Cobras have mix of veterans and youth
For Burnsville players Tyler Hanson and Bo Hellquist, the state American Legion baseball tournament will be nothing new. They will be in it for the third consecutive year.
Their experience at handling the pressure of a state tournament could be invaluable to the half-dozen Cobras players who just finished their sophomore year of high school and will be in the state tournament for the first time.
Burnsville goes into the state tournament, which begins Friday, as the No. 1 team in the Minnesota American Legion baseball rankings. While the Cobras have some veteran players, they’re not necessarily a veteran team, coach Greg Nesbitt said.
“We brought back six from last year, but of those six, three played part-time,” Nesbitt said. “So it’s a fairly new team. We have six sophomores on the roster.
“We do have some guys with experience, which is good. The sophomores have helped us a lot, too. We’ve also won some close games, which can only help us going into the state tournament.”
The Cobras needed to win some close games just to get out of the Sub-State 5 tournament that concluded Sunday in Apple Valley. After winning their first two games in the tournament comfortably, they lost to Woodbury Blue 4-0 in the winners’ bracket final July 26. That left Burnsville needing to win three games over two days to win the Sub-State title. The Cobras routed Apple Valley 14-1 on July 27, edged Inver Grove Heights 3-2 on July 28 and came back from an early two-run deficit to beat Woodbury Blue 4-2 in the championship game.
“We’ve been pitching well and playing good defense, and we’ve hit just enough,” Nesbitt said.
Now the Cobras will see if that formula works in the state tournament. Burnsville is scheduled to play Alexandria in a first-round game at the 16-team, double-elimination tourney at 1 p.m. Friday at Round Lake Park in Eden Prairie. The championship game will be 1 p.m. Monday at Braemar Field in Edina.
Burnsville was third in last year’s state tournament, missing out on a chance to move on as the top two teams advance to regional play. The Cobras are seeking their first state Legion title.
“You need a fast start in the state tournament,” Nesbitt said. “You don’t want to lose the first day because that could mean playing a lot more games later. You also need to have some pitching depth, and we’ve got seven or eight guys we feel comfortable with.”
The Cobras have talent throughout the lineup. Hanson, who will go to the University of Minnesota, is one of three June graduates of Burnsville High School who have signed with Division I or II college programs. The others are Cooper Maas (North Dakota) and Aaron Rozek (Minnesota State, Mankato). Tyler Hill (Truman State) and Hellquist (Minnesota-Duluth) are college players who were able to return to the Cobras this summer.
Logan Vermeer pitched in the Sub-State championship game, with Luke Hansen closing it out. Rozek, Maas, Tyler Hanson and Zach Smith are some of the other pitchers available for the Cobras in the state tournament.
Peter Nordgren hit a home run against Inver Grove Heights. Camden Traetow, the Cobras’ catcher, did a good job of containing Woodbury’s running game, Nesbitt said. Ben Sherman and Eric Watters also contributed key hits during the Sub-State tournament.
The Cobras will go four days without a game before their opener at the state Legion tournament. Days off are rare in summer baseball, but Nesbitt said the break came at a good time.
During the Sub-State tournament, “one kid said this was his 84th game since Jan. 1,” Nesbitt said. “Our kids are pretty even-keeled, which is good because it’s impossible to get amped up for all 84 games. If you try, you’ll be burned out by the fifth inning. We try to make sure our kids do the things they need to do to get ready to play. As the game goes on, you’ll see them get a little more fired up, especially if they think they have the other team on the run.”