BLACKDUCK - Small towns provide the perfect setting for a kid to be a kid, especially if that kid wants to be a baseball player.
When the city limits can be effortlessly traversed with a bicycle there is no need to depend upon mom or dad to make the run to the park. It's easy to transport the glove and ball in the backpack and the bat fits perfectly over the shoulder. And when the diamond is only a few blocks away no matter where you live, there is never an excuse not to go.
As youngsters, this year's Blackduck High School baseball players put in their time at the neighborhood park and with the community's youth baseball programs. During Little League they were adversaries, playing on different teams, but when they reached the junior high level the players became teammates.
"Blackduck is a small town and I think we are successful now because of the close connection we have with each other," said senior Luke Krabbenhoft. "I hang out with these guys. I go to school with these guys and I am very close to these guys."
Krabbenhoft and his buddies are the Northland Conference champions. The Drakes have been the kings of the North Division of the league for three straight springs but in 2010 and 2011 they dropped the overall title game to Cass Lake-Bena.
This year Pine River was the South champion and Blackduck's obstacle on way to the overall league crown.
Pine River and Blackduck split during the regular season but the Tigers proved to be little more than a speed bump in the conference championship game as the Drakes coasted to a 13-0 victory.
"Everything came together for us that day," said senior Aaron Nissen. "We had a good feeling coming into this year because our opponents lost more players than we did to graduation. We felt we could get on a roll and we have."
Blackduck ended the regular season 17-3 and earned the top seed in the East 8A Sub-section. The Drakes, who won the sub-section title last spring, will open their postseason Tuesday at home against No. 8 Laporte. A victory in that game and Blackduck will head to Bemidji State University on May 31 for the sub-section semifinals.
"Last year we won the sub-section but we played our worst game of the year in the section opener (a 12-2 loss to Norman County)," senior Cody Bergquist said. "This year we lost a couple of games early but right now we are playing well and we know that to keep winning we will have to stay focused."
According to the players, a lack of concentration contributed to this year's losses. And the Drakes know that they cannot allow that to happen in the playoffs.
"This year we beat ourselves three times," said sophomore Trey Volk. "The other team didn't beat us. Sometimes we get a little lackadaisical. But we are peaking now."
Volk leads the offense which is hitting at a .317 clip. The sophomore enters postseason with a .455 batting average with 30 hits, including nine doubles, in 66 official at-bats.
Not far behind is Bergquist at .409 while Dylan Weisert is at .333.
Bergquist and Nissen both own 5-1 pitching records and Weisert has a 4-1 mark.
"When we are focused we click," Weisert said."We don't commit errors, we hit the ball and we shut down the opposition."
"Baseball is a game that requires the proper mindset," he continued. "We won the subsection last year and we believe there is no reason why we can't again. But we will have to show up and play our best to do that."
How deep into the postseason this group of childhood buddies will advance remains to be seen but Volk is excited to find out.
"We've never been past the section tournament and we don't know how far we can go," he said. 'But it's fun to keep playing and see where that takes us."
East Sub-Section 8A
Game 1: No. 8 Laporte at No. 1 Blackduck, 5 p.m.
Game 2: No. 5 Remer at No. 4 Kelliher-Northome, 4 p.m.
Game 3: No. 6 WHA at No. 3 Lake of the Woods, 4 p.m.
Game 4; No. 7 Red Lake at No. 2 Cass Lake-Bena, 4 p.m.
May 31 at BSU
Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, noon
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 2 p.m.
May 31, at BSU
Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 5 p.m.
NOTE: Both semifinalists qualify for the Section 8A tournament.