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LEGION BASEBALL: Youth is no problem for Grand Forks Blues

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sports Grand Forks, 58203

Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

After starting on the Grand Forks Central baseball team that was runner-up in the North Dakota Class A high school baseball tournament this spring, Nick Lund found himself playing for the Grand Forks Blues this summer.

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That’s the lower-division team of the two Grand Forks American Legion baseball teams. The Royals play in Class AA. The Blues, with a roster of younger athletes, play in the state’s AA junior division. And that’s fine with the 15-year-old Lund.

“We expected it,” Lund said. “You usually play with your age group. And we’re getting more opportunities to be in the lineup with the Blues.”

In addition to Lund, Noah Cieklinski, Rakeem Wright and Brock Reller also started as freshmen for Central’s baseball team this spring and are regulars with the Blues.

Blues coach Matt Palmiscno said the players are where they anticipated they’d be. “They knew there were a lot of older kids on the Royals,” Palmiscno said. “We told those guys that they’d play a lot for us, that they’d be our team leaders.”

The Blues have won with youth. They’re 32-8-1, with only three losses in their last 30 games. The Blues will play in the junior state tournament this week, meeting Mandan at 11 a.m. Thursday in a first-round game in West Fargo.

“We expected to do well,” Lund said. “We have a good group of guys. Most of us have been to regional or national tournaments (in Babe Ruth and/or Cal Ripken divisions). I think that’s helped us.”

The Blues roster consists of eight 16-year-olds, nine players who are 15 and one who is 14. Cieklinski and Wright both are 15. Reller is 14.

“We’ve played teams with older guys on them,” Palmiscno said. “But we’re not intimidated. A lot of the kids are used to playing older kids. Some of our kids played varsity hockey as freshmen and sophomores. Some were freshmen playing varsity baseball.

“I think they take pride in showing they can play with the older kids.”

The one area that is impacted by the youth is in the power department. Reller has the team’s lone home run this season. Lund leads the team in extra-base hits with 16, followed by Reller (14) and Casey Schumacher (10).

But the Blues offset that with a solid, balanced lineup and with speed.

Grand Forks has been successful on 104 of 119 stolen-base attempts (.874 success rate). And eight of the nine regulars are hitting better than .300, led by Wright (.471), Schumacher (.418), Lund (.414), Jacob Knecht (.400) and Jace Braathen (.400).

“We don’t rely on power, but we hit the ball hard,” Palmiscno said. “The depth we have in our lineup is unbelievable. And we run the bases well.”

As a result, the Blues have more than held their own against teams with older lineups.

“It’s not a big deal,” Lund said of the age differences. “You just have to work harder.”

DeVillers reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1128, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1128 or send e-mail to gdevillers@gfherald.com

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