STATE: L/E/M advances to first title game in 15 years, North Star to play for 7th place
Temperatures peaked into triple-digits on Friday at Jack Brown Stadium as four teams fought to keep their state championship dreams alive and four either aimed for higher placement come Saturday. With so much on the line, fans were not disappointed as three out of four games were decided by one run.
The one outlier was one that kept trend with the victory as No. 1 Langdon/Edmore/Munich would cruise to its 28th win of the season and its first state championship game berth since 2006, defeating No. 4 Thompson, 6-2. As the Cardinals blew past the Tommies, North Star went the distance with No. 2 Central Cass, seeing the Squirrels walk-off in the bottom of the seventh to defeat the Bearcats, 2-1, sending North Star to the 7th place game.
No. 1 L/E/M - 6, No. 4 Thompson - 2
Streaks on both sides of the plate were broken Friday evening in Jamestown following senior Simon Romfo's strikeout of Thompson's Thomas Schumacher to end day two of the state tournament.
For the Tommies, they wouldn't be playing for the state crown for the first time since 2015, and for the fourth straight season, they would lose to a team from Region IV. While the monkey was still on Thompson's back, it was off L/E/M's as they clinched a berth in the title game for the first time in 15 years (Langdon 2006), and it's the first time the Langdon/Edmore/Munich co-op has made it to the title game.
However, another wider margin win for the Cardinals wasn't looking to be certain from first pitch as L/E/M needed a half-inning to find their grounding, walking three straight batters before seeing a Tommie score on a fielders choice for a 1-0 lead. But a response came soundly in the bottom for the first, blasting L/E/M to a 4-1 lead.
"We struggled to throw strikes early, but the big thing was that Simon dug down the first two innings and got out of a jam," Cardinals head coach Josh Krivarchka said. "For us to get four runs like that in the bottom of the first was big for us. It kind of relaxed everybody."
The "relaxing" feeling came off of a single from Simon to score senior Grant Romfo and sophomore Carter Tetrault, giving L/E/M the lead. Grant's athleticism at bat and on base was a spark that lit the fuse as his prior at-bat he would slam a ball into the center field fence ivy for a ground-rule double. Following Simon hit, he would push two bases to pull in the leading run.
The athleticism for the Cardinals, which has been a weapon for them all season, was once again on display, seeing them making safe steals and pushing as many bases as they could when running. However, the Tommies did make them work for it as they were caught stealing once on the night.
"Thompson is a quality baseball team and they did a good job of slowing us down," Krivarchka said. "They threw a few more runners out and did some things that slowed down our running game, which is crucial for us, but our kids battled all night. After we went four up in the first, we battled to get a few more runs and our kids kept competing."
As the game progressed, the Cardinals balanced out their game on offense and defense. On the mound, Simon would pitch all six and a half innings, allowing two runs on four hits, walking three, and striking out seven. In nearly meeting the max pitch count, Simon pitching career as a Cardinal is over. Going into Saturday, L/E/M has had the advantage of a sharp pitching unit in Grant and senior Cooper Zimmer.
Krivarchka said against LaMoure-Litchville/Marion, they are going to start out with Zimmer before throwing Grant into the mix. Zimmer has the most pitches left in his arsenal as Grant pitched the bulk of Thursday's game against Beulah.
History lays in the balance for L/E/M heading into Saturday's championship game. If they win, it would be the co-op's first title ever and at least one of the program's first title's since Munich won it in 1992 as the Munich/Starkweather/Border Central co-op, defeating Washburn, 12-2. Edmore last won in 1981 and Langdon has never won it.
At the same time, LaMoure-Litchville/Marion has been writing its own history this entire season. This is the first regional title, state berth, and state championship for the co-op and every school in the co-op. They are the only other one loss school in North Dakota next to L/E/M and have not slowed down. They defeated North Star, 11-4, on Thursday and bested Renville County, 5-4, in semifinals.
For the Cardinals, a lot is on the line, but they do have experience on the big stage, even if it's not in baseball. Krivarchka said they play their best in high pressure situations. With the biggest game in the borderlands in 15 years only a few hours away, the Cardinals are putting trust in their game plan to bring them the crown.
"We just got to put quality at-bats together, thrown strikes, and makes plays behind our pitcher," Krivarchka said. "When we do all that, that's how we get the best out of our kids. Out kids love big games and we're excited to play in it tomorrow."
Langdon/Edmore/Munich will play LaMoure-Litchville/Marion Saturday, June 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Jack Brown Field in Jamestown for the NDHSAA Class B State Championship.
No. 2 Central Cass 2, North Star - 1
Friday afternoon's loss against the Squrriels was one that stung for North Star, but it was one where that they knew they gave it their all. After freshman Garrett Westlind would score on a passed ball in the third inning, both teams would hold steady on down to the seventh inning.
In the bottom of the seventh with Central Cass batting, it only took a bunt with the bases loaded to give the Squirrels the extra push for a walk-off 2-1 victory over the Bearcats, sending Central Cass to the fifth-place game against Bishop Ryan and North Star to the seventh-place game against Beulah.
"It was a good baseball game," Bearcats head coach Jesse Vote said. "Tommy threw really well for us. He kept us in the game the whole time. Obviously, you had to deal with the pitch count there, but we left a ton of base runners, most of them were in scoring position. We didn't get the timely hit, but it was a well-played baseball game on both sides."
In his final game as a Bearcat, senior Tommy Nikolaisen anchored North Star's defense from start to finish, doing as much as he could before he maxed out. The senior would pitch six and a half innings, allowing one run on five hits, and strikeout two. He is 11-0 on the mound during his time at North Star.
Nikolaisen's efforts boosted his teammates around him on defense, allowing them to get into a boxing match of sorts against the No. 2 team in the state from start to finish. It's been that way for the majority of the season.
"It's easy to get up for a game when you have a Dane or a Tommy on the mound," Vote said. "Our team has rallied behind him all season long and I don't think today was any different. He just brings so much to our team. He's a vocal leader on the team and he's always going to give us a chance, but we made some pretty big plays behind him, especially down the stretch there."
Throughout this season, North Star has had a lot of luck in finding the right hit at the right time. It's lifted them through tight games against Rugby and Nothern Lights, to boost them into the state tournament with only one loss on the year. These past two games, the Bearcats have been on the doorstep of that hit but just couldn't make the connection that they need.
"Everybody was on the edge of their seat waiting for that break out hit and nobody really executed," Vote said. "Both pitchers did a fantastic job. It was just one of those things for us you knew all season long that we've had that time hit when we've needed it to go up. From there we can work for our pitching staff accordingly, but no one really got that until the last at-bat in the seventh inning."
One player that has really excelled in Jamestown for the Bearcats is senior Jeremiah Hill, who has played a major piece in North Star's offense and a constant behind the plate on defense. With him staying hot early on in Friday's game, the Squirrels would walk him twice late. Vote said that they would do the same thing if he was on the opposing team.
North Star left it all out there on Friday, and still has a game left, looking to end their season on a high note. This isn't the end of the season for all of the boys as they have their first legion game on Monday, but it's the last for some as Bearcats and a team that means a little bit more. Vote said that legion seasons tend to be a little more laid back where the high school season has a little more intensity to it. With it also being Hill's overall last game, the Bearcats want to end their season with a win against the Miners.
"End on a high note," Vote said. "You obviously don't want to take eighth place, but it's still another opportunity. Every day is a new opportunity for them. We made some noise today, played fine and a couple of bounces could've gone our way, but we're still here and we're still playing tomorrow."
North Star faces Beulah for 7th place Saturday, June 5 at 11:30 a.m. at Jack Brown Stadium in Jamestown.