Chanhassen, Victoria and Chaska are in the Class B State Amateur Baseball Tournament field. All that's left is seeding and opponents in the bracket.
Host Chaska, which has been confirmed will open the tournament on its home field at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 20, is locked into the No. 4 seed out of Region 3B.
Chanhassen, unbeaten in three region games, is in the driver's seat, needing just one win this week to claim the No. 1 seed.
Chanhassen's three-peat state championships were largely led from the pitcher's mound. Through three games in the 2021 playoffs, the Red Bird arms have allowed one run over 25 innings.
Chanhassen owns wins over Excelsior (14-0), Chaska (3-0) and Burnsville (2-1).
The Region 3B championship is set for Thursday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m. versus the winner of Victoria and Burnsville.
"We're dominated by pitching. Pitching has carried us. I'm comfortable running eight or nine guys out there. Any of those guys give us a chance to win," Red Birds manager Brandon Arnold said. "Our power numbers are a bit down, so we've relied on timely hitting. You can consider some of our guys veterans now, so I think we're playing the game a bit differently. We have guys who can get the bunt down when needed. Steal a base here or there. The little things to manufacture a run rather than wait for a five- or six-run inning."
Chanhassen scored twice in the opening frame against Chaska and John Straka, 2019 and 2020 state MVP, did the rest, holding the Cubs to five hits and no walks with eight strikeouts in the 116-pitch complete game.
Singles from Aaron Pfaff and Arnold started the first-inning scoring for the Red Birds, with RBIs coming off the bats of Michael Jurgella and Zach Hoffmann.
Justin Anderson added a solo home run in the fourth inning for Chanhassen, which collected eight hits off Chaska starter Drake Kilber, who finished with 10 strikeouts in eight innings.
Steve Edlefsen doubled twice for the Cubs with JT Canakes adding two hits.
Against Burnsville, Thomas Thompson threw the first six innings, Logan Spitzack closed the door, in a 2-1 victory in the winners bracket final Aug. 8.
Hoffmann's two-out homer in the bottom of the sixth inning was the difference for Chanhassen (26-2).
The Red Birds took a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning on a throwing error on a double play ball. Burnsville got the run back a half-inning later on a pair of walks and a two-out single.
The Bobcats put the tying run at second base in the ninth inning with one out before Spitzack struck out the next two batters for the save. Thompson fanned five batters in the win.
"Everyone wants to take down teams that are successful. When we face Victoria, Chaska, we get up a bit more because they are good teams and we want to prove ourselves, too. That's how you gain respect in this game. I don't know if a team targets to beat us, but I do sense teams maybe want it a bit more. I think most guys at this level comes to the ball field to have fun one, and to be competitive two," Arnold said.
Chanhassen's line-up has been juggled up this season with outfielder Nick Smith moving out of state, catcher Ben Livorsi playing in the Northwoods League, and corner infielders Michael Jurgella and Zach Hoffmann only able to play in about 60 percent of games.
That has allowed players such as Andrew Mahlke and Justin Arnold in the field, Kody Dalen in the bullpen, and Jack Nemetz behind the plate to have more opportunities in the starting line-up.
"Jack's really stepped up. With (Nathan Rosenberg) playing Legion ball, we knew we'd need Jack more. He's coming off an injury; really relearning how to throw the ball. He's taken some tips from Jurgella, really learned a lot from our pitchers, and he's made huge strides," Arnold said of Nemetz, a 2020 Chanhassen High School graduate.
"You mentioned Justin. Now that he's done with football, he's been able to focus more on playing baseball. No longer is he done playing when state starts, so I see that passion again in him," his brother said. "Kody Dalen has been unbelievable for us. The growth he made in the last year at St. John's University has been tremendous. He's just a great kid. He shows up whether he's scheduled to relieve or not. Same with Andrew Mahlke. He's the first one to grab a helmet and coach a base if he's not in the line-up. That's what we've tried to build here the last five or six years."
QUALIFIED FOR STATE
Win and in. Lose and out.
That was the scenario for Chaska on Aug. 6 in a Region 3B elimination game versus Prior Lake. Two low-scoring games in the regular season, the Cubs came out swinging in the playoff match-up, scoring six times early, winning 14-4 in eight innings.
Matt Halloran, on the shelf with a leg injury for more than a month, returned in a big way, finishing with five hits and three RBIs for the Cubs. Justin Johnson also had a four-hit night with Casey Garven adding three RBIs.
As a team, Chaska had 15 total hits to eight from Prior Lake.
Pete Ohnsorg (seven strikeouts, six innings) and Ryan Rodriguez (four strikeouts, two innings) kept Jays' batters in check while the Cubs offense continued to pour on the offense, adding five runs in the sixth inning for a commanding 12-4 lead.
"That game on Friday was the most focused, energetic I've seen this team this year. Everyone knew what was on the line. We've wanted to host state since I've been here. It's something we've always talked about, so to not make state the year we hosted it would have been disappointing," Chaska's JT Canakes said.
Canakes, an Eden Prairie High School graduate, joined the Cubs eight seasons ago after running into a former University of Minnesota and Eagle teammate Kyle Geason at a sports facility in Edina. Canakes and former Cub Austin Lubinsky came down to Athletic Park that spring. Canakes hasn't left.
"There's definitely a reason why we have so many veteran guys. It's such a great experience playing in Chaska. I remember playing at the field in high school, the Lions tournament, so I had a lot of good baseball memories in Chaska, but being a part of the Cubs has been more than that. The city does such a great job with he field. And everyone around, they make us feel special, like we're important, when really we're just playing baseball," Canakes said.
"The guys I play with will be lifelong friends. This is the most fun I've had in my whole life in baseball. Growing up, my time in high school and college, it was always so competitive, and now I'm able to still have that, but also be a part of something that is family, this is community. We have this wide variety of ages and we're learning from each other. The older guys are mentoring the young ones. It's just awesome experience," Canakes said.
Facing Victoria in an seeding game, Halloran's two-run homer gave Chaska a 5-3 lead on Aug. 8, but the Cubs defense struggled, committing six errors, allowing three unearned runs, in a 6-5 loss.
Halloran added a two-run double in a three-run third inning, erasing an early deficit for Chaska. Halloran, Tyler Polster and Mike and Steve Edlefsen each collected two hits in the game.
Victoria, after scoring single runs in the first, second and third innings, tied the game on RBIs from Trey Cavello and Cole Sweeney in the sixth inning.
Three consecutive ground ball errors led to the eventual winning run in the seventh inning for the Vics, which hosted Burnsville on Tuesday, Aug. 10, with the loser receiving the No. 3 seed and the winner advancing to the championship in Chanhassen on Aug. 12.
Jack Garrison set down all six batters faced over the final two innings for Victoria to earn the save. Hunter Even worked the first seven frames for the Vics, fanning seven batters.
It was on the Victoria field one week earlier where Canakes connected on a 3-2 pitch over the right-field fence, a walk-off 7-4 win over Shakopee in the Region 3B opener.
Like the Cubs, down 4-0 into the ninth inning, Canakes fought, staying in the at-bat despite falling behind 1-2 in the count. His second 3-2 pitch left the field for the winner.
"I was saying a couple of days ago, if it's not No. 1, it has to be No. 2. I can't think of a single moment that tops that. I played in the Legion World Series with Eden Prairie, but that was one large moment, not one single moment," he said. "I was the last out the previous inning so I never thought I'd bat. The team battled back and once we tied it up, really the pressure was off of us. When I hit it, it didn't sink in right away. I tried to slow it down, soak it all in. I knew it was going to feel like a blur tomorrow."
Canakes said seeing the video, recorded by Chaska Cubs pitcher Charlie Dardis' dad, Chris, was special.
"Being able to relive it, see and hear everyone's reactions; just the noise, it was pretty incredible," Canakes said.
Chaska is the No. 4 seed out of Region 3B and will draw a region champion at state. It could be the likes of Moorhead, Champlin Park or maybe Miesville.
"Once we made state, there was this feeling of let's just go have fun with it. Can we win it all? Absolutely. We have the pitching. If we can put up three to five runs, anything can happen. We know the pieces will all have to come together. We're really excited to be there," Canakes said.