For the second straight year, the Watford City baseball team earned the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the Region 7 tournament.
The Wolves (18-3 overall, 5-0 region) enter the tournament on a 13-game winning streak and play the winner of Lewis & Clark and Des Lacs-Burlington at 2:30 p.m. Monday. Watford City finished 3-0 against the Lakers and 4-0 against the Wildcats.
"It was one of the goals we set out at the start of the season, to be the No. 1 team in the region," Watford City coach Justin Johnsrud said.
Along with having the No. 1 seed, the Wolves have the luxury of home-field advantage. The double-elimination tournament takes place in Watford City, where the Wolves finished undefeated against region opponents during the regular season. Aside from two games against the Dickinson JV, Watford City played all its games at home as it is the only team in the region with a playable field.
The Wolves have three hitters batting .500 or better, led by Brandon Taylor at .674. Taylor leads the team in hits (26) and singles (19) and hasn't struck out in 35 plate appearances this season. He's also hitting .529 with runners in scoring position.
"He's just been on a tear," Johnsrud said. "He's seeing the ball really well right now. The timing's there and everything seems to be clicking for him."
Nate Egeberg and Keegan Thompson each have two of the Wolves' six home runs this season. Of Watford City's 154 hits this season, 112 have been singles. The Wolves have been a tough out at the plate as 12 batters have struck out three times or less.
Pitching has been equally strong with Andrew Sampsel and Dakota Neether allowing less than two earned runs per game. Sampsel has thrown 25 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits while striking out 43. Neether is second on the team in innings pitched with 23 1/3. He's surrendered nine runs on 20 hits and striking out 43. Opponents are batting .218 against Watford City pitching.
"Our pitching has been good," Johnsrud said. "We're forcing teams to hit the ball. Our defense has played pretty solid behind our pitchers for the most part."
Hageness leading the way for Rugby track and field
In a little more than a week, Rugby junior track and field sprinter Nigel Hageness will be back in Bismarck attempting to defend three state titles.
Hageness won the 100- and 200-meter dashes, and helped the 400 relay team take first place at state last year. In all three events, Hageness and the relay team set the tone by also placing first in the preliminaries.
This year, Hageness hasn't lost a step when healthy, recording the best 100 time among Class A and Class B sprinters at 10.88 seconds during the Sakakawea Classic on April 27. He ran a 10.93 at state last year. Hageness is the only Class B sprinter to finish the 100 in under 11 seconds this season. Hazen's Tyrel Albers posted the second-best time at 11.07 seconds.
Hageness qualified for state in the 200 in his only attempt this season, running a 23.18 in the Peace Garden Conference meet on May 2. Rugby coach Scott Grochow said Hagness has been dealing with illness and injuries throughout the season and hasn't been able to run in the last few meets. Hageness faces considerable competition from Stanley-Powers Lake senior Skyler Tangsrud, who owns three of the top four times in the event this season.
"There's some good runners out there. It's one of those things where who's ever been running the best over the last few weeks will have the best chance of winning (at state)," Grochow said.
The 400 relay team of Hageness, senior Mackenzie Koenig, junior Chris Hamilton and freshman Victor Gronvold ran a 45.87 at the Sakakawea Classic to qualify for state. Gronvold replaces Jayden Welk, who was a senior last year when the relay team edged out Lisbon for first place. Hageness is the final leg of the relay.
Grochow wouldn't speculate whether Hageness would be available for the rally race at state, saying he'd "rather be safe than sorry" when it comes to his top sprinter.
Region 6 tournament moved to Jack Hoeven Park
With Corbett Field still undergoing maintenance repairs from the 2011 Souris River flood, the Region 6 baseball tournament has been moved to Jack Hoeven Park.
The tournament was originally scheduled to take place at Corbett Field, but a prolonged winter delayed maintenance repairs. Corbett Field hasn't hosted a baseball game since May 2011.
The double-elimination tournament begins at 11 a.m. Monday with Surrey-Our Redeemer's Christian School playing Central McLean. Garrison-Max and Sawyer begins 30 minutes after the completion of the previous game.
Velva - the No. 1 seed - and seconded-seeded Bishop Ryan earned first-round byes. The Aggies play the winner of Surrey-ORCS and Central McLean and the Lions take on the winner of G-M and Sawyer. All four games are scheduled for Monday.
The tournament takes place over four days, with the championship game scheduled for May 23 at 5 p.m.