BEMIDJI - A pair of youth baseball teams will battle for region championships this week as Bemidji's 10-U and 12-year-old Northern Heat clubs continue their quests for trips to the national tournament.
The 10-U squad will enjoy the home field advantage as it is hosting the Midwest Regional which begins Thursday at the youth baseball complex across from the Bemidji Middle School.
The 12-year-old team (28-8) will travel to Grand Forks and tangle with Iowa Thursday in its Midwest Regional opener.
Both tournaments are double-elimination affairs.
The 12-year-old team captured the state championship earlier this month and assistant coach Mark Elliott said the players are eager to hit the field once again.
"The kids are ready to play. They are pumped," Elliott said. "If we can beat Iowa I think we have a good chance of getting to the championship game. And when you get that far, who knows what will happen?
Among the team's strengths, according to Elliott, is its pitching staff.
"A championship 12-year-old team needs to have at least two very strong pitchers and we have that," he said. "George Loxtercmap is a great student of the game and Zach Schaubhut is a big, strong kid who always works very hard.
"And then we have many other pitchers who can come in and get the job done."
Loxtercamp is expected to start Thursday's regional opener against Iowa. The rest of the lineup probably will see Adam Laakso at first, Drew Boen at second, Matt Fitzgerald at short and Jonah Muller or Cade Ogden at third.
The potential outfield alignment could have Schaubhut in left, Ryan Pogue in center and Jason Schoning or Muller in right.
Sam Goins will probably be behind the plate.
"Defensively we are strong at every position and offensively we struggled early in the year but we're hitting the ball very well now," Elliott said.
"Every year we've won the state championship we've had a good shot at winning the region. In my seven years of coaching a team at the regionals we have finished second six times and won a championship in 2008. And I think we could be in the hunt again this year."
10-U faces Nebraska
The 10-U team finished second at the state tournament and will take an 18-7 record into Thursday's 10 a.m. opener against Nebraska.
"This is exciting. It's not every day that you get to play in a region tournament," said Bemidji coach Jason Brodina. "This is a great experience for the boys."
If Bemidji defeats Nebraska it will return to the diamond 6 p.m. Thursday to take on Missouri. A loss to Nebraska would drop Bemidji into an elimination game at 10 a.m. Friday.
Brodina believes that his team is peaking at the right time and that Bemidji could make some noise in the tournament.
"At a tournament in West Fargo to start the season we were eighth out of 10 teams," Brodina said. "But all year we have continued to get better.
"We're a bunting team, we play aggressive baseball, we concentrate on the fundamentals and we've become a team instead of a bunch of individuals," the coach continued. "Our team (philosophy) shows on the field and in the dugout."
The roster includes 13 players and each team member has a role.
"And everybody understands their role," Brodina. "For some kids their job is bunt. Some other kids need to get a hit. Others need to just get on base and the job for others may be to play defense.
"We don't have a set lineup. Instead of that we have 13 kids who play baseball together."