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Hibbing seeks state title breakthrough

Out of six previous trips to the state tournament, Hibbing's baseball team has collected three runner-up finishes.

The red-hot Bluejackets (19-8) will try to avoid another second-place trophy when they meet undefeated Waconia (25-0) at 4 p.m. today at Target Field. The Class AAA crown is on the line.

"We might as well collect a No. 1 since we're here," Hibbing coach Jay Wetzel said by phone Sunday night.

No Northland baseball team has won a state title since Cherry in 1997. Grand Rapids was the last squad from the region to appear in a final, falling to Lakeville in 2005. It's a tall task for northern schools. Many years, the first time they get outside and on a field is for their first game.

Hibbing, for example, didn't get to 10 outdoor practices until the playoffs had started. It's no surprise the Bluejackets are subsequently playing their best baseball of the season.

"You're seeing everything kind of come together down here," Wetzel said.

No kidding.

Hibbing banged out 27 hits while defeating previously unbeaten St. Cloud Tech 9-4 in the quarterfinals and Alexandria Area 8-7 in the semis — thanks to a five-run rally in the bottom of the seventh inning. Wetzel said the Bluejackets' collective batting average has climbed 12 points since the tournament started.

"That's a big jump for any two games, let alone at the state tournament," he said.

Hibbing is averaging nine runs per game since the second round of the Section 7AAA playoffs, for which the Bluejackets were seeded fifth.

Senior Travis Carruth will get the call on the mound today.

Waconia is the top seed. The senior-led Wildcats have won three straight one-run games. They do everything well, Wetzel said.

"You don't get to 25-0 by being mediocre," he said. "If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going."

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