Harvey, Velva top seeds in Section 5 tourney

On a warm Sunday evening, thousands flock to the North Dakota State Fair to cap the weekend with some fried food and a dose of country star Brantley Gilbert.

Twenty-two miles southeast of the state fairgrounds, defending Section 5 Legion baseball champion Velva gets in some extra reps, taking on Nelson County in an exhibition doubleheader.

The 2013 Section 5 tournament begins Wednesday in Cando, and the State Fair seems like the furthest thing from Velva coach Mike Thingstad’s mind.

“Keep swinging the bats, keep that edge,” Thingstad says. “You get a big layoff, it can be tough, especially hitting.”

Second-seeded Velva, which returns all but four players from last year’s state tournament qualifier, opens play against Burlington, the No. 7 seed. Thingstad said his team’s experience should be beneficial.

“(Experience) will factor because they’re not going to panic,” Thingstad said. “They’re going to take it one game at a time and one at-bat at a time.”

Two months removed from a Class B high school state tournament berth, top-seeded Harvey has experience on its side as well. Coach Nelson Zerr said he’s just fine with the tournament’s location – where Harvey-Wells County punched its ticket to state.

“It helps that they’re playing in Cando again,” Zerr said. “They know what it takes to get to the state tournament.

“They’re still focused on everything and they see the big picture to make it to both the high school and Legion state tournaments. That would be a huge accomplishment.”

Though Harvey’s entire starting lineup played on the Harvey-Wells County team, Zerr still expects the tournament to be a dogfight.

“I think our section is one of the toughest in the state because you also have Velva and Cando,” Zerr said. “Both of them beat us this year. It’s going to take a lot to beat them.”

Third-seeded Cando faces No. 6 seed Bottineau in the first round, while Harvey has a bye into the quarterfinals of the double-elimination format event and will play the winner of fourth-seeded Surrey and fifth-seeded New Rockford.

Surrey coach Jeremy Feller hopes his deep pitching staff can carry his team far in the tournament. He said while Harvey, Velva and Cando are certainly the favorites, a variety of outcomes are foreseeable.

“All of us top four teams have been around the end of the tournament the past four years. That’s probably how it will be this year,” Feller said. “But the (Nos.) 5, 6 and 7 teams have youth, and that can take you far in tournaments like this sometimes.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Legion baseball and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgrenMDN.