As birthday presents go, Brian Minks couldn’t think of a better one.
The St. Cloud Cathedral junior third baseman turns 17 today, which just happens to see the Crusaders playing for their second straight state Class 2A championship at Target Field.
“It’s great,” Minks said.
Cathedral (24-5) plays Holy Family Catholic (24-4) at 3 p.m. today. The Class A final is at noon and the Class 3A final follows the Cathedral game at about 6 p.m.
“It’s a nice place to spend your birthday,” Cathedral head coach Bob Karn said.
Junior catcher Bo Schmitz would agree with that. The Crusaders won the state championship last year on Schmitz’s birthday. Cathedral won its seventh state championship since 1977 by beating La Crescent 6-1.
“I think it should have been my birthday last year, too,” Minks said. “But we had a rainout.”
Minks has been the Crusaders’ leading hitter this season, batting third in the order. He’s an excellent defensive player and has thrown some huge innings for Cathedral in the playoffs.
There were six shutout innings in relief against Albany in the Section 6-2A final. Then there two appearances and five innings against Proctor in the state semifinals, a 9-8, nine-inning victory.
“This year, whenever we’ve needed him, he’s come through for us,” senior first baseman Michael Kerber said. “He’s an all-around great player.”
The Crusaders expect to be facing a great pitcher today. Holy Family Catholic’s ace is Kasey Ralston.
The senior right-hander tossed a three-hit shutout Thursday in the Fire’s 8-0 first-round win over Cannon Falls in St. Cloud.
Ralston struck out six and walked one. He has an 8-0 record with 99 strikeouts in 59 innings and an earned-run average of 0.67.
Karn said he has excellent velocity, in the high 80s, and a good curve.
“He’s the hardest thrower we’ve season all year,” Karn said.
Holy Family also has an excellent catcher in Connor Riddle. He came into the tournament batting .338 with three home runs and 22 RBI. Ralston, who is a Division I college prospect, has six home runs and 32 RBI to go with a .365 batting average.
“We’re going to be playing a very good team,” Karn said. “They hit well and they’ve got some excellent pitchers. They are really a force.
“But that said, we’re glad to be going down to Target Field …”
Cathedral is expected to start either senior left-hander Eric Pelant or sophomore left-hander Jeff Fasching.
Whoever starts, Minks and the Crusaders will be enjoying the moment, even if it wasn’t Minks’ birthday.