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VFW baseball: Bemidji prepares for state tournament

BEMIDJI — To stay sharp and at peak efficiency, baseball players need to play the game. Long stretches without hitting or catching a baseball are counterproductive, especially when a player has to be at the top of his game upon his return to the diamond.

Bemidji’s VFW team is facing that situation and Monday, in an attempt to remain in a baseball state of mind, the Vets headed to Grand Rapids for an exhibition doubleheader.

“We wanted to see some live pitching. We wanted to play baseball so we’re ready on Thursday,” said VFW coach Ryan Sander.

Thursday will be an important day for the players and coaches as Bemidji has qualified for the state tournament and will begin its quest for a championship 3:30 p.m. against either Ranview or Becker.

The double-elimination event continues through Sunday.

Ranview is the feeder program for Cretin-Derham Hall High School and is the District 7 champion. Becker was invited to the tournament as the host team. The tournament actually is being played in Brainerd but when Brainerd claimed the District 6 title, the host’s spot was open and it eventually was awarded to Becker.

Those teams will clash on Thursday morning and the winner will take on Bemidji at 3:30 p.m. Thursday’s other first-round game sees Champlin Park battling Austin. That winner will meet Grand Rapids in the second round.

Other second-round games find Brainerd taking on Mankato and Alexandria tangling with Marshall.

Bemidji will take a 22-7 record into its state opener and Monday’s exhibition games at Grand Rapids were scheduled to help both teams maintain their edge.

“I remember being drafted to play in a state amateur tournament as a pitcher,” Sander recalled. “I hadn’t pitched in a couple of weeks and when I pitched at state I couldn’t find the plate for a couple of innings. I wasn’t sharp and when you get to state you can’t afford to have a couple of bad innings.

“These exhibition games will help us stay in our groove.”

Sander didn’t allow any of his pitchers to overextend on Monday. The plan was to use all of them but only for an inning or two.

“We want our pitchers to stay in their rhythm,” the coach said. “We also want our hitters to see some live pitching and our defenders to have some balls hit to them.”

Bemidji has a history of doing well at the state VFW tournament and the program’s resume includes a state championship in 2010.

Rosemount claimed the title in 2011 while St. Cloud was the champ in 2012 and Maple Grove in 2013.

The Vets earned their trip to Brainerd by claiming the sub-state tourney hosted by Perham. The path to the championship began with a 14-1 win over Fergus Falls and a 4-0 victory over the host team. Perham then downed the second-seeded Vets 8-5 but Bemidji edged Perham 5-4 in the rubber game.

Sander believes that his squad can do well at the state tournament and is eager to test his troops against the top teams in Minnesota.

“I think we have a talented team and we could make some noise at state,” Sander said. “To do that we will have to stay mentally sharp but we are playing very well now and are playing like a team.”

Blue Ox qualify for state

Bemidji’s Blue Ox will be playing in the state Class C amateur tournament which begins Aug. 14 in Belle Plaine, Jordan and LeSueur.

The Blue Ox qualified for state over the weekend as they defeated East Grand Forks 8-0 and Ada 12-3 in the Region 10C tournament hosted by Roseau.

Ryan Sander pitched a complete game in the opener and Collin Rutledge earned the mound victory in the win over Ada, working six innings. Conner McNallan pitched two innings and Simon Anderson tossed the ninth.

Bemidji will return to Roseau on Saturday and take on either Roseau or Ada in a game that will determine the region’s seeding for the state meet.

State VFW Tournament

At Brainerd

Thursday’s Schedule

First Round Games

Game 1: Champlin Park vs. Austin

Game 2: Ranview vs. Becker

Second Round Games

Game 3: Brainerd vs. Mankato

Game 4: Alexandria vs. Marshall

Game 5: Grand Rapids vs. Game 1 winner

Game 6: Bemidji vs. Game 2 winner, 3:30 p.m.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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