REGIONALS PREVIEW: Which lucky three will be making the run to Jamestown?
It's hard to believe that the 2021 high school baseball season is already coming to a close. It was five weeks ago that teams were taking the diamond for the first time since 2019.
As the temperature warms up, so does the competition around the state. In the lake region, four Class B squads kick off their journey to the state tournament in Jamestown in regional play. With so much on the line, here's what the field, or should I say diamond, looks like heading into crunch time.
Record: 8-9, 4-6 Region III
Opponent: vs. Midkota on May 20
The Black Sox have had a very rollercoaster season, finishing out the regular season play one game below a .500 record. Where this team has found a lot of its strengths is on defense. Their mound play kept them in some tight competitions and pulled off a handful of upsets this season.
Senior Alex Harrison and junior Nick Burglund have stood out as the Black Sox hot hands on the mound. They've been pushing the team's development on defense, while those behind them have remained steady and dependable. They've also been able to dig even deeper on the mound, seeing freshman Keaton Cudworth pick up a shutout win in his first varsity start.
S-NR has found a lot of consistency in the field but is looking to find that same type of flow on the bats. The Black Sox's offense has lapsed from time to time, but when it's clicking, they can be very dangerous. S-NR has beaten every team, with the exception of Carrington, at least once. This includes the top seed, LaMoure-Litchville/Marion, 3-0 on the road.
When the bats start hating up for the Black Sox and they continue to execute on defense at a high standard, they're hard to beat. They face the Mustangs, which should be an entertaining showdown, seeing the last game was decided by two runs. Both teams are in very similar places looking for consistency, so it should be close once again with so much on the line.
Record: 6-9, 4-5 Region III
Opponent: vs. Sheyenne-New Rockford on May 20
Another reason why the first play-in game of the Region III tournament is going to be an entertaining one is that both teams are very spontaneous. S-NR has demonstrated that they can beat anyone if they're hot and so did Midkota.
The Mustangs fell three games below.500 to end the regular season, but have seen serious moments of improvement throughout that run. After falling to Carrington 8-4 at home, the Mustangs would storm back to defeat them 11-6 further down the road. The Cardinals have proven to be a threat in Region III and Midkota answered loudly.
While Midkota is a younger squad, they have seen senior leadership come out and propel them to compete throughout most of their games. Weapons like senior Cole Hendrickson, junior Garrett Haakenson, and junior Cade Stein, have elevated the younger core to compete at a higher level.
Midkota is also looking to get its bats a little hotter heading into the postseason and they do have a larger win over their opponent in the regular season, defeating the Black Sox 6-2. However, S-NR would respond with a 2-0 victory later in the season.
The Mustangs have a lot of elements that work for them, and if they can compete through seven innings, and possibly more, they could be a real threat in the regional tournament.
Cando (North Star/Leeds)
Record: 7-2, 7-1 Region V
Opponent: vs. Northern Lights or Harvey/Wells County on May. 24
Returning as the area's only defending regional champion, the Bearcats have had a large target on their back the entire season, and they have not been phased. Only dropping two games this season, one being a conference game, Cando has clinched the top spot in Region V to host the tournament a receive a BYE.
The Bearcats' two lone losses came to Region IV heavyweight Park River, 12-5, and Northern Lights, 10-6, which Cando almost made a comeback in. Outside of those two games, the Bearcats have racked up impressive finishes in blowout games and tight ones as well.
Continuing the impressive pitching trend in the area, senior Tommy Nikolaisen has been red hot for Cando this entire season. Not only has he anchored the defensive effort, but has had a solid standing at the plate. Mixed in with his pitching strengths, players like senior Blayne Anderson, freshman Parker Simon, and freshman Zach Jorde have ignited the offense.
Cando is one of two teams in the lake region that has provided impressive depth from its freshman to its seniors. All players have found ways to deliver an extremely successful balanced attack. Even with a year off from high school ball, Cando has not skipped a beat. Hosting in the tournament and beating every team at least once in the region, don't be surprised if the Bearcats pick up another state bid by the end of next week.
Record: 18-0, 8-0 Region IV
Opponent: vs. Pembina County North or Midway/Minto on May 24
In all of North Dakota high school baseball, no one is hotter than the Cardinals right now. They remain the only team in Class A and Class B to remain undefeated and have won all their games by three runs or more.
Similar to a lot of teams in the area, Langdon/Edmore/Munich has hit opponents with an inning to inning defensive attack, acting as a slow burner while the offense heats up. Pitchers' seniors Simon Romfo, Grant Romfo, and Cooper Zimmer have locked down on the mound.
Those behind them have used their speed and athletics to trap runners at first or second. In most games, opponents struggle to get to third base due to L/E/M's locked-in defense. While the offense in the past has taken a little bit of time to warm up, when it's ready, it explodes.
The Cardinals have peppered on the runs late, making tight games look like blowouts by the time the final out is called. Against Bottineau, L/E/M managed to blow it open early, showing progress that the offense has caught a jump.
L/E/M has played one tighter game this season, defeating Grafton, 6-3, on the road, but outside of that, the Cardinals have only gotten stronger as the season progressed. This team is still hungry after losing out on the state tournament in 2019, and now hosting the Region IV tournament, there's no telling what's next for L/E/M.
Region III champion: LaMoure-Litchville/Marion
I don't know what happened against Sheyenne-New Rockford, but this team has been red hot the entire season. Region III is like the wild west and extremely unpredictable, so I wouldn't be surprised if Carrington took this region or even S-NR. However, L-L/M is the best shape, but an upset wouldn't be a surprise.
Region IV champion: Langdon/Edmore/Munich
Unless Grafton has found a way to close the gap, the Cardinals won't be stopped. This team is extremely hot and has a big chance to even win state. Park River, which has rivaled them in past years, is more down than in past years. The only possible bump I see is Grafton, but L/E/M has proven that they can play, and beat, everyone.
Region V champion: Cando (North Star/Leeds)
This team is very, very balanced and has Nikolaisen, a dual threat that a lot of teams in this tournament don't have. Not a lot of teams can handle Cando and have cracked. The only concern I have is Northern Lights as they are the only team to beat and challenge Cando twice this season. However, with how much depth this team has, they are still the favorite to repeat as Region V champions.