Beulah and Grafton. Grafton and Beulah.
Ask any Legion coach to forecast this year’s American Legion Class B State Tournament champion and they’ll likely spew out the name of one or both of those teams.
“I would have to say it’s going to be a pretty good toss-up between Beulah and Grafton,” Hazen coach Scott Leintz said.
Said Cando coach Jess Vote of the tournament favorites: “Beulah is a powerhouse and from the east side you hear a lot about Grafton in baseball.”
But a potential Beulah-Grafton meeting in the championship is four days and 13 tournament games away.
The season culminates this week with the state tournament in Beulah, which runs today through Sunday.
Hazen opens play against Makoti at 11 a.m., followed by Grafton vs. Enderlin at 1:30 p.m., Cando vs. Hatton at 4 and LaMoure vs. Beulah at 7:30.
Hazen peaking, again
For the Hazen Astros (12-14) they’ve been up and they’ve been down. Now, they’re back up, they hope.
Their sub-.500 record is misleading, Leintz said. Over half of Hazen’s losses were to perennial powers Beulah and Washburn.
“For the most part we played them tough, and things have kind of come together for us now,” Leintz said.
In the Section 7 tournament last week, Hazen ousted top-seeded Washburn before falling to Beulah, the No. 2 seed, in the championship. Since Beulah receives an automatic bid to state for hosting the tournament, the Astros’ runner-up finish earned them a tourney berth.
Leintz said minimizing walks will be instrumental for his club to advance at state.
“(Walks) seem to be our biggest Achilles heal,” Leintz said. “We’ll get some guys on base and the other team gets a key hit or something. I’ve kind of been telling the guys all season that walks kill.”
Should Hazen consistently throw strikes, Leintz said a dark-horse run to the later stages of the tournament is within the realm of possibility.
“I think we’ve got a good enough team that we can compete and be in the top end of the tournament,” he said.
After a slow 3-7 start out of the gate, Cando (14-11) caught its stride and won 11 of 15 games.
“The bats really started slow and as of late they’ve won ballgames for us,” Vote said.
As the third seed and host of the Section 5 tournament, Cando made quick work of each opponent, winning by an average margin of five runs. It knocked off top-seeded Harvey twice, the second time in a 6-1 championship win.
Vote sees his team as an underdog “looking to have some fun.” He said Cando’s looking to make some noise, too.
“Defensively we’ve got to make the easy plays that are presented to us and make a couple hard ones along the way,” Vote said. “If we play fundamentally sound, I think we’ve got a good enough team, good enough group of athletes that we’re going to compete.”
Beulah seeking more success
This state tournament will be different for host Beulah (17-9). It’ll be a nice change of pace.
“They’re used to getting to state tournaments since we have for the past two years in the spring,” coach Ryan Bodell said, “and I think they’re going to like sleeping in their own bed every night and having a good home crowd for us.”
In 2012, Beulah capped its high school season with a Class B championship. In May, it finished third. Now, the Cyclones seek Legion baseball hardware.
Bodell said he expects a third-place finish or better.
“Obviously our goal is to win the whole thing, but I would expect us to contend with everybody we see,” he said.
Beulah averaged 13.3 runs per game in the Section 7 tournament and beat fellow state qualifier Hazen twice, the latter win a 10-0, six-inning rout. After missing players for a handful of regular-season games, Bodell said his team is finally beginning to gel.
“I think we were playing our best ball during our section tournament, which is right when you want to be,” he said.
Bodell said his pitching staff gives it a opportunity to succeed, and possibly reach the championship.
Who else does Bodell expect to contend?
“I would say Grafton has a shot since they were in the high school championship,” he said.
Ryan Holmgren covers Legion baseball and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgrenMDN.