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BASEBALL: Experienced Blackduck returns to state tournament against first-timer Osakis

JORDAN — Baseball players understand uniformity and they enjoy following a routine.

Wearing a certain number, not washing a lucky batting glove or slapping on eye black even when clouds hide the sun are among the superstitions and nuances baseball players follow.

After winning the Section 8A championship last weekend and qualifying for the state Class A tournament which begins today in Jordan, the Blackduck baseball players and coach Dwight Kalvig tried to follow their normal routine this week. But, starting on Tuesday morning, the routine went out the window.

“We’ll have infield, outfield and some batting practice,” Kalvig said. “We pound the fundamentals all the time. You need to do the fundamentals or this game can unravel in a hurry.”

Blackduck’s last opportunity to pound those fundamentals was Wednesday when the Drakes ran a practice session at the Mini Met in Jordan.

At 3 p.m. today the coaches and players will return to the ballpark for their first-round state contest against Osakis. Both teams will take an 18-2 record into the game.

Today’s winner advances to Friday’s semifinals and a 2:30 p.m. test against either Floodwood (17-2) or New York Mills (19-2). Today’s upper bracket Class A games see BOLD tangling with Wabasha-Kellogg at 10 a.m. and Windom squaring off with St. Agnes at 12:30 p.m.

A loss today would send the Drakes into the consolation round and a 12:30 p.m. game in Chaska against the Floodwood-New York Mills loser.

The third-place game will be at 5 p.m. in Jordan while the consolation final will be played in Chaska at 3 p.m.

The state champion will be crowned 10 a.m. Monday at Target Field.

Blackduck is playing in its second consecutive state tournament. A year ago the Drakes finished fourth, stopping BOLD 4-2 in the opening round but losing 7-0 to St. Agnes in the semifinals and 4-0 to Browerville in the third-place game.

Osakis is making its state tournament debut. The Silverstreaks earned their trip to the state by downing Hinkley-Finlayson 8-1 in the Section 5A title game.

During its five section games Osakis outscored its opponents 38-4.

“Osakis appears to be a very balanced team,” said Blackduck coach Dwight Kalvig. “They don’t commit many errors and they don’t give up many runs. Osakis’ pitchers also throw the ball over the plate.

“Their program seems to be similar to ours,” Kalvig continued. “A few years ago they were not as good but they stuck with the younger kids and now those kids have developed into a strong team.”

Experience at this level of competition should be an ally for Blackduck as the majority of the players were on the team last season.

“I think we will be more determined. We will be more willing to absorb the experience and less inclined to be overwhelmed,” Kalvig said. “We have a more businesslike approach to the tournament this year.

“This team loves to compete,” the coach continued. “Last year we got a taste of what it is like to play against the best in the state and they wanted another taste. This group of kids has a lot of pride and they love playing baseball. Their goals this year are to represent their community and their school as well as they can, play baseball and give their best effort.”

NOTES: In the 14th year of a three-class format, St. Agnes of St. Paul in Class A is the only returning champion. A new champion will emerge in Class AA because Holy Family Catholic of Victoria failed to qualify this year. A new champion will also emerge in Class AAA because Eastview of Apple Valley failed to qualify this year . . .

Five teams qualified for the first time this year: Osakis and Floodwood in Class A; Watertown-Mayer and Minnehaha Academy of Minneapolis in Class AA; and Lakeville North in Class AAA . . .

This is the first year that the tournament has been seeded. The eight coaches of the section champions logged onto a special page of the MSHSL website and each coach ranked the other teams one through seven. The highest and lowest rankings for each team were discarded, leaving five rankings for each team. From those rankings, the teams were seeded one through five.

In conference calls with all eight head coaches, MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle announced the top five seeds. From there, a blind draw was conducted to determine the opponents for the top three seeds. Seeds four and five were paired without a draw.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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