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Amateur Baseball: New-look Bullfrogs are back at state

Bird Island opens Class C state tournament Saturday against the Carver Black Sox

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Bird Island shortstop Dylan Gass reaches down to field a grounder during a Corn Belt League game against Raymond on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 at Raymond. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

BIRD ISLAND — A year ago, the Bird Island Bullfrogs made an impressive run to the final weekend of the Class C state amateur baseball tournament.

The goal remains the same for Bird Island (18-6) as it opens the tournament 7 p.m. Saturday at Hamburg against the Carver Black Sox (21-10).

But this year’s iteration of the Bullfrogs will be trying to get through the tournament in a slightly different fashion.

“We do have a different look this year,” said Bird Island manager Mike Nagel.

“There’s 48 teams in this tournament and we were down to the last eight. Anytime you do that, I don’t care how good you are, it’s tough to get that far. You just go there and hope the baseball gods are kind to you and you get some breaks, get a win and live another day.”

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Five starters from last year’s team are gone, starting with ace pitcher Logan Nissen, who is playing independent professonal baseball with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks. Jordan Sagedahl, who played catcher and infield, spent his summer playing with the Bismarck Larks of the Northwoods League. Also gone are Jack Peppel, James Woelfel and Ben Steffel.

“We don’t throw the ball in Nissen’s hand and try to win 1-0 this year,” Nagel said. “It’s a different mentality.”

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Bird Island's Casey Lewandowski tosses a pitch during a Corn Belt League game against Raymond on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 at Raymond. Lewandowski is slated to take the mound for the Bullfrogs in their Class C state tournament opener against Carver. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

That new mentality starts in the field, which Nagel repeatedly stated as the Bullfrogs’ strength throughout the season, which saw them share the Corn Belt League championship with the Milroy Yankees with identical 11-3 league records.

“I love our defense. We have the best defense anywhere,” Nagel said. “And we've got great team speed. If we can manage to hit a little better and get some key two-out hits, that’s going to be paramount for us.”

Filling some of those holes have been area high schoolers. From BOLD , Aidan Elfering, Braeden Tersteeg and Zeke Walton have all seen significant playing time along with Nic Taylor from Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart.

“They’ve really stepped it up and filled in quite admirably,” Nagel said of the young guys. “You have to go ahead and play with the players you have and they’ve played really well.”

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Trent Athmann has been Bird Island's top bat, hitting .456 with 21 runs and 16 RBIs. Logan Swann hits .431 with six doubles, 23 RBIs and 20 runs. Tersteeg is also hitting over the .400 mark at .405.

Filling Nissen’s shoes as the No. 1 pitcher has been Casey Lewandowski, who is slated to get the ball against Carver. He is 6-3 with a 2.19 ERA with 68 strikeouts compared to 13 walks. Lewandowski has tossed 70 innings, including four complete games.

Elfering (4-0, 41-1/3 IP, 2.61 ERA, 34 SO) and Eric Gass (3-0, 21 IP, 1.71 ERA, 8 SO) are other options on the mound for the Bullfrogs. There’s also the team’s draftees: Mason Penske of Marshall; Caleb Ditmarson of Raymond; and Adam Schrader of New London-Spicer.

“The nice thing is we have veteran guys who can step up on the mound,” Nagel said. “I have a lot of confidence in our guys to get through tough situations ... and be effective.”

He added, “We had a good draft. The kid from Marshall (Penske) is a bulldog on the mound; he actually shut us out during the season.”

The Black Sox’s offense is led by Ben Alexander, who batted .355 with nine doubles, a home run, 18 RBIs and 14 runs. Jay Bresnahan has a .298 average with eight doubles, 23 RBIs and 20 runs, and Connor Cornell has scored 22 times with a .270 average.

On the mound, Andrew Weber is Carver’s top arm, going 9-2 with a 1.88 ERA with 58 strikeouts to 23 walks over 86 innings.

After taking fourth in the Region 7C tournament, this is the Black Sox’s fifth straight state appearance.

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“Carver’s been there before and had really good players,” Nagel said. “It should be a good matchup; it’s not the easiest draw in the world.”

Nagel added, “I love our team and our defense and speed. With our intangibles, I think we have a big advantage."

The Bullfrogs are back at state for the third straight year, but that’s no reason for Nagel and company to take this run for granted.

“We went in 2012 and we had a really good team the next five years and went about 2-10 in regions,” Nagel said. “Any time you get to go to the state tournament, you need to be extremely grateful and humble because it may be your last. We need to make the most of our opportunities.”

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