Over the weekend, the Red Wing Aces earned the No. 1 seed coming out of Region 5C with two wins over the Stewartville-Racine Sharks. The Aces thus earned a bye and will play the winner of a first-round matchup between Lake Henry and Avon. It's a position familiar to the team.
Last year the Aces earned a bye, then beat St. Patrick 5-4 before losing 1-0 in 14 innings to Sartell. Aces manager Justin Plein knows the team can get back to the same position, but come out on top this time around.
"We've thought about it throughout the year since (the loss to Sartell)," Plein said. "We had many chances to score, but couldn't."
The Aces added speed off the bench for this season for games like the one against Sartell.
"We got some new guys who give us more pinch-runner options," Plein said.
The two newest additions to the team this summer are recent Red Wing graduates Bear Blaney and Marcus Walm. Both, Plein said, were added with pinch running in mind. In the walkoff win over Lake City on August 4, Walm pinch ran and was the tying run when Dixon Irwin drove him and the winning run home.
The Aces also added three players to their state roster. Keith Myers, Quinton Lindow and Rich Burr from the Cannon Falls Bears will join the Aces at state. Plein said Myers is an important addition as he pitched eight solid innings in the game against Sartell last year.
With a loaded roster, the Aces are packing the dugout with 22 players, making them one of the biggest teams at State. Plein said that's the result of everyone buying in and wanting to put the team first.
In putting the team first, Plein said he expects to have most if not all of the players attending college suited up for state.
"Nothing is set in stone, but we have guys who want to play," Plein said. "Some of the college coaches know the impact of continuing to play. They could either play in fall ball or scrimmages or have their players with us playing meaningful games."
As for the rest of the team, catcher Dixon Irwin has been the Aces hottest hitter as of late. Irwin went 8-for-16 in four region games. Aaron Johnson, who pitched in the first game of region play, may start on the mound in a possible second game at state. Plein said he'll wait to see the matchup, but likely will start Brady Schroeder for the first game at state.
The Aces play at Irish Stadium in Maple Lake on August 25 at 11 a.m.
In the second game against Stewart-Racine the Aces bell behind early, but prevailed 8-4.
The Sharks opened the scoring with a run in the top of the first inning. The Aces responded in the bottom half. Mitch Matter singled then later scored on Dixon Irwin's single to center. Three straight singles from Brady Schroeder, Corey Tauer and Grant Rolen capped off a four-run inning.
After the Aces added a run in the bottom of the fifth, the Sharks got within a run, scoring a run in the fifth and two in the sixth. In the bottom of the seventh, the Aces added insurance.
The first four batters of the inning reached base safely. With a run in, Brodie Smith delivered the big hit two batters later with a two-run single to put the Aces up by four.
Tauer paced the offense with three hits and an RBI. Schroeder and Mitch Matter each had two hits.
Behind the pitching of Brady Schroeder, the Aces shut out the Stewart-Racine Sharks 7-0.
The Aces grabbed a 1-0 lead on a two-out run scoring double by Dixon Irwin in the bottom of the third inning. The Aces added three more runs in the fifth to take a 4-0 lead.
In the sixth, Josh Thygesen and Brodie Smith singled. Mitch Matter moved them over on a sacrifice bunt to the pitcher, then Adam Thygesen drove in both runners on a double to left field.
Up 6-0 in the seventh, the Aces added one more run. It was all Schroeder needed as he allowed no runs on five hits and two walks while striking out seven batters in eight innings.