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Minnetonka righthanded senior pitcher Evan Kueppers heard and felt trouble in his back during the Skippers' season opener against Eden Prairie. He grimaced in pain near the mound.

"I heard something pop in my lower back after I threw a pitch," Kueppers said. "It took my breath away. I then threw a warm-up pitch and it popped again.

"I thought my senior season was done and I might not play anymore. I was scared."

Kueppers had prepared to build on a stellar junior season. He feared it was all for naught, until he saw a specialist. He had an oblique injury instead of something more serious.

State tournament brackets: Class 4A | Class 3A | Class 2A | Class 1A

"It was the exact same injury one of or other pitchers had a month or two earlier," Kueppers said. "He knew exactly what to do. I started physical therapy right away."

Kueppers returned to the Skippers a month later and will pitch for them in the Class 4A state tournament. He'll come out of the bullpen like a year ago instead of as a starter like in the season opener. Minnetonka (17-7) will play Mounds View (18-8) in the quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at CHS Field in St. Paul.

"The night he got hurt during our first game of the regular season, all members of the team were hanging their heads," Minnetonka coach Paul Twenge said. "This appeared to be a loss that could not be replaced."

The Skippers are 11-1 since he rejoined the squad.

"Once Evan came back to be the closer everything turned around for us," Twenge said. "We were fortunate to get him back on the mound."

Kueppers is 4-2 with two saves. He has a 1.67 ERA, striking out 24 and walking three in 21 innings.

"I wanted to go back in the bullpen," Kueppers said. "It might be a blessing in disguise. I'm having fun coming out of the bullpen again."

He made his return on senior night, pitching one inning in a 3-2 victory over Hopkins in a Lake Conference matchup.

"I felt tight on the first pitch I threw," said Kueppers, who throws three pitches, a two-seam fastball, a slider and a changeup. "I felt stronger, though, and it gave me more confidence."

Kueppers set the school season record for saves with 10 a year ago. It wasn't the only thing impressive about his season. He went 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA, allowing only 10 hits in 24 innings. He struck out 34 and walked six.

"Evan is a strike thrower, strong competitor," Twenge said. "He loves pitching and will give everything he has to win. A coach's dream."

Wayzata's tough — impossible? — to beat

Wayzata (24-0) is the lone unbeaten team in the state tournament. The Trojans have an opportunity to become the first unbeaten team to win a state championship since Hayfield (26-0) in Class 1A in 2021 and the first large school to do so since Cretin-Derham Hall (29-0) in 1998.

The No. 1-ranked Trojans, whose average score is 8.8-2, have two outstanding starting pitchers who make them a tough out.

Ace Riley Leatherman is 6-0 with an ERA of 1.21 and WHIP of 1.24. He is bound for North Carolina.

"He represents Wayzata baseball the way it should be done," Trojans coach Bobby DeWitt said. "He's aggressive, intelligent and knows what it takes to win. North Carolina is getting themselves a great pitcher, an outstanding young man and a future leader."

Junior Noah Filer's numbers are even better. He is 7-0 with one save, an ERA of 0.66 and WHIP of 0.78. He struck out 63 in 42⅓ innings. Filer has committed to Purdue.

"He will be someone to keep an eye on next year as a senior," DeWitt said.

Title defenses

Two teams, East Ridge in Class 4A and Esko in Class 2A, are looking to successfully defend their state championships of a year ago.

Esko (24-3), the top seed in Class 2A, had to come out of the loser's bracket and beat Duluth Marshall twice to win the Section 7 crown.

The Raptors (18-6) are peaking at the right time; they won all four of their Section 4 games. That avenged three of their losses (two to Cretin-Derham Hall and one to Stillwater). They are seeded third, behind Wayzata and Farmington (23-3).

"We have a lot of experience back with a cohesive group of seniors," Raptors coach Brian Sprout said at the start of the season.

Best sport

Cherry sophomore Noah Asuma made a name for himself in the Class 1A boys basketball state tournament. He averaged 16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and two steals per game and was named to the all-tournament team after helping the Tigers to the state championship.

Now is a chance to see him in the sport at which he excels. He will be at shortstop or on the mound for the Section 7 champion and top-seeded Tigers (23-2). Asuma is one of the top players in the state in the Class of 2026.

His brother, senior Isaac Asuma, a future Gophers basketball player, also pitches and is a utility man for the Tigers. He will get plenty of travel time between Minneapolis and St. Cloud come Thursday and Friday. The Gophers started their summer practice schedule Monday, and it runs through the end of July, so he will be bouncing between practice in Minneapolis and games in St. Cloud.

Cherry will face Lac qui Parle Valley (16-6) in the quarterfinals at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Joe Faber Field. The Tigers have nine players from their state championship basketball roster on the baseball squad.

Return to Target Field

After a one-year hiatus, the state championship games in all four classes will return to Target Field on Monday, four games in a row starting at 10 a.m. The championship games were played at CHS Field in St. Paul a year ago.

The Class 1A final will be played first, followed by Class 2A at 1 p.m., Class 3A at 4:30 p.m. and Class 4A at 7:30 p.m.

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Costs range from $8 to $13. Tickets must be purchased online at

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The Neighborhood Sports Network will stream state tournament games. A subscription is required. Link to the streams here.

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More coverage

The Star Tribune will publish stories and other content related to these state championships and more this week. Keep up by checking each day. Thank you for reading and subscribing.

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Tournament information

* The MSHSL's spectator guide

* Download and print the tournament program

* Star Tribune high school sports page