MANKATO - Bemidji will open the state tournament 10 a.m. today against Marshall at Franklin Rogers Field in Mankato.
The VFW takes a 24-5 record into the tournament, while Marshall is 20-9.
Thursday's other first-round games in the double-elimination event match St. Cloud (12-4) against Mankato (15-15), Ely (29-6) against North St. Paul (23-12) and Champlin Park (27-3) against Alexandria (29-7).
If Bemidji wins its opener it will advance to a 3 p.m. contest against Rochester (22-8) at Mankato East. A loss in the first round would drop Bemidji into a 5:30 p.m. loser's bracket game against either Champlin Park or Alexandria.
Also in the field is Shakopee (22-5) which will take on the St. Cloud-Mankato winner at 3 p.m.
Bemidji coach Dan Bennett and his players are eager to begin the state tournament and the coach believes that the VFW can challenge for the title.
"We've been playing good baseball all year," he said. "We ended the regular season playing well and then we won three straight games in the district tournament so we are ready."
The Vets are strong in all phases of the game and that balance should help them this weekend.
"We don't always score a ton of runs but we can manufacture runs," Bennett said. "We also play solid defense and we pitch very well.
"I don't think the week layoff between districts and state will hurt us," the coach continued. "We've had a couple of practices and with this group, all they need to do is put their gloves on and they are ready to play."
Bemidji's VFW program is accustomed to playing at the state tournament. In 2009 the Vets posted a 2-2 record at state and in 2010 the VFW ran the table at Austin to win the championship, downing St. Paul Ranview 6-3 in the title game.
A year ago the VFW finished 1-2 at the state meet which was held in Bemidji.
"We have only five kids on this summer's team who are second-year VFW players," Bennett said. "For the rest of them, this is their first time at the state tournament.
"To go to state is exciting," the coach continued. "Some of our kids have never been to Mankato before and they plan on leaving early so they can go to the Vikings training camp on Wednesday."
Qualifying for the state tournament fulfills one of the team's goals but Bennett doesn't believe that his players are satisfied.
"Our goal now is to make some noise at state," he said. "We want to show the rest of the state what we can do.
"This is the time of the year when you want to play good baseball. I'm happy with how we have played and I'm sure we will continue to play well this weekend."
VFW State Tournament
Game 1: Bemidji (24-5) vs. Marshall (20-9), 10 a.m. Franklin Rogers Field
Game 2: St. Cloud (12-4) vs. Mankato (15-15), 10 a.m.
Game 3: Ely (29-6) vs. North St. Paul (23-12), 12:30 p.m.
Game 4: Champlin Park (27-3) vs. Alexandria (29-7), 2:30 p.m.
Game 5: Rochester (22-8) vs. Game 1 winner, 3 p.m.
Game 6: Shakopee (22-5) vs. Game 2 winner, 3 p.m.
Game 7: Game 2 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 5:30 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 8: Game 1 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 5:30 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 5 loser, 11 a.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 11 a.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 11: Game 3 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 1:30 p.m.
Game 12: Game 4 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 1:30 p.m.
Game 13: Game 10 winner vs. Game 11 loser, 4 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 14: Game 9 winner vs. Game 12 loser, 4 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 15: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 11 a.m.
Game 16: Game 13 winner vs. Game 14 winner, 1:30 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 17: Game 16 winner vs. Game 15 loser, 4 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 18: Game 15 winner vs. Game 1 winner, 11 a.m.
Game 19: Repeat of Game 15, 1:30 p.m. (if necessary)