(ROCHESTER, MN) There will be a first-time Northwoods League Champion in 2011 as the playoffs to determine that champion begin tonight. Four franchises that have a combined record of 2-8 in four postseason appearances will all be looking to advance to and win their first Summer Collegiate World Series. The Mankato MoonDogs and Alexandria Beetles will square off in the North Division playoffs while the Green Bay Bullfrogs and Battle Creek Bombers will meet up in the South.
Mankato has the most playoff history of the four teams as they’ll be making their third postseason appearance in the last four years. The 2011 MoonDogs (42-28) won more games than any team in Mankato history for a franchise that dates back to 1999. The 2008 MoonDogs won 41 games, but were swept in two games in the divisional playoffs by eventual champion Thunder Bay. The following year, 2009, the MoonDogs were again swept out of the playoffs by the eventual champion as they lost both games of the divisional playoffs to Rochester. The current version of the MoonDogs touts some big names that could lead them to the promised land in 2011. The NWL Most Valuable Player, outfielder Shaun Cooper (Utah), and the Pitcher of the Year, Blake Schwartz (MSU-Mankato), both will have an opportunity to shine on the grand stage of the Northwoods League Playoffs. Cooper was named MVP after hitting .336 with 61 RBIs and a league-record 20 home runs. Schwartz, who will start game one on Monday, went 6-1 during the regular season with 75 strike outs and a league-best 1.71 ERA. The MoonDogs are coached by third-year Field Manager Mike Orchard (Central Arizona) and his staff that includes the 2011 NWL Coach of the Year Jason Ramos (Seminole State). The MoonDogs qualified for the postseason by winning the First Half Championship in the North Division.
The Alexandria Beetles (44-25) won the Second Half Championship in the North Division and had the Northwoods League’s best record in 2011. This will be the second playoff appearance in team history with the other one coming in 2003 when Alexandria lost to St. Cloud in the divisional round two games to one. The 44 wins surpass the previous team record of 39 set in 2006 and ties for 5th most regular season wins in Northwoods League history. The 28 victories in the second half of this season is two more than the previous NWL record for wins in a half. Alexandria had the Northwoods League’s highest-scoring offense this year averaging 6.2 runs per game. The Beetles’ Field Manager is Matt Hancock (North Alabama) who is in his first year leading the team but was an assistant coach during the 2005 and 2008 seasons. His staff includes Drew Saberhagen and Andy Pascoe who combined to play six summers in the Northwoods League. Relief pitcher Anthony Bazzani (Eastern Kentucky) was Alexandria’s only Postseason All-Star. He anchored the Beetle bullpen with a 4-2 record, 1.45 ERA, 70 strike outs in 49 2/3 innings, and a league-leading 12 saves. Six regular starters on offense hit over .300 this year for Alexandria.
The Green Bay Bullfrogs (42-27) are back in the playoffs for the first time since their inaugural-season playoff run in 2007. That first-year Bullfrogs team won 43 regular season games, but lost two games to one to Eau Claire in the divisional round of the playoffs. This year’s squad didn’t win either the first half or the second half in the South Division, but were one of the best teams in the league throughout the season and qualified for the playoffs by having the second best overall record in the South. The Bullfrogs are coached by a staff that includes third-year Field Manager Jordan Bischel (Northwest Missouri State) who is looking to lead the Bullfrogs to their first championship in his hometown of Green Bay. If that happens, the Bullfrogs’ top pitchers are likely to play a key role. Starters Andy Hunter (Gonzaga) and Tim Giel (Columbia) as well as reliever Adam Cimber (Washington) all made the NWL’s Postseason All-Star Team. Hunter and Giel are scheduled to toe the rubber in games one and two. They combined to win 12 games during the regular season. Paul Hoenecke (UW-Milwaukee) and Phillip Ervin (Samford) are two names to watch on offense as both hit over .300 this season.
The Battle Creek Bombers (43-26) are making their first postseason appearance after having their best season in franchise history. The Bombers joined the Northwoods League as an expansion team with the Green Bay Bullfrogs in 2007. Prior to this year, the only above .500 finish for Battle Creek was in 2009 when the team went 37-30. This year’s squad is being led by Donnie Scott, the 2011 Northwoods League Manager of the Year. Scott, a former major leaguer and minor league manager, brought a winning mentality to a franchise that finished a league-worst 20-50 a year ago. With the new leadership, the Bombers ended up winning both the First Half and Second Half Championships in the South Division. Much of the success of the Bombers can be attributed to the steady offensive production they’ve gotten throughout their lineup and a league-best .278 batting average. Second baseman Brett Wiley (Evansville) and outfielder Daniel Rockett (Texas-San Antonio) were both named to the NWL’s Postseason All-Star Team as two of four Battle Creek regulars to hit above .300.
Mankato and Alexandria split their ten regular season meetings this year with each team winning five games, including three each at home. They last met one week ago in Mankato, splitting a two-game series. Jon Reed (Tennessee), who will start game two of the series for Alexandria, went 2-0 against Mankato in the regular season. Mankato’s Shaun Cooper (Utah) hit .541 with six home runs and 11 RBIs in the 10 games against the Beetles this year.
Battle Creek topped Green Bay in six of the ten regular season matchups over the course of the summer, including a three-game sweep in Battle Creek last Wednesday through Friday. Bomber shortstop Jordan Dean (Central Michigan) batted .436 with four doubles in nine games against the Bullfrogs. Green Bay’s game-two starter Tim Giel (Columbia) went 1-0 with a 2.53 ERA in his two starts against Battle Creek.
All Northwoods League playoff games can be viewed live on www.nwltickets.com.
Monday, August 15
Alexandria at Mankato, 7:05 PM central
ALX: Michael Reed (RHP, SO, Louisiana State, 5-2, 4.08) vs.
MAN: Blake Schwartz (RHP, JR, MSU-Mankato, 6-1, 1.71)
Tuesday, August 16
Mankato at Alexandria, 7:05 PM central
MAN: Tyler Niederklein (RHP, SO, Nebraska, 4-1, 2.86) vs.
ALX: Jon Reed (RHP, FR, Tennessee, 6-1, 3.35)
Wednesday, August 17
Mankato at Alexandria, 7:05 PM central (if necessary)
MAN: Sam Selman (LHP, SO, Vanderbilt, 2-4, 3.89) vs.
ALX: Matt Fyffe (RHP, JR, Eastern Kentucky, 4-4, 4.82)
Monday, August 15
Battle Creek at Green Bay, 7:05 PM central
BC: Troy Forton (RHP, JR, Western Michigan, 6-4, 2.84) vs.
GB: Andy Hunter (RHP, JR, Gonzaga, 5-2, 1.97)
Tuesday, August 16
Green Bay at Battle Creek, 7:05 PM eastern
GB: Tim Giel (RHP, SO, Columbia, 7-3, 2.33) vs.
BC: Nick Frey (RHP, FR, Texas Christian, 4-0, 2.25)
Wednesday, August 17
Green Bay at Battle Creek, 7:05 PM eastern (if necessary)
GB: Drew Bradshaw (LHP, SO, San Jose State, 2-1, 4.47) vs.
BC: Ben Ballantine (RHP, SO, Michigan, 3-1, 2.27)
Summer Collegiate World Series
The series will be in a 1-2 format with game one played at the home park of the team with the lower winning percentage during the regular season and games two and three played at the home stadium of the team with the higher winning percentage.
Alexandria .638 (44-25)
Battle Creek .623 (43-26)
Green Bay .609 (42-27)
Mankato .600 (42-28)
Thursday, August 18
Friday, August 19
Saturday, August 20
TBD (if necessary)