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Bemidji begins defense of state championship 11:30 a.m. Thursday against Morris

A year ago the Bemidji VFW baseball team may have surprised a few of its state-tournament rivals. The Vets were making their 18th appearance and second consecutive visit to the state meet but hadn't contended for the title since winning it in 1985.

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VFW head coach Brad Johnson teaches Cody Labernick how to properly react to a game situation. Labernick and his teammates have learned their lessons well and they hope to use that knowledge this weekend as they begin defense of their state championship. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

A year ago the Bemidji VFW baseball team may have surprised a few of its state-tournament rivals. The Vets were making their 18th appearance and second consecutive visit to the state meet but hadn't contended for the title since winning it in 1985.

"But you just never know," said Bemidji coach Brad Johnson.

In last summer's first-round matchup in Austin the VFW faced Forest Lake which had compiled a team earned run average under 1.5 runs per game. Bemidji, however, didn't pay much attention to that gaudy statistic and when the dust settled the Vets owned a 17-10 victory.

The trend continued and three days later Bemidji had won the state championship by defeating RanView 7-4, Worthington 16-0 and RanView again, this time 6-3.

Thursday at 11:30 a.m. on the Bemidji State University diamond the VFW will take the first step toward repeating last year's success when it tangles with Morris in the second round of the state meet. The Vets enter the tournament as the District 9 champion while Morris claimed the District 5 crown, defeating Dawson, Benson 7-2, New London-Spicer 10-0 and Alexandria 9-8 along the way.

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The state tournament will open 9 a.m. Thursday when Winona battles RanView at BSU and Elk River takes on Perham at the Prep North field.

At 2 p.m. Grand Rapids will meet Little Falls and Eagan will play the Winona-RanView winner at 4:30 p.m.

Thursday's action will climax with a 7 p.m. game between Luverne and the Elk River-Perham winner.

Johnson is somewhat familiar with three of the teams in this week's field. Bemidji is 6-0 against Perham this summer and 1-1 against Grand Rapids. The Vets also know a little about RanView, the only team besides Bemidji returning from last summer's field.

"In this tournament you really don't know what you are up against," Johnson said. "But I do know that every team deserves to be here. Who will win this tournament on Sunday comes down to which team will play its best in each game."

No matter the opponent Johnson is taking the approach that Bemidji will have to be at the peak of its game to prevail.

"I expect that we will get the best from every team we face," he said. "I've heard people say that we are the state champs but, in reality, we're not. Last year's team was the state champion and this year we have an entirely different team."

The 2011 roster includes nine players who made the trip to Austin last summer but only four who saw much playing time. Among the latter group are Ryan Hirt, Drew Peterson, Connor McNallan and Nick Hovila.

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"But we had many guys who were on the team last year and they saw first-hand what it takes to win the championship," Johnson said. "I think we have the talent to win it again and the first game is the most important. If you win that game you set the tempo for the rest of the tournament."

Hirt is scheduled to pitch that all-important opener and Peterson is slotted for the second game. The rest of the alignment is expected to see Mitch Buckanaga behind the plate, Cody Labernick at first, Mark Fenner at second, McNallan at short, Billy Baumgartner at third, Adam Lewis or Devin Barrett in left, Hovila in center and Peterson in right.

"I think we have the pitching and defense to win the championship but to do that a team also needs to score some runs," Johnson said.

"Hitting is contagious. During the district tournament we didn't have a string of five or six guys catch fire at the plate. If we are able to do that, like we did most of the summer, I think we'll be in most of our games.

"This is the fun time of the year," Johnson continued. "We've earned the right to play in the state tournament and we're eager for it to begin."

Y pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

A year ago the Bemidji VFW baseball team may have surprised a few of its state-tournament rivals. The Vets were making their 18th appearance and second consecutive visit to the state meet but hadn't contended for the title since winning it in 1985.

"But you just never know," said Bemidji coach Brad Johnson.

ADVERTISEMENT

In last summer's first-round matchup in Austin the VFW faced Forest Lake which had compiled a team earned run average under 1.5 runs per game. Bemidji, however, didn't pay much attention to that gaudy statistic and when the dust settled the Vets owned a 17-10 victory.

The trend continued and three days later Bemidji had won the state championship by defeating RanView 7-4, Worthington 16-0 and RanView again, this time 6-3.

Thursday at 11:30 a.m. on the Bemidji State University diamond the VFW will take the first step toward repeating last year's success when it tangles with Morris in the second round of the state meet. The Vets enter the tournament as the District 9 champion while Morris claimed the District 5 crown, defeating Dawson, Benson 7-2, New London-Spicer 10-0 and Alexandria 9-8 along the way.

The state tournament will open 9 a.m. Thursday when Winona battles RanView at BSU and Elk River takes on Perham at the Prep North field.

At 2 p.m. Grand Rapids will meet Little Falls and Eagan will play the Winona-RanView winner at 4:30 p.m.

Thursday's action will climax with a 7 p.m. game between Luverne and the Elk River-Perham winner.

Johnson is somewhat familiar with three of the teams in this week's field. Bemidji is 6-0 against Perham this summer and 1-1 against Grand Rapids. The Vets also know a little about RanView, the only team besides Bemidji returning from last summer's field.

"In this tournament you really don't know what you are up against," Johnson said. "But I do know that every team deserves to be here. Who will win this tournament on Sunday comes down to which team will play its best in each game."

No matter the opponent Johnson is taking the approach that Bemidji will have to be at the peak of its game to prevail.

"I expect that we will get the best from every team we face," he said. "I've heard people say that we are the state champs but, in reality, we're not. Last year's team was the state champion and this year we have an entirely different team."

The 2011 roster includes nine players who made the trip to Austin last summer but only four who saw much playing time. Among the latter group are Ryan Hirt, Drew Peterson, Connor McNallan and Nick Hovila.

"But we had many guys who were on the team last year and they saw first-hand what it takes to win the championship," Johnson said. "I think we have the talent to win it again and the first game is the most important. If you win that game you set the tempo for the rest of the tournament."

Hirt is scheduled to pitch that all-important opener and Peterson is slotted for the second game. The rest of the alignment is expected to see Mitch Buckanaga behind the plate, Cody Labernick at first, Mark Fenner at second, McNallan at short, Billy Baumgartner at third, Adam Lewis or Devin Barrett in left, Hovila in center and Peterson in right.

"I think we have the pitching and defense to win the championship but to do that a team also needs to score some runs," Johnson said.

"Hitting is contagious. During the district tournament we didn't have a string of five or six guys catch fire at the plate. If we are able to do that, like we did most of the summer, I think we'll be in most of our games.

"This is the fun time of the year," Johnson continued. "We've earned the right to play in the state tournament and we're eager for it to begin."

pmiller@bemidjipioneer.com

Related Topics: VFWBASEBALL
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The following is a letter to the editor submitted by a reader and does not reflect the views of the Pioneer. Letters can be sent to letters@bemidjipioneer.com or P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.