The Bulldogs are returning to the elite circle of the North American Fastball Association.
After a year away from the competitive diamonds, the Bulldogs earned a berth to the NAFA Division II World Series after posting a 2-3 record at a qualifier tournament in Fargo, N.D. last weekend.
Last participating in the World Series in 2000 (when they finished in the top 10), the Bulldogs took a year off from these tournaments a season ago.
“It was nice to see the guys back together,” said coach Jim Fowler. “It was a good way to see the quality of play at that level.”
The travelling team differs slightly from the one that plays in the Rainy River District Fastball League.
In Fargo, regulars Warren Voth, Wayne Strachan, Shane Bliss, Brent Tookenay, Dennis Mounk, and Grant Swire were joined by Bob Andy, who plays for Big Grassy in the RRDFL, and players from Thunder Bay, including starting pitcher Brooke Swanson.
The team came up short at claiming this tournament’s crown, losing 5-3 to the Fargo Wizards in the quarter-finals. Swanson surrendered a two-run homer in the sixth inning that broke a 1-1 tie.
They had opened play Saturday morning with a 12-0 win over the Watertown Primetown Sports (South Dakota). Andy drove in six runs while Voth pitched a one-hitter with nine strikeouts.
But they swapped wins for losses to finish off round-robin play, losing 2-0 to the Fargo Black Knights, beating the Winnipeg Band of Brothers 13-3, and then giving up a solo homer in the final inning to lose 2-1 to the Knights again.
“Those two blowout wins were probably the worse thing that can happen,” said Fowler. “We needed to play some better teams.”
Fowler was pleased with their first outing overall but knew they let a few of those games get away.
“[The Knights and Wizards] are the two best teams in Fargo,” he noted. “We didn’t hit well when we needed to.”
Still, based on NAFA’s scoring system (which includes overall record, level of competition, and past achievement), the weekend’s performance was enough to earn the Bulldogs a trip to Salem, Ore. for the World Series, which begins Aug. 14.
Since leaving Emo in favour of playing at Couchiching, the Bulldogs have gone 2-1 in RRDFL play so far but still are without a major team sponsor (Alton Pollard Construction pulled out earlier this year).
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs will have one more tournament against these same teams June 15-16 in Rice Lake, Wis.
“That’s another tune-up to keep us sharp,” said Fowler. “It’ll give us a better feel for things when we go to the worlds.”