Heading into the Region 5C playoffs as the No. 1 seed, the Red Wing Aces are looking to sweep their way through to state just as the team did last year.
Finishing the final month of the regular season 6-3 overall, Aces manager Justin Plein feels good about the level of play heading into region playoffs.
“We’ve played more games than we usually do,” Plein said, “and we’ve seen our college guys come in and perform well. When we get an early lead, we are tough to beat.”
The pitchers, particularly the starters, have been strong for the Aces this summer. Led by Aaron Johnson, the Aces have three starters with more strikeouts than innings pitched. Johnson leads the team with 82 strikeouts in 55 innings, followed by Brady Schroeder (66 K in 41 1/3 IP) and Teddy Tauer (54 K in 47 IP).
Backing up the pitching has been a group of solid defenders in the infield and outfield. Plein said the biggest strength of the team has been the outfield. Positional flexibility has allowed Plein to play any of his outfielders at any spot without fear of a defensive lapse.
“Wherever they are playing, we’ve got a group that will get any ball,” Plein said of his outfielders.
Led by Grant Rolen, the outfielders have produced at the plate too. Rolen currently leads the team with five home runs and 24 RBI.
Along with Rolen, Plein praised catcher Dixon Irwin as the team’s most versatile hitters in the lineup. Irwin, currently batting .316, has hit well anywhere in the lineup, but has settled in as the team’s No. 3 hitter.
“He’s willing to do anything,” Plein said. “He’ll drive in a run or he can move guys over for our cleanup hitter.”
With such results comes an expectation -- get back to the State Tournament.
“That’s our goal,” Plein said. “We did it last year and we have a lot of the same group back this year ready to go further than we did last year. If we can find a way to score three to four runs, with our pitching, we should be winning every game.”
Unfamiliarity and Potential Matchups
As the No. 1 seed, the Aces play eighth-seeded Winona in Cannon Falls on Saturday at 10 a.m. Plein said the of all the teams in the playoffs, Winona is the one the Aces know the least about.
“What we know about them is they are a scrappy bunch,” Plein said. “They also have some college players who are good.”
Winona has struggled in July, losing by 10 runs or more three times. However, the Chiefs won three of their last four games, including two wins over the Rochester Roadrunners in a best-of-three series.
Win or lose against Winona, the Aces will matchup against Lake City or Wanamingo. The Aces have faced both this season with mixed results. The Aces dropped its only game against Wanamingo 4-2 on May 21, but defeated Lake City 7-2 on June 28.