55 in 40 innings of work this year to carry the load for the Lakers.

The addition of Will LaLonde has been a huge get for the Lakers as well this year. Coming over from Mayer, LaLonde added even more depth to the pitching staff as he finished with an ERA of 1.17 in 30 innings of work with 43 strikeouts.

Chris Bullis and Ryan Naughton provide some experience to the staff for the Lakers as veterans. The two combined for five wins this season and give Waconia options in relief or in a start. Aaron Wukmir is another arm to watch for the Lakers as he threw 17 innings on the mound and posted a 2-1 record.

After coming up short in their ultimate goal last year to win it all, Waconia will be a tough out once again in 2022. With a deep and experienced team, the Lakers will be looking to continue their dominance in the Region 7C Tournament and get back to state where they hope to make another deep run.

(4) Carver Black Sox

It was business as usual for the Carver Black Sox in 2022 as they once again find themselves poised to make a state tournament appearance. No matter what lineup the Black Sox might roll out with, they seem to get it done time after time as they come in as the No. 4 seed in the Region 7C Tournament. 

Carver finished the regular season with an overall record of 11-6 as they finished second in the CRVL South behind Plato. The Black Sox had a chance to make a run at the division title but stumbled down the stretch losing two of their final four games.

Despite that, Carver remains a scary opponent for opposing teams. The Black Sox are a team who can put up a crooked number in a hurry while also shortening a game with the legitimate weapon that is Jacob Booden in the bullpen.

On the mound, Carver will rely on Andrew Weber and Adam Fredierichs to carry the load. The two combined for 93 of the 149 innings pitched this season. Weber finished with an ERA of 2.37 and posted a record of 6-3 while Frederichs went 2-1 with an ERA of 3.68. Bailey Melz also saw time on the mound for the Black Sox while posting an ERA of 1.96 in 23 innings of work.

Carver can also rely on Jacob Booden out of the bullpen. In 18 innings of work, Booden has allowed just two runs while racking up 41 strikeouts. In three of his four appearances, he hit 10 or more strikeouts in climbing a 16 strikeout performance against Plato in which he tossed seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits.

The offense can be just as good for the Black Sox as they feature the 2022 batting title winner Connor Cornell. Cornell knocked the cover off the ball all season long posting an average of .492 to go along with one home run, five doubles, 15 RBI, and 19 runs scored.

Jay Bresnahan and Dan Gastuch are two other bats to keep an eye on for the Black Sox. Both can get hot at any moment and have a knack for coming through in big spots.

Carver will be looking to make it xx-state tournament appearances as they enter the Region 7C Tournament as the Iron 9 are still alive and well.

(5) Green Isle Irish

One of the surprise teams this season was the Green Isle Irish and the success they found. With a young but talented roster, the Irish will be one of the most interesting teams to watch coming into the Region 7C Tournament. 

Green Isle also comes into the tournament red-hot after a sweep of Winsted in the league playoffs. The Irish scored 37 runs in the two games against the Wildcats as they feature a lineup filled with big bats.

Veterans Nate Hartmann and Josh Kraby lead the charge for the Irish when it comes to offense. Hartmann had one of the best seasons of his career finishing with an average of .460 to go along with one home run, two doubles, 17 RBI, and 10 runs scored. Kraby also continued to produce in a big way, posting an average of .340.

Then comes the young talent in the form of Andrew Uglum, Danny Davis, Cameron Smrekar, and Walter Johnson. All come into the Region 7C Tournament with an average of .300 or better and can spark the offense with one swing of the bat. Carver Kasper is also a player to watch for the Irish as he led the team in home runs with three and was second in RBI with 15.

Pitching is where the Irish may struggle a bit in this tournament. Green Isle posted a team ERA of 6.39 this season as they leaned on their offense to win games and not their pitching. 

Green Isle still has legitimate arms who can keep them in games though. Jack Jahnke has been the workhouse on the mound all year and will likely carry the load even more. He tossed 48 innings in the regular season on his way to posting a 3-5 record with an ERA of 4.66. He also led the league in strikeouts with 71.

Caleb VanderPlas is another pitcher to watch for Green Isle. He turned in an ERA of 4.23 this season in 27 innings of work while finishing with a record of 4-1.

It’s hard to get a read on how good Green Isle really is but they’ll have a chance to show it at the Region 7C Tournament. The ceiling is high for the Irish with their explosive offense and they are a legitimate threat to steal a state tournament bid from one of the top four seeds.

(6) Brownton Bruins

There’s a common saying around the CRVL that you never want to face the Brownton Bruins come the postseason. That still remains true as the Bruins are one of the most experienced teams in the league and are more than capable of rattling off some wins.

There might not be a more valuable player on any team in the CRVL than what Ryan Grams does for Brownton. The ultimate competitor, Grams gives the Bruins a legitimate chance to win each time he takes the mound. After earning all eight wins in the regular season for the Bruins in 2021, Grams was responsible for six of their nine wins in 2022. He also won both their playoff games, tossing a pair of complete-game shutouts against the New Germany Dutchmen. One of the shutouts came on two different days as play was suspended due to weather in the bottom of the fourth inning. Grams faced the Dutchmen three different times this season and came through with three shutouts.

On the year, Grams posted an ERA of 3.33 in a league-high 67 innings of work. He racked up 55 strikeouts while posting a record of 6-3. Regular season numbers for Grams mean nothing though as CRVL fans know he gets even better on the bright stage of the Region 7C Tournament. When it comes to the postseason, nobody wants the ball more than Grams.

If the Bruins want to keep their season going, they’ll need some help on the mound outside of Grams. Seth Schuette and Daniel Rosenau are the two pitchers who will need to come up big for Brownton to try and steal a state tournament bid.

What the Bruins lack in pitching depth they make up for experience at the plate with guys who know how to win. Every year the Bruins give teams a scare as they put the pressure on the other team and don’t beat themselves. They’ll look to do that again this year as their offense took a big step forward this year.

Scott Finberg comes into the tournament as the big bat for the Bruins. A legitimate power hitter who can also hit for average, Finberg will be one of the key players for Brownton. He finished the year with a .314 average to go along with two home runs, seven doubles, and 19 RBI. His 19 RBI were tied for fourth most in the CRVL this season.

Deryk Randt is another experienced player with a big bat for the Bruins. He posted an average of .314 this season to go along with three home runs and 11 RBI. He also had seven doubles and scored 11 runs.

Other bats to watch for the Bruins are Nathan Schultz and Mason Clark. Schultz hit .306 in the regular season with three home runs while Clark finished with an average of .295.

(7) Glencoe Brewers

It wasn’t easy, but the Glencoe Brewers have found their way back to the Region 7C Tournament after holding off St. Boni’s upset bid in the league playoffs. After winning Game 1, the Brewers fell short in Game 2 before making a statement with a 10-0 win in eight innings to get back to the region tournament after missing out last year in a Game 3 loss to Brownton.

In the Game 3 win over St. Boni, Glencoe put together one of their most complete games of the season. Led by ace Derek Bratsch and some timely hitting and strong defense, the Brewers built some momentum heading into the region tournament.

Bratsch carried the load for the Brewers on the mound this season and will be relied on even more in the Region 7C Tournament. He was the only pitcher to top 30 innings of work this year for Glencoe. He threw 43 innings in which he posted an ERA of 0.42. That was good enough for second-best in the league this year. He had a 3-0 record to go along with 41 strikeouts. He allowed just two earned runs and 29 hits all year.

Other arms to watch for Glencoe are Korey Johnson, Derek Weber, and Paxton Jordahl. Despite a .468 ERA in the regular season, Johnson is a gamer who can bring his best stuff when the Brewers need it.

Offensively, Zach Voelz is the spark plug for the Brewers. A young and talented player, Voelz had a breakout season for Glencoe posting an average of .314 to go along with three home runs, eight doubles, and a team-high 12 RBI. All three of his home runs came in one game as he has proven he can get hot in a hurry.

Nate Litzau is another strong weapon for the Brewers at the plate. He finished the regular season with an average of .350 as he’s one of the fastest players in the league on the basepaths. Other players to watch offensively for Glencoe in the tournament are Johnons, Carer Ruschmeier, Jake Christianson, and Colt Trebesch.

(8) Cologne Hollanders

There’s nothing worse than losing games during the regular season. For the Cologne Hollanders, the regular season was a long one as they struggled to put complete games together all year. That changed in a big way in recent weeks as the Hollanders have gone from one of the biggest disappointments this season to one of the hottest teams in the league.

Playing as the No. 9 seed in the league playoffs, Cologne rolled past No. 8 Hamburg as they showed just how good they can be. The Hollanders scored 22 runs in their two-game sweep of the Hawks as they got their offense going in a big way.

Cologne’s lineup when everybody is there is one of the most dangerous ones. They’ll be looking to keep their momentum rolling in the Region 7C Tournament as they take on the top-seeded Watertown Red Devils.

Cole Pengilly has been the spark plug for the Hollanders all year long at the plate and in the field. He played in just four games this year, but when he did, Cologne averaged almost 10 runs per game. In the other 13 games he didn’t play, Cologne averaged just 3.7 runs per game.

For the season, Pengilly finished with an average of .319 and drove in seven runs in four games.

The Hollanders also have one of the top leadoff hitters in the league in Tanner Luebke. Always a tough out, Luebke finished with an average of .308 to go along with one home run, 10 walks, and 17 runs scored. His 17 runs scored were tied for sixth most in the CRVL this year.

Joey Lilya, Carter Clemensen, Casey Clemensen, and Torben Urdahl are also key players to watch for the Hollanders. After a slow start, Carter Clemensen has heated up in a big way while Urdahl led the way for the Hollanders with a team-high three home runs. Jon Kummer also provides some power to the lineup as he finished with two home runs and 10 RBI.

Cologne is clicking at the right time and will be a tough matchup for the Red Devils who have cruised all year. The first game of the Region 7C Tournament could end up being one of the best as the Hollanders look to make some noise this year in the postseason.

For the best coverage of the Region 7C Tournament, bookmark and follow Kip Kovar on Twitter for in-games updates and much more. Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports