The pressure of postseason baseball is upon the Litchfield Blues. The promise of another game tomorrow is a luxury they no longer have as they begin what they hope to be a playoff run on Saturday.
Litchfield closed out the regular season with a pair of home losses last week, falling 9-4 to Cokato on Tuesday and 8-3 to Delano on Sunday. The Blues finished with a 4-16 record in the North Star League and are winless in the month of July.
“That final stretch of games where I felt we could compete with the teams that we were scheduled with, it didn’t obviously go the way we wanted it to go,” manager John Anderson said. “A trend we’re trying to overcome right now is our offensive ability. Our bats have kind of slowed down here at the end of the year.”
Litchfield scored nine runs during its current five-game losing streak, including shutout losses to Maple Plain and Loretto. The latter team finished one spot ahead of the Blues in the standings, and is their foe for the first round of the Region 12C Play-In Tournament.
The Larks (7-13 in NSL) defeated the Blues 12-0 on July 12 and 3-1 on May 12, and will go for a three-peat when they host the Blues at 4 p.m. Saturday. Anderson would like to prevent such a feat.
“Loretto’s lineup this year is a lot younger than they have been in the past,” Anderson said. “I don’t think that they’re too excited with where they ended up as well. They’re going to come into it a hungry team. ... From what I’ve seen out of them this year in our two games, they’re very technically sound. They don’t make many mistakes.
“That’s kind of where we’re going to have to match them. We’re going to have to play some clean baseball and limit mistakes and limit free bases, because any team that’s fundamentally sound can really take advantage of that stuff quickly.”
The Blues hope to get a practice or two in during the week to work on their bats, as they aim to score more than the one run they posted in their two previous games against Loretto. Anderson anticipates they will start ace Joey Hyde on the mound, who started both prior games against the Larks, with Stan Ridgeway the primary reliever if necessary. Utilizing their arms to reel off a couple wins this weekend is a distinct possiblity, according to Anderson.
“I think we’re going to compete,” he said. “I think that bottom half of the league, anyone can win on any day. The goal we’ve been working towards ever since I’ve started as manager is to make some waves in the region tournament.”
Ridgeway could also start on Sunday if the Blues defeat Loretto. A win against the Larks would send Litchfield to the final round of the play-in tournament against either Waverly or Dassel-Cokato. Litchfield would host Waverly or would travel to Dassel-Cokato for the 2 p.m. contest. The winner of that game earns the No. 8 seed in the Region 12C tournament.
However the weekend contests play out, Anderson hopes that players learn quickly and use the playoffs as a base for the future.
“Playoff experience is invaluable. You can’t put a price on it … it’s a competitive atmosphere that you can’t copy in the regular season,” Anderson said. “We’ve got a lot of young, fired up players and they’re excited to be a part of any postseason play and we’re obviously going to be leaving it out on the field Saturday.”
Region tourney paths set
While this weekend’s games will determine the eighth and final spot in the Region 12C tournament, the rest of the teams have their postseason paths set.
The tournament, which features all 11 North Star League teams, begins July 31 in Hutchinson. The top four teams from the tournament earn spots in the Class C state tournament.
NSL champion Delano (19-1) takes on the No. 8 seed in the tournament’s opening game. No. 2 seed Hutchinson (16-4) plays No. 7 Maple Plain (9-11) on Thursday. No. 3 Howard Lake and No. 6 Maple Lake square off on Friday, as do No. 4 Buffalo and No. 5 Cokato. The second round of games continues on Saturday and Sunday.