Omaha, Eden Prairie return to CPROmaha Pi Midwest and Eden Prairie know the talent level and what to expect as they step foot on Astoria Field today.
By: Royal McGregor, The Dickinson Press
Omaha Pi Midwest and Eden Prairie know the talent level and what to expect as they step foot on Astoria Field today.
The two teams are returning to the Central Plains Regional seemingly going down different paths — one the 2011 American Legion World Series champion and the other looking to make it to the national tournament.
“They’re not coming in stunned and meeting the other state champions from all over,” Omaha head coach Pat Mooney said. “Being through it already makes it a lot easier and they are more relaxed when they come in.”
Eden Prairie, the back-to-back Central Plains Regional champions, is back to defend its title as World Series champions.
“We are pretty confident,” Eden Prairie pitcher/outfielder Jordan Smith said. “We have a younger team this year, but I think we have the talent to do it again. It is going to take a little hard work and these teams here are good. I think if we play our game, we’ll be fine.”
In the 2010 season, Eden Prairie finished runner-up at the World Series and returned a host of players for 2011. This year wasn’t so easy.
Most of those players have moved on to college and the lone remaining with tournament experience is Smith, who is following in the footsteps of former teammates Tony Skjefte and Lance Thonvold to play baseball for the University of Minnesota.
“It kind of a mix and these coaches have been here and know,” Hackett said. “Overall we have a pretty new group. It’s just trying to get those guys to understand what’s going to happen with all the festivities beforehand.”
Omaha is excited to see what’s in store at this regional tournament. The Blue Jays have seven players signed to play baseball at the NCAA Division I level, including Notre Dame-bound Kevin Connolly.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence coming back here,” Connolly said. “We kind of know most of the teams. We’ve got a feel for who we are playing against and we feel that we have a shot making it nationals this year.”
Other colleges Omaha players will attend include North Dakota State, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Creighton and Nebraska-Omaha.
“We do have a few guys moving on,” Mooney said. “We have good kids and they work hard. We’ve traditionally have a good program at prep.”
Turf field the equalizer?
Many of the teams playing in the regional tournament have stepped foot on an artificial turf infield like the one at Astoria Field.
“We played there (Minnetonka, Minn.) about three times this year,” Smith said. “It makes a little more even for all the defensive players. It kind of makes the playing field a little more even.”
On the other hand, some teams are new to turf.
“This will be our players first time for all of them playing on turf,” Brookings Bandits head coach Rob Hirrschoff said. “It looks beautiful and bad hops are basically a nonfactor. It will probably be a little bit quicker.”
However, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone and from the words so far, the turf looks to be in great shape.
“There’s one field in Omaha that’s all turf,” Mooney said. “We play on it a ton and these guys are excited to play on this new stuff. It looks really nice.”
“We play on turf all the time,” Connolly added. “If anything it’s a benefit for us, we have good infielders and playing fast. I think that’s going to be nothing but an advantage for us.”
Competition level also an equalizer
Every team traveling to Dickinson is either a state champion or state runner-up.
Scouts will be on hand as the best teams from the upper Midwest take the field against each other fighting for a chance to play in Shelby, N.C. at the 2012 American Legion World Series.
“It’s really tough here,” Smith said. “Teams around here are pretty good. I think it will be a great tournament here to watch.”
Eden Prairie tries to see as much out-of-state competition as possible and Hackett said the team attends Rapid City, S.D., tournament.
“We always travel out to Rapid City or we’ll take a trip to go to a good out of town tournament to see how we match up against out-of-state teams,” he said. “Rapid City always has a very good, competitive tournament and that’s always a good measuring stick for us.”
Hirrschoff said beating defending South Dakota state champion Sioux Falls East and Rapid City Post 22 gave them a boost of confidence.
“Sunday of our state championship, having to beat Rapid City Post 22 and the defending state champs, Sioux Falls, we knew it was going to be a tall order beating two great programs,” Hirrschoff said. “We got it done and I think that’s only going to lead to confidence for us into this tournament.
“The equalizer of that is that everyone in this tournament is playing with confidence.”