Hazen optimistic for 1st state tourney shot

Hazen baseball was never its own entity until four years ago.

Playing in one of the deepest regions in the state, the Bison stepped away from the world of co-op baseball this season and into their own uniforms.

Now, Hazen will represent Region 8 at the Class B state tournament for the first time in school history, something that coach Brent Hysjulien believed to be a goal from Day 1.

“I wanted to make sure that our kids knew that state wasn’t some far-fetched dream,” Hysjulien said. “It’s something that was attainable if we put a little extra work in and did some of the little things right that you need to do to win baseball games.”

Beulah has been the team to beat in Region 8 as of late. The Miners won the state championship in 2012 and finished third last season.

However, with a talented senior class having graduated from Beulah, the 2014 region championship seemed up for grabs, with teams like Hazen, Shiloh Christian and Kidder County all eyeing a state tournament berth.

But the Bison proved to be the class of the region this year, defeating Beulah twice in the region tournament 6-1 and 11-1 to claim their first independent state tourney bid.

Hazen begins its state tournament campaign with a 1:30 p.m. contest today against No. 3 seed Thompson at Cushman Field in Jamestown.

Now the aim is simple, just as it is for each of the eight teams still standing.

“All eight teams in this tournament will tell you that they belong there and that they’re gonna take a crack at No. 1, and we’re no different,” Hysjulien said.

Junior leadoff man Connor Doll leads Hazen in batting with a .474 average. He also leads the Bison in home runs (3), runs scored (33) and walks (25).

Doll is also one of Hazen’s two top starting pitchers, along with senior Kolby Metzger. The two have combined to throw 63 2/3 innings this season with Metzger leading the way in wins (4), strikeouts (45) and ERA (1.46). Doll is 3-1 on the year with a 1.85 ERA along with 23 strikeouts.

“Our goal is to always make the state tournament because we’ve always had some fairly successful (American Legion) teams here in Hazen,” said senior Nate Leintz, who is second on the team in batting (.429). “At the beginning of the year, we definitely set our goal on making it to the state tournament, and I think we all believed that we could do it.”