REGIONALS: Hagler retires 13 as North Star rolls into Region V semifinals

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
North Star baseball defeated Harvey/Wells. 6-0, on May 24 at Conyers Field in the Region V baseball tournament.

It's been almost a month since the Bearcats have lost. Since then, the defending regional champs have rolled to five straight wins, with its most recent victory coming over Harvey/Wells County, 6-0, in Region V quarterfinals. 

North Star has seen a sense of stability up and down its roster, mentally and physically. At the core of the Bearcats' successes, they have been able to rely on two duality threats, on the mound, and at home plate. While one is throwing strikes, the other is blasting shots to the outfield, and the roles can be reversed flawlessly.

Freshman Dane Hagler and senior Tommy Nikolaisen have been double-edged blades of a Swiss Army Knife this season, posing major threats on offense and defense. On Monday, Hagler would take over on the mound, standing as the arm to burn that day for North Star, and would pack the heat over six innings. The freshman would pick up the win on the day, allowing no hits and striking out 13 en route to a win. 

"Dane had quite the performance," Bearcats head coach Jesse Vote said. "He's been our one-two punch, him and Tommy, all year long. Unfourtenently, he didn't get to finish out the game because we have pitch counts to worry about for Wednesday. We were able to put the ball in play and make plays. That's what high school baseball was all about."

En route to Hagler's shutout performance against the Hornets, he credited the defense behind him and the confidence he has in them. HWC only got on base twice the entire game, once off of an error and the other of a walk. However, they didn't get far as both times they were caught stealing second. 

"I'm just trying to put it over the plate and hope they don't hit it," Hagler said. "When they do hit it, they'll make the play behind me. It's key for us to throw more strikes and play great defense behind our pitcher."

In the half-inning the Hagler was not pitching, it was Nikolaisen who was closing for North Star. Nikolaisen would face only three batters, flying out on all three of them. The Bearcats are looking to have him ready for Tuesday's game against Rugby in Region V semifinals, one they're expecting to be very contested similar to the last time they met the Panthers. 

The senior, who debatably is in the No. 1 spot on the mound for the Bearcats, has been a similar force to Hagler this season in offering a balanced performance. While both have found ways to run down the order, Vote said that both players offer something different on the mound. 

"There's a complete difference in pitching styles between the both of them," Vote said. "Tommy has a little more movement and Dane's game is going to come right at you, but they both know when it's their time to go. They're always ready to step up to the challenge."

Off the mound at home plate, the duo was busy as well. Nikolaisen would single in the first and find his way home off a shot from senior Caleb Svir to score two. In the second, after striking out three straight, Hagler would take advantage of a hit pitch to steal second.

The duo would have its biggest charge up in sixth inning as Hagler would double to advance freshman Parker Simon to third. After a single from senior Blayne Anderson, Nikolaisen would follow with yet another shot to score Hagler and Anderson to blow open a 6-0 lead. Nikolaisen would finish the day with two hits and two RBI's. 

"We've just made plays this entire season," Vote said. "We've had our timely hits and we've played some smaller ball here and there. It's helped us get on base and eventually leading us into getting that timely hit. That doesn't happen all the time, but we haven't quit."

A mental drive to keep chopping at it is what the Bearcats coaching staff have preached to their team and what the players have zeroed in on during games. Hagler credited a strong mental standing to his performance on the mound, allowing him to move on from the error and the walk that put the Hornet runner on base. 

Now sitting at 8-1 overall on the year, North Star knows that they can't beat themselves up and can't get caught up in mistakes in order to keep on driving. The never quit attitude has pulled out some major victories for them, including a three-run seventh inning the last time they played Rugby to escape with a win. 

Region V all-region team, individual awards 

Region V All-region team 

Andre Elick, Northern Lights 

Xavier Mitchell, Northern Lights

Logan Jenner, Harvey/Wells County 

Landen Monge, Harvey/Wells County

Tyson Tipton, Harvey/Wells County

Carson Haerer, Bottineau

Gabe Glasner, Bottineau

George Henry, Bottineau

Erik Foster, Rugby 

Cole Schneibel, Rugby

Cy Lunda, Rugby

Blayne Anderson, North Star 

Dane Hagler, North Star

Tommy Nikolaisen, North Star 

Region V Senior Athlete of the Year

Tommy Nikolaisen, North Star 

Region V Coach of the Year

Jesse Vote, North Star 

"Over the last five, six years we haven't been mentally there when things started to go bad and that's the thing I've been preaching to them that if they get beat mentally, they're going to get beat physically," Vote said. "The one thing we're focused on now is keeping our minds straight and in every game."

Monday's game was the first time that Vote felt like his entire team was zoned in mentally. From the outfield to behind home plate, everyone was on a similar wavelength. Capturing that feeling and having the experience from the senior class, and Hagler, the Bearcats feel like they're in a good place to continue defending their regional title and hope to punch a ticket to Jamestown.

"We know we've made it there once and we know we can do it again," Hagler said. "I feel like we can make it to state and we can do some damage there."

Jack Williams covers lake region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, or on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.