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Mudcats' MVP out for title defense?

Mudcats shortstop Matt Malloy throws to first during last year's Class B state amateur baseball tournament championship game against Crofton, Neb., at Mitchell's Cadwell Park. (Luke Hagen/Republic)

PARKSTON -- The Parkston Mudcats may have to defend their championship without their MVP.

Brady Nolz, a key component in leading Parkston to a Class B state amateur baseball title last August, said Monday he's unlikely to pitch in the first round because of an arm injury. He's unsure how long he could miss. The Mudcats (20-7) open their state tournament title defense against Britton at 1 p.m. Sunday at Sioux Falls Stadium.

"It's a real downer," said Nolz, last year's tournament MVP who threw in all five of the Mudcats' tournament wins. "This is the biggest part of the season to play for. It's hard to sit there and watch, knowing I could be out there playing."

The Mudcats defeated Crofton, Neb., 4-3 in last year's state championship game at Cadwell Park in Mitchell. Nolz earned the win in relief, tossing eight shutout innings to go along with 10 strikeouts. The right-hander earned four wins and one save in the five-game tournament, recording 33 2/3 innings and 504 pitches in an eight-day span.

"It's going to be a long time before something like that happens again," Mudcats manager Dave Roth said. "There's not too many people that can throw every game like he did last year."

Nolz felt soreness in his pitching elbow after leading the Mudcats to a first-round District 5B tournament win over Corsica/Stickney on July 26. He threw a complete-game two-hitter, but hasn't pitched since. Nolz, who doesn't believe the injury is connected to the large workload from last year's state tournament, said there's a sharp pain in his elbow each time he throws.

After visiting the doctor on Monday, Nolz said the injury likely won't require Tommy John surgery -- or a complete reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament. He's going to get another opinion later this week when he visits an orthopedic surgeon.

Roth said the team has four other pitchers, right-handers Jeff Fish and Luke Tiesler and lefties Trevor Kuiper and Trevor Arnold, who could take the hill Sunday afternoon against Britton, a team that lost in the semifinals of last year's state tournament. Roth hasn't decided who will start.

Mudcats shortstop Matt Malloy said he's confident with the team's pitching staff. He also isn't counting out Nolz from pitching at state.

"Knowing Brady and how competitive he is, and how much the state tournament means to the team, I think he might be able to go, but you never know," Malloy said.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Malloy, Roth and Nolz each said their team isn't the favorite headed into state. Instead, they all picked Alexandria.

Saturday, Alexandria defeated the Mudcats 11-3 in the District 5B championship game in Parkston, a game Nolz likely would have pitched if he was healthy. Alexandria, ranked No. 1 in Class B for nearly the entire season, holds a 27-3 record headed into state.

One of the Angels' three losses this year came against the Mudcats. If they each win their first three games, the Mudcats and Alexandria will meet in the state semifinals for a second straight year. Last year, Nolz struck out seven Alexandria hitters in a complete-game victory in the state semifinals to send the Mudcats to the state championship game.

"I guess we're the state champions until we're beat," Nolz said, "but I don't think we're the favorite. We're one of the teams that has a good shot to win it. Crofton and Alexandria also have a good chance. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Alexandria."

Alexandria manager/player Chris Marek says the Mudcats are still the favorite, even with the possibility of not having Nolz.

"They're still a threat because they're still extremely good offensively," Marek said. "But they might have to slug it out and beat teams by outscoring them, but I still think they're a contender."