NEW ULM - The newly expanded 2012 Upper Midwest Classic - now expanded to 20 American Legion baseball teams - begins play Thursday at Johnson Park and then extends to four other sites beginning Friday and running through Sunday.
Four pools of five teams each will compete for the right to play for the championship on Sunday.
Pool A consists of New Ulm Gold, Lakeville South, Anoka, Renner, S.D., and Omaha Gross Catholic. Pool B has St. Paul Rosetown, Plover, Wisc., Hamline Red, Duluth and Apple Valley.
Pool C features Prior Lake, New Ulm Blue, Burnsville, Creighton Prep, Neb., and Sioux Falls West. Pool D has Brandon, S.D., Coon Rapids, Sioux Falls East, Sleepy Eye and Eastview of Apple Valley.
With the expanded field, five different sites will be used, including Johnson and Mueller Parks in New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Essig and Searles.
Here is some information on some of the teams entered in the Upper Midwest Classic.
Renner is making its first-ever trek into the tournament for a good reason - this is its first year as a Legion baseball program.
"Our (American Legion) Post is out of Renner, South Dakota, but we go by Post 307 and it is out of Sioux Falls," coach Josh Merrigan said. "New Ulm is a good tournament within three hours of us, it is going to be good for our kids to come and play quality competition on nice fields."
Renner has one senior on the team that enters with a 12-19 mark.
Sioux Falls East comes to New Ulm as the defending South Dakota state champion from last year.
East enters the tournament with a 23-9 mark under coach Chris Janisch and has a team batting average of .362. Two players - Connor Schaefbauer and Jon Hander - are both hitting over .500.
Schaefbauer, who will play college baseball next year at the University of Minnesota, is batting .563 (63-for-112). He is also 25-of-26 in stolen base attempts.
East's roster also has two other players who will play Division I baseball next year.
Alex Schultz is going to the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He is hitting .427 and leads the team with 40 RBI. Hander, a junior, has verbally committed to the University of Kansas.
Janisch is in his first year as East coach, coming to East from Sioux Falls West.
Jansich said that he and his coaching staff feel that the Upper Midwest Classic "is just as good - if not better - than the Gopher Classic."
Creighton Prep won the Nebraska Spring State Championship with a 34-4 mark. Currently in its summer season, the team is 26-4 for a combined 60-8 mark.
Ten Creighton Prep players will be playing college baseball next year in Kevin Connelly (Notre Dame), Cale Dineen (University of Nebraska-Omaha), Taylor Elman (Creighton University), Jon Hectner (South Dakota State), Billy Lipari (University of Pittsburgh), Alex Meisenbach (Southwest CC), Mason Raburn (Northwest Missouri State), Nick Ramsey (Rockhurst University), Evan Ryan (Georgetown University) and TJ Wood (Truman State).
As a team, Creighton is hitting .356
Sioux Falls West has a 21-12 record. The team is led by Nick Mimmack with a .443 batting average. Danon Barruth (Butler Community College) is hitting .438. Trevor Hurley (Holy Cross) is at .353. Weston Smith (University of Wisconsin-Superior) is hitting .361.
Plover is currently 17-0. Last year the team won 18 straight games and finished fourth in the Wisconsin State Legion Tournament. The team is 52-7 in the last two years.
Plover is led by Sterling King with a .438 batting average and a team-high 20 RBI. Willie Doll has three home runs. Plover is hitting .352 as a team.
King and Seth Merrill are Plover's top pitchers, with each holding records of 3-0.
Coon Rapids has a 15-4 mark and may have back Logan Shore, who is trying out for the USA Baseball U18 team in Cary, N.C.
Brandon's team is based out of Valley Springs.
"Brandon has no Legion post, so we play out of Valley Springs," coach Grant Hieb said. "We are 16-15. We play in Marshall on Thursday before coming to New Ulm. Last year we were 13-28."