#039;Hounds have a shot to win state

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Austin Daily Herald

Making wooden bats mandatory throughout Minnesota Amateur Baseball at the beginning of the 2002 season brought the competition between most teams closer together, but as the Class B Austin squad heads off to this year's state tournament not even the defending runner-up Greyhounds can be counted as a favorite.

Two-time defending state champion and tourney co-host Cold Spring stands shoulders above the rest of the 16-team field as the favorites to win the 2002 Class B amateur title. While most teams were weakened by the implementation of wood bats, only the Springers (31-5) seemed to get better.

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"They're the favorite by far," said Austin player/coach Joe Serratore. "They've won two in a row, they're playing on their home field, they have everybody back, and they know how to play in every situation.

"They are veteran players and they play with one common goal, and that's to win the tournament."

Cold Spring doused a hot Greyhounds team in the finals of last year's state tournament. Left-handed hurler Andy Bulson -- ironically an Austin native -- threw 14 innings of one-run ball as Cold Spring successfully defended its 2000 title with wins of 7-0 and 9-3 over the 'Hounds.

Austin won four straight to reach the state finals for the first time in the program's history, fueled by the powerful and durable right arm of Chris Pack. The Greyhounds (33-17) start their fifth state tournament appearance Friday night in Cold Spring at 7:30 p.m. against Hutchinson.

"It's a different tournament because of the wood bats, and we're in a tougher bracket than last year," Serratore said. "Our expectations are still high because we've been their before and we were successful.

"Wood bats give us an advantage because of our pitching staff and our defense. Runs are a premium."

Pack (6-5) will get the ball as the starter for Austin's first game at state this season, but an added arm should help to lighten his load at state. Dave Meyer should share some innings as Pack's 28 1/3 innings caught up to him against Cold Spring in last year's finals.

"Chris Pack is going to get the ball the first game, and we can come right back with any one of our pitchers, including Dave Meyer," Serratore said. "Because of Chris' past performance, he's going to get the ball.

"For us to win this tournament, we're going to have to get pitching from Scott Meyer, Dave Meyer, Nick Dolan, Bryan Toov, and maybe even the lefty from Albert Lea (Isaac Walton). Walton gives us an element we've not had and we're going to use it. This first weekend we're going to throw everybody and the kitchen sink if we have to."

Royal victory

The Greyhounds drafted Walton after beating the Rochester Royals to earn the top seed out of Section 2B. Austin's recent dominance of the Royals has spurred the Greyhounds into a new level of play.

"I think the day we beat Rochester one year ago in the playoffs by one run over there in Rochester it changed our whole program," Serratore said. "It gave us legitimacy and changed the tides -- now we expect to win."

Austin ended the Royals' 55-game Southern Minny League winning streak with a 5-4 playoff victory, and the Greyhounds have owned them since. The 'Hounds have won the last five postseason games against Rochester, including a 9-8 victory in the preliminary finals of last year's state tournament.

Favorite flavor

The Greyhounds have won eight of their last 10 games to end the season, including a flawless playoffs run that included two one-run triumphs over Rochester. First and foremost, Austin has to worry about its own half of the bracket.

Bulson, a two-time Most Valuable Player at state, is 10-2 with a 1.95 earned run average this season, and his Springers are on the same side as the Greyhounds.

"It's their tournament until somebody can come in there and beat them," Serratore said. "There's probably 10 teams that are capable of winning it. (Wood bats) adds more teams to the mix.

"I wouldn't say we're a favorite, but I wouldn't say we're not in the running. We definitely feel like we have a shot at it."

First round:

Thursday, August 15

At St. Cloud

Burnsville vs. Jordan, 5 p.m.

At Cold Spring

Grand Rapids vs. St. Cloud Ultimate Sports, 5 p.m.

Cold Spring vs. Bemidji, 7:30 p.m.

Chaska vs. Apple Valley, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, August 16

At Cold Spring

Dassel-Cokato vs. Rochester, 5 p.m.

Mankato vs. Hastings, 5 p.m.

Austin vs. Hutchinson, 7:30 p.m.

Red Wing vs. Waseca, 7:30 p.m.

Call Ross Thede at 434-2234 or e-mail him at :mailto:sports@austindailyherald.com.