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VFW anxious to return to field, state tournament

It's been 10 days since the Bemidji VFW baseball team took a pair of games from Moorhead to capture the district championship. And the coaches and players can't wait to return to the diamond.

"We're sick of practicing. We're ready to play some baseball," Coach Brad Johnson said.

The Vets will get that chance 2 p.m. Thursday when they tangle with Forest Lake in the first round of the state tournament in Austin. The Bemidji contingent headed south this morning and the first order of business will be the state tournament banquet 4:30 p.m. today. Once that is over, however, the players and coaches can concentrate on the task at hand.

"It's an exciting time for us," Johnson said. "But until we actually hit the field all of the other stuff is getting in the way.

"It seems that all I've done the past week is take phone calls about pictures, banquets, T-shirt orders and schedules. I know those are things that come with advancing to the state tournament but all I want to do and all the players want to do is play baseball."

The Vets will take a 26-5 record into Thursday's contest but against players their own age they are 22-1. The lone loss came to Moorhead in the district meet but Bemidji avenged that setback by taking a pair from Moorhead later in the tournament.

"We've earned the right to play in the state meet," Johnson said. "Our job now is to win that first game. If we play our game we can do it. But if you don't bring your complete game to this tournament you could be done on Thursday night."

Trent Baker will get the opening mound assignment and he will bring a 7-2 record and a 2.66 ERA into the contest.

Collin Leif, who is batting .474 in 38 official at-bats, will be behind the plate and Mason Bellew (.353) will be at first.

"Mason and Collin played in the state tournament for us last year and we will depend upon their experience," Johnson said.

Cody Jenkins (.400 will be at second, Connor McNallan (.410) at short and Sam Dwyer (.333) at third.

The outfield will include Nick Conner (.350) in left, Nick Hovila (.450) in center and Drew Peterson (.351) in right.

Ryan Hirt (.407) will be the designated hitter.

Dom Hayle, who was ejected from the district championship game because of what the umpire considered a late slide, will miss the state opener but will return to the lineup in the second round.

Johnson believes that Bemidji has a legitimate chance at winning the state tournament because its pitching is solid and the defense has been terrific all summer.

"In 29 games we have only 27 errors," the coach said. "We have made all of the plays this year.

"When you play defense and your pitchers throw strikes, the offense will take care of the rest," Johnson added.

The pitchers have a combined earned run average of 4.10 while the offense is hitting at a .354 clip. Hirt owns a 2.06 ERA and a 4-1 record in 34 innings while Jenkins and Peterson are both 4-0.

Hayle is the team-leader with 26 runs while Hovila has 36 hits and 27 RBI. Jenkins is the leader with nine doubles, Hayle has three triples and Peterson three home runs.

Hovila has stolen 29 bases in 30 attempts while Hayle is perfect in 25 tries.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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