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Bemidji 12-year-olds open play at national tournament

Bemidji's history-making Northern Heat hopes to live up to its name this afternoon when it debuts at the Cal Ripken 12-year-old national baseball tournament at Martin, Tenn.

It will be the first time a Bemidji Youth League baseball team has ever reached nationals, coming in the 22nd season of play in the Bemidji program.

The Bemidji Youth League was formed in 1987.

It sent its first two teams to regional play in 2006 when both the 11- and 12-year-old teams won state titles. Neither advanced past regionals.

The Heat brings an impressive 32-5 record into play, rolling through the state and regionals without a loss while yielding only nine runs in its eight games.

The tournament includes 10 teams: eight regional champions plus the Tennessee state champ and the host Martin team.

They are divided into two five-team pools that will play a round robin the next five days to select six teams for the championship bracket.

That phase of play opens Tuesday, with the second-place finishers in each pool playing the third-place finishers from the other.

Those two winners go against the pool champs Wednesday evening, with the title game Aug. 14 at 6:30.

Bemidji represents the Midwest Plains Region and will play its first game today at 5:45 against the Middle Atlantic champ, Bear, Del. Games will be broadcast on KKBJ 1360 AM radio.

The second game will be Friday at 7:45 against the host Martin team. On Saturday at 1:45, Bemidji faces the Pacific Southwest champ from Vista, Calif.

Its final pool game is Sunday at 1:30 against the Southeast winner from South Dayton, Fla.

Teams in the National Division are Hamburg, Ark.; Kennewick Wash.; Arlington, Maine; South Lexington, Ky.; and the Tennessee state champion from Lake County.

Games will start at 5:30, 5:45, 7:30 and 7:45 on Thursday, Friday and Monday and 1:30, 1:45, 3:30 and 3:45 Saturday and Sunday.

Bemidji fans should find similarities between their home and Martin, a small college town of 8,600 located in extreme northwestern Tennessee 25 miles south of the Kentucky border.

It is the home of the University of Tennessee-Martin, a branch of the University of Tennessee much as Duluth, Morris and Crookston.

Bemidji hopes to use its pitching depth to make a run. Hurlers are limited to six innings on any two consecutive days, which should allow coaches Mark Elliott, Bruce Dahlin and Moe Webb to alternate left hander Ryan Hirt and righthander Collin Rutledge through the early games.

Brady Eckman, Ben Christopher and Jesse Schoneberger are others who have seen frequent mound action. Catcher Logan Crosby also has seen pitching duties this year.

Rounding out the squad are Ben Bowman, Sam Bruestle, Brett Hartje, Gabe Heifort, Parker Lucas, Tom Revering and Dylan Tillemans.

"There's no way of telling how well we can compete," said Webb, "until we get a look at the quality of the field. I do know that the Midwest Plains entry last year failed to make the final six. But we hope to go into play relaxed and ready to play our best ball of the year."