Despite Marshall getting swept at the Nick Bell Classic tournament in Cold Spring in late July, A's manager Sean Culhane came away with plenty of positives in preparing for his team's new section.
Moved from Section 2B to 7B, Marshall is prepared to take on some of the best of Central Minnesota - and the state - when section playoffs begin today in Cold Spring.
"We finally got some arms healthy, so we don't have to worry about pitching so much now," Culhane said. "With the teams we're playing, it comes down to how a certain inning is played, a lot of little things.
"We're looking to make a good run at it, and we're looking to have a healthy start on Friday."
Going 1-4 against 7B opponents, Marshall enters section play as the No. 5 seed in the six-team tournament. The A's begin play at 8 p.m. tonight against No. 4-seeded Ultimate Sports Snappers (from St. Cloud).
The A's and Snappers met up for a doubleheader on June 23, with Marshall taking a 15-5 win in Game 1, and Ultimate Sports forcing the split with a 3-2 victory in the night cap.
"I don't know if fifth place in conducive to how we've played this year," Culhane admits, "but we had one rough weekend (at the Nick Bell Classic) and that dictates who you play."
What Culhane is hoping can dictate his team's playoff run is the A's pitching, as Nate Dickhausen will take the mound against the Snappers tonight. Dickhausen went 7-4 in 11 starts, finishing with a team-high 84 strikeouts to go with a 2.64 ERA.
"If he throws like he did against the Military All-Stars or against Cold Spring, we'll be in the game," Culhane said of Dickhausen. "We need to get a good starting performance out of him."
After Friday's 4-5 matchup, the A's could run into two of the top Class B teams in the state. Friday's winner will take on the defending Class B state champion Sauk Rapids Cyclones, who are the section's No. 1 seed and the No. 2-ranked team in Class B, according to the Minnesota Baseball Association polls. The No. 2 seed in the section is the Cold Spring Springers, who are third in the state polls.
Despite losing at the Nick Bell Classic, Marshall showed tenacity against the section's best teams in a 5-3 loss to Cold Spring and a 3-2 loss against Sauk Rapids. The A's struggled in the final game of the tournament, a 3-0 loss versus the Brainerd Bees, who opened section play Thursday with a 7-3 win over the Granite City Grays.
"I wasn't very happy with how we played against Brainerd, but I was very happy with the Friday game versus Cold Spring and very happy with the Saturday game against Sauk Rapids," Culhane said.
"To be honest, we were missing four starters and had to play some of our bench guys who didn't get as many innings," Culhane added. "We showed we were capable of playing with those section teams, and our pitching can stack up with these guys, too."
Hoping to springboard the A's on offense are first baseman Andrew Kinney and pitcher/outfielder Zach Olson. Kinney has crushed opposing pitching with a .732 slugging percentage, 11 doubles and team highs in home runs (eight) and RBIs (42). Olson leads the A's in batting average (453), hits (48) and triples (five).
With full nine-inning games and a healthy team, Culhane believes that if his team can do the little things right, the A's have a shot at reaching the super region and getting closer to a state berth, something Marshall has missed out on since reaching state for four consecutive years from 2007-10.
"The guys are ready to go," Culhane said. "We proved we can play with the other teams, now we just need to finish games off."