The Class B state amateur baseball tournament is always predictably unpredictable.
There are sure to be shockers and upsets, but two teams may stand apart.
At least 10 teams have a legitimate chance to be part of the final four at Cadwell Park, but the championship may come down to Alexandria or the Dell Rapids Mudcats.
Canova, Flandreau, Larchwood (Iowa), Winner/Colome and Wynot (Neb.) are also strong candidates to make a deep run in the tournament, but many followers of South Dakota amateur baseball have pegged the Angels and Mudcats as the top of the heap.
Alexandria is in search of a fifth state championship in six years and has been to the finals in seven of the previous eight seasons behind a trio of strong pitchers. Meanwhile, adding beef to the pitching rotation could carry Dell Rapids back to the finals for the first time since 2008.
Ethan Davis, Tyson Gau and Jed Schmidt have tossed a combined 110 innings and have logged 145 strikeouts for the Angels. Strong pitching could be critical as Alexandria went 5-2 in games decided by one run, which is a stark contrast to running through the final four games of the 2020 tournament by a margin of nine runs.
For the Mudcats, the former Augustana University duo of Dalton Lehnen -- a 2017 sixth-round pick of the Yankees -- and Dalton Allen have been difficult to solve for opponents this season. The addition of Lehnen this season could put Dell Rapids back in the mix after dropping an 11-6 game to Alexandria in the 2020 state tournament.
Although the Angels and Mudcats have steady horses to ride, there is no guarantee either makes the final, as every team in the tournament has run into some flaw throughout the season.
Alexandria dropped a 3-2 game to Corsica/Stickney and a 2-0 game to Dimock/Emery in the District 5B tournament opener within a 10-day span after starting the season 13-1. Dell Rapids has also hit an occasional pitfall this season, including splitting a regular season matchup with Canova.
Of course, the Gang is also no stranger to the spotlight, aiming for a fourth consecutive trip to the semifinals and a third trip to the final in four years. But if the Gang are going to get back to the top, they will need some strong pitching performances by Derek Miller and Trey Krier. Canova lost two reliable pitchers to injuries early in the season, leaving Miller and Krier to toss nearly 60 innings apiece.
Flandreau dropped both of its regular season games to the Mudcats, but took two out of three from Canova, including a 23-hit rout in the District 4B tournament. The Cardinals have a balanced lineup, with four players driving in at least 15 runs and 10 players hitting over .300.
Winner/Colome is aiming for its third consecutive trip to the semifinals, but the road has ended there the previous two seasons. A high-powered offense could do the trick this season, as the Pheasants have scored at least 10 runs in 11 of 18 games this year, led by Austin Calhoon, who is hitting .484 with 34 RBIs.
But this is rarely a tournament that aligns with any predictions on paper. With so many quality teams vying for a shot at the state championship, it seems likely we have a surprise late in the tournament.