BEMIDJI - A year ago the Bemidji High School baseball team was elated to make the state tournament.
This year, however, the Lumberjacks are heading to Midway Stadium with a different mindset and a different set of goals.
"We don't want to finish in second place this year," said BHS infielder Connor McNallan. "For us it's win or bust. We came into the season with the goal of getting to Target Field and we're two games from that. But we also came into the season with the goal of winning that game at Target Field. And we still have that goal."
In order to attain that goal Bemidji will have to defeat Hill-Murray in Thursday's 12:30 p.m. state opener. If that obstacle can be overcome the next challenge would be either Hopkins or Eden Prairie in Friday's noon state semifinals.
Victories in those two games would vault the Jacks into the state Class 3A title game which will be played 6 p.m. Monday at Target Field.
"We're happy to be where we are but we're not satisfied," said Bemidji coach Mike Fogelson. "These guys want to hang a banner.
"This senior class is one of the most accomplished classes, in all sports, to ever come through Bemidji High School," Fogelson continued. "And they want to finish their careers with a championship."
The Lumberjacks will take a 23-2 record into Thursday's contest while Hill-Murray is 21-4.
The Pioneers captured the Section 4-3A title but the championship did not come easily.
Seeded No. 1, Hill-Murray edged No. 9 Tartan 2-1 in its opener. Hill-Murray then stopped No. 5 Stillwater 4-2 before losing 11-0 to Roseville. That loss pushed Hill-Murray into its section loser's bracket but the Pioneers survived by stopping Stillwater 7-0 and taking two games from Roseville, winning the opener 4-2 and the title contest 13-3.
"It's going to be a fun first-round match-up," Fogelson said. "We haven't played against Hill-Murray in a long time but I believe they are similar to us. They have good front-end pitching, a solid defense and can score runs."
Only the Lumberjacks and Eden Prairie return from last year's state tournament field and that experience should be an ally.
"Last year was our first time at state in 20 years and we were a young team," Fogelson said. "This year the players have a different approach. We know what to expect at state.
"There are very good teams at state but it is still just baseball," the coach continued. "To be successful you need to throw strikes, field the ball and hit the ball and that's what we've done all year. The important thing is to just play baseball and not get caught up in the hoopla."
"We're the team to beat and last year we learned that all we need to do is perform," McNallan said. "I'm very excited to have the chance to go to state and it's been exciting to play with these seniors. This is our chance to get it done and we plan on taking advantage of this opportunity."
Blackduck to meet BOLD
Blackduck will begin its state Class A tournament 3 p.m. Thursday in Chaska against BOLD (Bird Island, Lake Lillian and Olivia) of Section 2.
Both teams are 22-4.
The other lower-bracket match-up pits New York Mills (23-0) against St. Agnes (20-6).
In the upper bracket Browerville (22-3) will meet Kenyon-Wanimingo (19-6) and Ely (20-3) will face Lac qui Parle (16-9).