The Blaine baseball team isn’t the favorite in Section 5AAA, but few teams will be happy to see the Bengals line up in the dugout next door.
The Bengals finished the regular season winning four straight finishing off with a 6-5 win against Robbinsdale Armstrong on Monday.
Blaine may not have the record of Northwestern Suburban Conference leaders Maple Grove, Coon Rapids, Champlin Park and Andover, but the Bengals know anything can happen in playoffs.
“We have shown that we can play with and beat any one,” head coach Eric Feigum said. “I know teams know what we are capable of. We just need to play our way, stick together as a team and have a little fun.”
The Bengals swept Andover and gave Maple Grove its only loss during its first 13 games.
“This is something these guys can be proud of,” Feigum said. “Maple Grove hadn’t lost a conference game in like two years.”
Blaine also knows that it can lose. The Bengals were shutout 10-0 by Elk River and thumped by Maple Grove 12-2 during their second game.
“Early in the year we struggled with consistency,” Feigum said. “We played some great games one night and then had some tough games the next day. We played in six extra-inning games. Most of those we were winning late in the game.”
The pitching staff has kept Blaine competitive in many games. Led by Tanner Schumacher and Davis Bryan, who both have ERAs under 1.50, the Bengals have allowed 4.1 runs per game, fourth lowest in the Northwest Suburban.
Schumacher missed about two weeks with a knee injury, but he appears to be back at full strength for playoffs.
“Tanner has been phenomenal,” Feigum said. “His game the other night against Elk River (2-1 win on May 16) was great. He had command like I haven’t seen him have before. ”
Pitching becomes paramount in playoffs when it’s winner-take-all every night. That’s when the arms of Matt Rotzien, Trent Hensler, Nick Beckman and Rich Sanislo will come in handy.
Jake Otto has lead Blaine at the plate averaging over .400 all season.
“It seems like everything he hits is hard,” Feigum said. “I don’t think he has struck out swinging all year. He is really dialed in.”
Alek Minkel, Tyler Fleek and Bryan have made key hits all season, as well.
With 15 seniors, Blaine knows this is its last shot.
“They picked the slogan ‘Our team, Our time’,” Feigum said. “I think it does mean a lot to these guys to be the group to start the process of turning this program around. As a coaching staff we have preached buying in to the slogan, having everyone involved in the game in some capacity and really making an effort to have some fun. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys and I am excited to get started with the playoffs.”
The Section 5AAA playoffs were scheduled to begin Thursday. The Bengals haven’t advanced beyond the second round since 2008 when it lost in the section final to Coon Rapids. That team was 6-14 before playoffs began.
“We have talked a lot about changing the culture here at Blaine baseball,” Feigum said. “Part of that is expecting to win and playing seven innings each and every game. If we play the way we are capable of playing, we are tough beat for anybody.”
Andy Rogers is at firstname.lastname@example.org