STATE: L/E/M advances with win over Beulah, North Star falls to Lamoure-Litchville/Marion
After playing against wind gusts dropping the air temperature into the low 50s last weekend in regionals, North Dakota baseball teams were battling the sun and temperatures peaking into the mid-90s.
However, the heat did not stop eight lucky teams from all corners of North Dakota to make the trip down to Jamestown to battle for the Class B crown. Not one, but two squads from the lake region made the two and a half to three-hour trip down south, seeing Langdon/Edmore/Munich and North Star pick up bids to the big dance.
The No. 1 ranked Cardinals walked away with a 6-1 win over Beulah in the late afternoon game, seeing senior Grant Romfo strike out seven while senior Simon Romfo would blast a one over the wall. North Star fell to No. 3 LaMoure-Litchville/Marion, 11-4, hanging with the Lobos through six and a half innings, but struggling to get the spark they needed.
No. 1 L/E/M - 6, Beulah - 1
Despite everything thrown at them, Langdon/Edmore/Munich has still found ways to improve its own game and come out with a win. They've only lost once this season, however, remained unphased, blowing out their regional schedule and clinching the program's first regional title.
As the school year ended, the good times kept rolling for the Cardinals as they opened up the 2021 NDHSAA State Tournament with a five-run win over Beulah. Behind the hot hand of Grant and an offense that has found ways to roll off of any momentum they get, the Cardinals are advancing for the first time in over 10 years.
"I was pleased on how we came out and played," Cardinals head coach Josh Krivarchka said. "We jumped on them early, got up 5-0 after a couple of innings, and then it kind of turned into a pitcher duel. Grant threw strikes and put the ball in play. He did a great job for us on the mound for five innings. We brought Cooper in to save grant in case we need him the last day."
The Cardinals took a stranglehold of the game early as Grant would strike out two of three in the top of the first before Simon would blast one over the left center field wall to score himself and Grant. L/E/M would go down the Miner order again and the flood gates opened even wider.
Sophomores Jack Romfo and Markus Kingzett would take advantage of the Cardinals' athletic edge to score off of a wild pitch and a passed ball. Sophomore Gage Goodman would sac ground out to score sophomore Brady Regner by the time the second inning was over, L/E/M had already built up a 5-0 lead, and Beulah hadn't registered a hit.
"The big thing is when we get on base, we have a lot of team speed," Krivarchka said. "We handle the bat pretty well and I thought we executed well in that inning. Anytime you can put up three runs like that in an inning, especially in a state tournament, that's a big momentum builder right there. Our kids run the bases well and handle the bat well."
The Cardinals found ways to pepper on the runs early, but after the second inning onslaught, the game dove into a defensive battle. Only two more combined runs have scored the rest of the game as both defenses were locked in down the stretch. L/E/M has had strong defensive success in its trio pitching unit in Grant, Simon, and senior Cooper Zimmer.
Grant would pitch the bulk of the game, allowing no runs on two hits, walking one, and striking out seven. Zimmer would clean up in order to preserve Grant, if needed down the road, allowing one run on two hits, walking one, and striking out one. With the temperature going up each day going into the weekend, the Cardinals are taking some extra precautions into maintaining all three of their arms.
"You worry about them getting tired, especially with the heat, and you gotta deal with the pitch counts," Krivarchka said. "But having three quality arms like we do is a benefit, especially in a three-day tournament like this. We'll be able to throw our best guys at Thompson tomorrow and we just gotta play another good baseball game."
Working upward since the beginning of the year, the Cardinals feel like they are playing their best baseball now and are looking to maintain that to hopefully a championship by the end of the weekend. L/E/M gets No. 4 Thompson tomorrow, who defeated No. 5 Bishop Ryan 4-2 in the nightcap. The Cardinals and the Tommies have met earlier this season, seeing L/E/M take the win 13-7 on April 9 in Bismarck.
"We've played them once this year and they are a quality team that has gotten better throughout the year," Krivarchka said. "The biggest thing is, like we always stress, is to put the ball in play and make them make plays. Our pitchers need to throw strikes and we have to make plays behind our pitchers. We just got to do what we've been doing all year and execute in situations that arise for us."
Langdon/Edmore/Munich faces Thompson in semifinal two on June 4 at 6:30 p.m. at Jack Brown Stadium in Jamestown.
LaMoure-Litchville/Marion - 11, North Star - 4
Despite the outcome, things started off very different for the Bearcats in the quarterfinals game. After freshman Dane Hagler struck out two of three in the bottom of the first, North Star took the first opportunity to jump into the driver's seat in the second inning.
A long double by freshman Karsen Simon would score seniors Jeremiah Hill, Hayden Hagler, and Caleb Svir to jump a Bearcats lead to 3-0 early. However, the Lobos came back with a response, one that left battling for the rest of the game. Seven runs in the second inning, followed by four more in the final three innings, resulting in the 11-4 loss for North Star.
"We jumped out with a lead there in the second inning, but they came back and put up a crooked number up on board," Bearcats head coach Jesse Vote said. "That was the one thing we talked about before the game, not letting them put up of those crooked numbers. Dane had a few pitches starting out that he probably wishes he could have back, but I think we hung in there. They found holes and good teams are going to do that."
Hagler would start for the Bearcats before being relieved by senior Tommy Nikolaisen after L-L/M would six runs on six hits. Hagler would strike out two, walk one and advance a runner off a hit pitch as well. Nikolaisen, who shares that top pitching spot stepped in, with caution as North Star wanted to preserve him for future games, to cut off the Lobos offense.
"Dane had some pitches he probably wished he had back and credit to them, they hit the ball," Vote said. "They strung hits together and kept moving around the bases."
It wasn't in the Bearcats' blueprints to throw Nikolaisen in that early in the tournament, but he was able to stall L-L/M offense, allowing one run on no hits, walking three, and advancing two on base. With Nikolaisen's time up, the Bearcats would throw on Simon to finish out.
"It obviously wasn't our plan coming in. We would've ridden Dane all the way if we had to, but it just seemed like they were a good fast-ball hitting team, and that's obviously Dane's strength," Vote said. "We deiced to pull him and have him come back tomorrow, or the next day, and we decided to do the same thing with Tommy. We were going to go deeper and we brought Karsen Simon in and he pitched, very, very well for us."
Simon, who had pitching experience in junior varsity games but not varsity games, stepped up when North Star needed it late. Used to playing right field at the varsity level, the freshman would come in allowing four runs on five hits, striking out two, walking one, and advance one on plate.
The Bearcats also saw an edge in Hill behind the plate. The senior came up big when North Star was in need of outs as he would be on a handful of pop-ups while catching. Vote said that Hill has always been a constant force as catcher.
"He calls the game and his bat came alive today as well," Vote said. "He had two doubles and a handful of RBI's today. He's defiantly going to be a missed presence next year."
With a quick turnaround, facing No. 2 Central Cass Friday morning, North Star is looking to forget Thursday's result and leave Jamestown with two wins. Central Cass was upset by Renville County 7-3 in the first game of the day. The Bearcats will face the Squrriells on June 4 at 11:30 a.m. in consolation game one.
"You gotta move on, it's the state tournament," Vote said. "There's only eight teams here and lots of teams that aren't. You have to relish in the moment and have that short memory. Forget about those things that happened today you weren't happy with, but also look back at those mistakes and make sure they don't happen again. It's going to be a grind once again."