North Star baseball picks up important win inside, outside the diamond over Harvey/Wells
It's been a long four days in Cando. After the unexpected death of a North Star student this past weekend, the Bearcat community is still healing from the loss.
Bearcat athletic teams did not compete this past weekend, having the baseball team scheduled to participate in the SNR Jamboree and the track and field team was absent from the Carrington Invite. The weekend was quiet along the southern edge of Towner County, but Monday students were back to school, getting back into a routine after what felt like a long weekend.
However, there was still an adjustment period in going back to school and getting back out on the diamond for the first time since what had happened that past weekend. North Star was at home against Northern Lights on Monday, looking for its second straight win of the early season.
While a five-run sixth inning would give Northern Lights the edge over the Bearcats for a 10-7 win, head coach Jesse Vote could tell his kids were tired, not just physically but mentally as well. It had been a long Monday for everyone at North Star, trying to get back into their regular rhythms, and it was challenging. However, after the loss, Vote said the team got some much needed sleep, something he believes a lot of people haven't gotten in these last few days.
"I think everybody slept well last night and finally got some sleep," Vote said. "I don't know if a lot of these kids had a lot of sleep over these last three nights. Yesterday was obviously a long day, but as it went on, we just got more mentally exhausted. I think having a good night's rest bounced them back today."
Rested and refocused, the Bearcats leaned on its defense early, seeing senior pitcher Tommy Nikolaisen lockdown on the mound once again, to give North Star a big bounce-back victory over Harvey/Wells County 6-2. The Bearcats' steady hand on defense remained consistent as bats caught fire in the fifth, seeing North Star score three runs to double their lead.
"Yesterday was a long day for us because of the circumstances at our school and we had more of an upbeat day today," Vote said. "We were able to put together a good game on the mound, bats came alive when we needed them and came away with a good victory."
Nikolaisen continues to be a charging force on the mound and at home plate as he would not only strike out 10 Hornets but would go 1-3 at the plate, batting in two of three runs scored in the sixth inning. His all-around game has been a steady and dependable weapon for North Star throughout this early season, getting the Bearcats back on offense quick off of easy outs.
"His only downfall right now is that he's getting deep in counts, but other than that, he's been our top pitcher," Vote said. "He's got very command of his fastball and mixing in a curveball when he needs it. He's gotten a lot of easy outs for us and even at the plate, he's been an all-around player for us these first three games."
In getting his counts high, there have been an inning or two where Nikolaisen has had to retire from the mound and leave the rest up to his counterparts behind him. Tuesday, senior third baseman Caleb Svir and freshman infielder Dane Hagler would close out for Nikolaisen after he would reach his count at 91 pitches on the day.
Svir would come on first in the sixth inning, striking out one, sufficing one run on four hits, and walking one. Hagler would close out the game in the seventh for Svir, striking out one. Vote said the Bearcats have a handful of guys that can go six, seven innings but are looking to develop their pitching unit to close out as well.
"We have some guys that can go five, six innings if we can go that far, and a couple of set up guys," Vote said. "If we can get to the point where we need to bring in Dane to close, we'll get there. We just need to find those set-up guys that come in and throw strikes. Keep off the walks and easy bases."
It took some time for the Bearcats to get their bats heated up, building up a 3-2 lead up into the fourth inning. Shots from senior Blayne Anderson and freshmen Parker Simon and Charles Bisbee would score three for North Star. However, Nikolaisen one-two punch at the plate, and a single from Hagler would blow it open for the Bearcats.
It came down to mechanics at the plate according to Vote as North Star was able to improve its loading stance, putting more force behind their shots. The Bearcats haven't had too many issues scoring this season as they have scored 23 times in just three games this season.
In achieving success early and having a larger target on their backs as the defending region champion from 2019, there is confidence behind North Star early on, but they're not pushing it too much. Vote said his group isn't looking that far ahead, despite the short season, and is aiming at improving their game at a progressive, yet quick, pace.
"You're fortunate to get four or five weeks of baseball than it's over," Vote said. "Kids are going to have to make adjustments quicker than summer baseball, to where they got two months of it. I think we're perfectly capable of that."
Things are getting back to normal for the Bearcats, and the recovery from Monday to Tuesday has shown the type of mentality North Star is putting on the field. Even after Monday's loss, Vote told his team that he was proud of them for being able to play a competitive game after the past weekend's events.
"I don't know many kids who could go through what they did for three days and a day of school, and be able to play a baseball game," Vote said. "We had a close game last night, and to be able to flip the script. you could tell the emotions were different than yesterday. Everybody was a little more relaxed. We played baseball today,"