ST. PAUL - A year ago the Bemidji baseball team qualified for the state tournament for the first time in 20 years. Today the Lumberjacks make a return visit to the Class 3A event when they will tangle with Hill-Murray at 12:30 p.m. at Midway Stadium.
"Last year was our first time at the state tournament and the nerves showed a bit," said BHS senior catcher Collin Leif, who verbally committed to play baseball at the University of Nebraska-Omaha Tuesday night.
"But now we have the experience of playing at last year's state tournament and also playing in the Legion state tournament."
In last spring's tourney Bemidji lost 13-0 to Burnsville in the first round and then dropped a 7-6 decision to Eden Prairie in the consolation bracket.
"We're not expecting the same results this week," Leif said. "We're confident. We know we can play this game and we plan on showing that to the City teams this week."
Among those City teams is Hill-Murray. The Pioneers are 21-4 and came through the loser's bracket to claim the Section 4 crown. After falling 11-0 to Roseville in the winner's bracket final Hill-Murray won three straight elimination games to capture the title, stopping Roseville 5-2 and 13-3 in the championship series.
"We haven't faced Hill-Murray in a long time but I believe they are similar to us," said BHS coach Mike Fogelson. "They have good front-end pitching, good defense and can score runs."
The Lumberjacks also possess all of those qualities.
With five players hitting over .400 the Jacks can generate runs from any position in the batting order. Leading the charge is Cody Rutledge with a .494 average. Also above .400 are Nick Hovila (.410), Mitchell Hendricks (.407), Leif (.430) and Nick Conner (.408).
Not far behind are Mason Bellew at .324, Cody Jenkins at .338, Connor McNallan at .365 and Sam Dwyer at .333.
"Last year we made the state tournament because we got hot at the end," Leif said. "But ever since that point we've been playing baseball like we know we can.
"I remember leaving the state last year feeling that we lost because we didn't play our best," Leif continued. "It's one thing to lose but when you lose because you didn't play your best, it stinks. And I don't want to feel that way again."
Fogelson believes that the Lumberjacks are ready to play their best today.
"We're happy to be where we are at but we're not satisfied," he said. "These guys want to hang a banner."