Amid tournament venue change, North Star Baseball continues to dominate

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

RUGBY – A no-hitter during North Star’s previous Region V Baseball Tournament outing on May 23 might have quelled any obstacles the Bearcats needed to hurdle as they trekked into their Tuesday afternoon contest.

North Star Baseball head coach Jesse Vote (middle) visits the mound to switch pitchers against Rugby on May 24.

You would be mistaken. 

Instead, the top-seeded Bearcats had to mark off another checkbox. This time, it did not have to do with the weather as it did during their previous outing to open the Region V Tournament. 

Well, kind of, anyway. 

Although they were still the “home” team on paper, the Bearcats were forced to move their Region V Tournament hosting venue from the all-dirt infield confines at Cando to the all-grass infield at Rugby. On top of it all, the Bearcats, despite being the home team, were forced to challenge the same Panther team that played them close but inevitably lost, 4-0, on May 16. 

However, this was only the first obstacle. North Star’s second obstacle pertained to gathering intel. In particular, intel on who they would be facing on the mound. After expecting Brody Schneibel to pitch on May 24, the Bearcats were thrown a curveball – no pun intended – when Erik Foster toed the rubber instead. 

And so, the Bearcats collectively had to adjust on the fly to a new “home” venue and to a pitcher they perhaps did not expect to take the mound. 

Challenge accepted. 

“I think the big question is who we were going to face,” North Star head coach Jesse Vote said after the game. “I think we were all expecting to face [Brody] Schneibel, and we didn’t. Regardless, at some point in time, we are probably going to have to beat him, but the message is still the same. We have to play our baseball. We throw strikes, we make our easy plays, we play to win each inning...put our defense together, and we will be just fine.” 

And so, while the Bearcats came away with an 8-1 win over the Panthers on May 24, it didn’t come from one factor. Instead, a collection of pieces on the hitting and pitching side completed the puzzle.  

The first puzzle piece came from North Star’s two-headed pitching tandem in Dane Hagler and Zachary Jorde, who split pitching duties through the sixth inning. Hagler – who retired the first 11 batters he faced – was relieved after 42 pitches for Jorde. Jorde threw an almost-identical 41 pitches. The pair combined to hold the Panthers to 13 strikeouts and one hit through the first six innings. 

For Hagler, the adjustment came in staying strong, even after he whiffed 13 Rugby batters during the previous week. 

“To be honest with you…Dane was going the whole distance,” Vote said. “But, as soon as things kind of got out of hand there, and you could tell they probably conceded there a little bit, we have to be smart with our pitch count, so we have our whole pitching staff tomorrow. But, the message has been the same to those guys all year long. We just have to throw strikes. Dane, you could tell they were starting to jump his first-pitch fastball, and we mixed up a curveball, and you just keep them off balance.” 

“I saw a little more control,” North Star catcher Garrett Westlind said after the game. “The curveball was more in the zone, and he [Hagler] was just doing his thing on the mound today.” 

North Star catcher Garrett Westlind finished the game going 2-3 against Rugby on May 24.

While Westlind saw crisp pitching movement from both Hagler and Jorde pitches, it was from the lumber where the sophomore and the rest of the offense made more significant strides than their first bout against the Panthers. After scoring four runs against Rugby on May 16, the Bearcats pounced early on Foster and forced the Panthers to switch it up not even three innings into the contest. A five-run third inning that amounted to a bat-around proved to be a critical blow. 

The Bearcats continued to adjust on an inning-by-inning basis, all without steering away from their core hitting philosophy. 

“I still told them we need to be patient because we still want to get pitch counts up as much as possible,” Vote said. “Probably a little bit different today. A lot more patience today than we had last week because we are a team [that] can jump a first-pitch fastball. We are going to be swinging, but today, it was a little bit more patience at the plate just because you have those pitch counts that you have to worry about.” 

Even after the venue changed, North Star’s ability to dictate the pace of play remained the same. Adjustments needed to be made depending on the pitcher and opponent, and North Star passed it for a second time against the team playing on their home field. 

“Obviously, there is a grass infield, but baseball is still baseball, and you just have to…if something is a little bit different, you just have to make an adjustment to it, and that’s just how you have to approach every game,” Vote said. “Not every game is going to be the same. In order to be a good team, you have to make adjustments.” 

Westlind, meanwhile, kept it short and let his team’s play on the field do the talking. 

“We don’t really care where we play,” Westlind said. “We can win at any field, and it doesn’t matter.” 

Consider it another challenge complete. 

Game breakdown: 

RGB: 0 0 0 0 0 0 1: 1 2 3 

NSB: 1 0 5 0 1 1 x: 8 8 1 

Standout stats: 

- Rugby: 

    Pitching: 

    - Erik Foster: L, 2.0 IP, 62 P 

    Hitting: 

    - Jacob Ripplinger: 2-3 

- North Star: 

    Pitching: 

    - Dane Hagler: 3.2 IP, 42 P 

    - Zachary Jorde: W, 2.1 IP, 41 P

    Hitting: 

    - Zachary Jorde: 2-4 (1 2B), 2 R 

    - Garrett Westlind: 2-3 

    - Dane Hagler: 1-3 (1 2B), 2 R, 1 RBI 

John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell phone (701-230-4339), email (jcrane@gannett.com) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.