Another new region: Lions hope region change ends state-tournament drought

It was less than a month ago when members of the Bishop Ryan baseball team stormed the court to celebrate the girls basketball squad’s state championship at the Fargodome.

The baseball team hasn’t tasted a state championship of its own since 2009 and desperately wants to rush the diamond in Mandan come June.

“We talked about how good of a feeling it is when you can rush the court and all the excitement that comes with it,” Ryan coach Brent Nelson said.

In its final game as a member of Region 7, the Bishop Ryan baseball team fell to Velva-Drake-Anamoose in the 2010 state title game.

The Lions’ two-year stint as a Region 5 member didn’t equate to the success they were used to as Ryan failed to return to state both seasons. Bottineau claimed the region title both years, defeating Ryan in the championship game last season. The Lions finished 23-6.

Now, the latest realignment has the Lions in Region 6 with Velva-D-A, Surrey-Our Redeemer’s, Central McLean, Garrison-Max and Sawyer. Ryan and Velva-D-A are expected to contend for the region title.

“It’s going to be a little different,” junior Austin Eggl said. “You have to get used to the new teams and the new travel.”

The Lions open their season on the road at Central McLean at 4 p.m. today before traveling to Velva-D-A on Friday.

Prior to falling just short in the 2010 state championship, Ryan won three consecutive titles from 2007-09 while playing in Region 7. Nelson said pitching will be the key factor on whether the Lions end their state-tournament drought.

“We have seven pretty quality pitchers that all pitched in varsity games last season,” he said. “We just have to be consistent with pitching. I know we have some guys that can throw strikes. We don’t have anybody that’s overpowering, but we have pitchers who can throw strikes.”

Nelson said Eggl is the Lions’ No. 1 pitcher after his performance in last year’s region tournament where he tossed 12 shutout innings. Juniors Tyler Allers, Nick Berentson, Brody Bosch and Jake Magnuson will also see time on the mound. Magnuson will catch when not pitching.

The Lions have plenty of power in the lineup to aid their pitching staff. Junior Mason Kramer led the team in home runs last season and Magnuson, Allers and senior Josh Schell provide consistent hitting. Berentson will bat leadoff.

Despite having just two seniors on the roster in Schell and Travis Klein, the Lions return a wealth of experience with seven juniors and six sophomores.

“We have a good group of juniors who’ve played a lot of baseball,” Nelson said. “That junior class is really going to have to step up and lead us.”

Said Eggl: “Being around the program, that helps. A lot of our team has been playing for awhile. Our team has experience and a lot of people stepping up.”

The weather conditions have made it difficult for the Lions to practice on the baseball diamond. Ryan has been confined to the school’s gymnasium outside of one practice that took place in the parking lot of St. John the Apostle Church. Nelson said the weather conditions are vastly better in the southern part of the state, allowing those teams to get in more practices.

Poor weather conditions or not, the Lions know what they have to do this season to win their new region and get back to state.

“We just have to play sound baseball,” Eggl said. “Have our pitchers come up strong and keep errors to a minimum.”