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Extra work pays dividends as Bemidji baseball continues to excel

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If experience on the big stage means anything the Bemidji VFW baseball team could have an advantage in this weekend's state tournament.

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Baseball in Bemidji is on a roll. State-tournament appearances for Bemidji teams, from the youth leagues to high school and Legion ball, are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

And the VFW program is adding to that luster.

"We've built something in Bemidji in terms of the baseball programs," said Vets coach Brad Johnson who will lead Bemidji against Morris 11:30 a.m. today in its state opener at the Bemidji State University diamond.

"We are trying to create an atmosphere of winning which will ultimately lead to winning in the spring at the high school level."

The baseball coaches throughout the various programs appear to have accomplished that mission. A year ago the VFW won the state tournament and compiled a 30-5 record. The Legion finished 20-12.

This season the Bemidji High School team climaxed an 18-11 record with a trip to the state tournament. The Legion fared even better, also advancing to the state meet and posting a 26-6 record.

Today the VFW will bring a 26-9 mark into the game against Morris.

Collectively the programs are 120-43 over the past year.

"Everyone has been putting in the work and the effort," said VFW infielder and pitcher Connor McNallan. "We've been playing 40 games a season since we were 10 years old. And I wish we were playing more baseball."

Nick Hovila mans left field for the Vets and when he isn't playing baseball he wishes he was.

"When we have days off you'll find us practicing by ourselves," Hovila said. "In the fall Bemidji State offers fall ball and in the spring it offers a camp. And you'll see most of us there.

"There is no secret (to Bemidji's baseball success). What we do is outwork everybody else," Hovila added.

Ryan Hirt is becoming accustomed to the state tournament atmosphere. Last fall he and Trent Baker handled the mound duties at the VFW state meet and this year he pitched in the Legion state tournament.

The lefty will be on the mound today for the VFW's opener.

"I just have to make sure that I throw strikes," Hirt said about today's task. "I know I have good defense behind me that will make the plays so there is no extra pressure.

"I'm approaching this as if it was a normal game," he continued. "I don't want to be thinking too much (on the mound). I just want to pitch my normal game."

At last year's state meet that approach served him well. Hirt saw action in three games and was the winning pitcher in each. In his lone start he tossed a complete-game two-hitter as Bemidji demolished Worthington 16-0.

"Last year was fun," he said. "We learned that the teams are very good and you have to play your best to stay with them. This year, because we are the defending champions, we know that the teams will throw their best pitchers at us."

Hosting the tournament is an advantage, McNallan said.

"We'll have more fans and we know the field, the hops and how to pitch off this mound," he said. "In order to win the state you have to play good defense, have your pitchers come through and execute at the plate. You can't have many strikeouts. You need to put the ball in play and make something happen."

Hovila is eager for the tournament to begin but he knows that Bemidji will have to play its best to advance.

"We were undefeated at state last year and we weren't expected to win. This year we have a target on our back. But I think we're ready to wear that target."

VFW State Tournament

At BSU, Prep North Field

Thursday's Games

Game 1: Winona vs. Ranview, 9 a.m. (BSU)

Game 2: Elk River vs. Perham, 9 a.m. (Prep North)

Game 3: Bemidji vs. Morris, 11:3 a.m. (BSU)

Game 4: Grand Rapids vs. Little Falls, 2 p.m. (BSU)

Game 5: Eagan vs. Game 1 winner, 5:30 p.m. (BSU)

Game 6: Luverne vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m. (BSU)

Game 7: Game 2 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 3 p.m. (Prep North), loser eliminated

Game 8: Game 1 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 5:30 p.m. (Prep North), loser eliminated

Friday's Games

At BSU, Prep North

Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 5 loser, 9:30 a.m. (Prep North), loser eliminated

Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 9:30 a.m. (BSU), loser eliminated

Game 11: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, noon, (BSU)

Game 12: Game 4 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 2:30 p.m. (BSU)

Game 13: Game 11 loser vs. Game 10 winner, 5 p.m. (BSU), loser eliminated

Game 14: Game 12 loser vs. Game 9 winner, 7:30 p.m. (BSU), loser eliminated

Saturday's Games

At BSU

Game 15: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 1 p.m., winner advances to championship series

Game 16: Game 13 winner vs. Game 14 winner, 4 p.m., loser eliminated

Game 17: Game 15 loser vs. Game 16 winner, 7 p.m., loser eliminated

Sunday's Championship Games

At BSU

Game 18: Game 15 winner vs. Game 17 winner, noon

Game 19: Repeat of Game 18, if necessary

Y pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

If experience on the big stage means anything the Bemidji VFW baseball team could have an advantage in this weekend's state tournament.

Baseball in Bemidji is on a roll. State-tournament appearances for Bemidji teams, from the youth leagues to high school and Legion ball, are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

And the VFW program is adding to that luster.

"We've built something in Bemidji in terms of the baseball programs," said Vets coach Brad Johnson who will lead Bemidji against Morris 11:30 a.m. today in its state opener at the Bemidji State University diamond.

"We are trying to create an atmosphere of winning which will ultimately lead to winning in the spring at the high school level."

The baseball coaches throughout the various programs appear to have accomplished that mission. A year ago the VFW won the state tournament and compiled a 30-5 record. The Legion finished 20-12.

This season the Bemidji High School team climaxed an 18-11 record with a trip to the state tournament. The Legion fared even better, also advancing to the state meet and posting a 26-6 record.

Today the VFW will bring a 26-9 mark into the game against Morris.

Collectively the programs are 120-43 over the past year.

"Everyone has been putting in the work and the effort," said VFW infielder and pitcher Connor McNallan. "We've been playing 40 games a season since we were 10 years old. And I wish we were playing more baseball."

Nick Hovila mans left field for the Vets and when he isn't playing baseball he wishes he was.

"When we have days off you'll find us practicing by ourselves," Hovila said. "In the fall Bemidji State offers fall ball and in the spring it offers a camp. And you'll see most of us there.

"There is no secret (to Bemidji's baseball success). What we do is outwork everybody else," Hovila added.

Ryan Hirt is becoming accustomed to the state tournament atmosphere. Last fall he and Trent Baker handled the mound duties at the VFW state meet and this year he pitched in the Legion state tournament.

The lefty will be on the mound today for the VFW's opener.

"I just have to make sure that I throw strikes," Hirt said about today's task. "I know I have good defense behind me that will make the plays so there is no extra pressure.

"I'm approaching this as if it was a normal game," he continued. "I don't want to be thinking too much (on the mound). I just want to pitch my normal game."

At last year's state meet that approach served him well. Hirt saw action in three games and was the winning pitcher in each. In his lone start he tossed a complete-game two-hitter as Bemidji demolished Worthington 16-0.

"Last year was fun," he said. "We learned that the teams are very good and you have to play your best to stay with them. This year, because we are the defending champions, we know that the teams will throw their best pitchers at us."

Hosting the tournament is an advantage, McNallan said.

"We'll have more fans and we know the field, the hops and how to pitch off this mound," he said. "In order to win the state you have to play good defense, have your pitchers come through and execute at the plate. You can't have many strikeouts. You need to put the ball in play and make something happen."

Hovila is eager for the tournament to begin but he knows that Bemidji will have to play its best to advance.

"We were undefeated at state last year and we weren't expected to win. This year we have a target on our back. But I think we're ready to wear that target."

VFW State Tournament

At BSU, Prep North Field

Thursday's Games

Game 1: Winona vs. Ranview, 9 a.m. (BSU)

Game 2: Elk River vs. Perham, 9 a.m. (Prep North)

Game 3: Bemidji vs. Morris, 11:3 a.m. (BSU)

Game 4: Grand Rapids vs. Little Falls, 2 p.m. (BSU)

Game 5: Eagan vs. Game 1 winner, 5:30 p.m. (BSU)

Game 6: Luverne vs. Game 2 winner, 7 p.m. (BSU)

Game 7: Game 2 loser vs. Game 3 loser, 3 p.m. (Prep North), loser eliminated

Game 8: Game 1 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 5:30 p.m. (Prep North), loser eliminated

Friday's Games

At BSU, Prep North

Game 9: Game 7 winner vs. Game 5 loser, 9:30 a.m. (Prep North), loser eliminated

Game 10: Game 8 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 9:30 a.m. (BSU), loser eliminated

Game 11: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, noon, (BSU)

Game 12: Game 4 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 2:30 p.m. (BSU)

Game 13: Game 11 loser vs. Game 10 winner, 5 p.m. (BSU), loser eliminated

Game 14: Game 12 loser vs. Game 9 winner, 7:30 p.m. (BSU), loser eliminated

Saturday's Games

At BSU

Game 15: Game 11 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 1 p.m., winner advances to championship series

Game 16: Game 13 winner vs. Game 14 winner, 4 p.m., loser eliminated

Game 17: Game 15 loser vs. Game 16 winner, 7 p.m., loser eliminated

Sunday's Championship Games

At BSU

Game 18: Game 15 winner vs. Game 17 winner, noon

Game 19: Repeat of Game 18, if necessary

pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

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Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

(218) 333-9200
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