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Baseball: VFW opens state against St. Cloud East

The Bemidji VFW opens play this morning at the state tournament at St. Cloud, returning to the big meet for the first time since 2005.

Bemidji will go against the host team, St. Cloud East Side at 11 a.m. at Dick Putz Field.

Should it win, it will play again at 5 at the same field against District 5 champion Morris.

That winner faces a Friday afternoon game to reach the winners bracket final which will be Saturday at 1.

The title game will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Putz.

If Bemidji loses its opener, it drops into the losers bracket and would play at 7 tonight against Mankato or St. Anthony, needing to win four straight games to reach the title game.

The second morning opener today pits Marshall against the St. Cloud Blue.

Quarterfinals this afternoon pit that winner against White Bear Lake, Mankato against St. Anthony and Austin against Proctor. The semifinals will be at 4 on Saturday.

Bemidji won its way back to the state by sweeping through the District 9 tournament in three games, scoring 54 runs in the process to beat Detroit Lakes once and Fergus Falls twice after drawing an opening round bye.

That came when Bemidji won the regular season title with a 13-3 record, winning its final 10 starts.

It takes a 22-9 record into play.

With strong hitting, solid defense and better than average pitching depth, it stands a good chance of being competitive.

Bemidji supplanted Fergus Falls as District 9 champ. The title was only its second in the past nine years after it dominated the district for two decades.

It is making its 17th trip to the state, going nine times in a row in the 1990s.

It won the state in 1985 after taking the consolation title a year earlier. It claimed the consolation title again in 1997 and has won at least one game in 12 of its 17 trips.

Defending champion Cold Spring did not return this year, replaced by the St. Cloud Blue.

The tournament will be played on the adjacent Putz and Faber Fields in the St. Cloud Municipal Complex, an excellent site for any tournament.

Brained and Willmar, two perennial challengers, failed to clear their districts.

The Vets 22-9 record matches the mark they carried to the 2000 meet where they dropped both games to be sidelined, ending their string of nine straight appearances.

In 2005 they were 29-10 entering the state and dropped two of their three games.

Bemidji is one of six teams in the meet that have won state titles, each winning only once.

They include Marshall, Mankato, St. Anthony, Morris and Austin, St. Anthony the most recent winner in 2006.

Coach Brad Johnson is completing his fourth season at the helm, taking his first team to the state meet.

He will open with Matt Schneider (5-1) on the hill today with Zach Solheim (2-0), Kevin Murphy (4-1) and Ryan Stevens (3-1) set to follow in order.

Booster Russ (2-0), Ernie Heifort (3-1) and Jake Urban (2-2) are others who have seen regular duty this summer.

Collin Leif will handle the receiving with Mason Bellew, Urban, Mitch Hendricks and Russ around the infield and Kris Berndt, Murphy and Cole Bardwell in the outfield. Heifort, Schneider and Stevens will alternate in. with Trey Johnson and Chase Vogt also available to add further depth.