Hot or not, the games were going down.
One year after all spring state tournaments were lost because of the pandemic, triple digit heat was not going to keep athletes off the field last weekend. Despite temps approaching 100 degrees on Thursday then blowing past the century mark on Friday and Saturday, state champions were crowned in six sports, two each in Grand Forks, Jamestown and Mandan.
“There was not talk of not playing. Ever,” said Mark Wiest, Mandan Activities Director and tournament manager for the state Class A baseball and softball tournaments held at Memorial Ballpark and Fort Lincoln Field, respectively. “If anyone would have suggested not playing, I'm afraid that would not have gone over very well.
“I don’t think there were any weather conditions that could have stopped anybody from playing this year. The kids wanted to play. The coaches did, obviously, and so did the parents, and I thought it went really well. Despite the heat, I was just really impressed with the caliber of play in both tournaments.”
Just a week earlier, Wiest was worried about the weather on the other end of the spectrum.
“We went from low 40s the Thursday before the tournament, then you look at the long-range forecast and you’re seeing 90s,” he said. “So you get a 60-degree swing in temperatures in the span of a week. That’s North Dakota weather for you.”
No major heat-related issues were reported, which was not by accident said Century softball coach Kevin Ziegler.
“We tried to have our kids drinking a lot of water leading up to the tournament. We knew it was coming, so we tried to be prepared,” Ziegler said. “It didn’t really seem to effect the kids, it was more of a nuisance than anything. It was really hot, but the kids wanted to play.”
Pitchers like Maddy Zander of Century, who threw every inning of the Patriots’ third-place finish in the tournament, had a particularly heavy workload.
“I was kind of worried about pitchers going three straight days with just the normal wear and tear then you factor in the heat,” Ziegler said. “Maddy, she just kept going out there and pitching great. She was prepared for it and the other pitchers did the same thing. It was pretty impressive.”
Like many spring season coaches, Ziegler wasn’t sure what to expect after 2020 was wiped out.
“You had so many kids that lost a year of development and then of course the seniors last year didn’t get a season at all,” he said. “There were a lot of question marks coming into the season for us and for a lot of teams. I think it turned out pretty well. There were lots of good players and lots of good teams. For us, we were really happy with how the season went.”
Mandan certainly can say the same.
The Braves won their first state title in tennis in Grand Forks, where the tournament was moved indoors because of the heat. The Braves also claimed the consolation championship in girls soccer, the start time of which was moved up three hours to 8 a.m. on Saturday in another heat-mitigating measure.
“It was a great weekend, it really was,” Wiest said. “We’re so proud of what the tennis team accomplished, making history really.
“Our soccer team, I don’t think anybody really gave them too much of a chance when the season started because of how young they were, but they ended up second in the West and fifth at state, which is the highest we’ve ever had. They had just a terrific season.”
Langdon-Area-Edmore-Munich and Central Cass claimed state titles in Jamestown.
The Cardinals went 24-0 to win the Class B baseball title at Jack Brown Stadium, beating LaMoure-Litchville-Marion 9-1 in the title game. LA-EM also was perfect in football last fall, going 12-0 en route to the Class A crown.
Also in Jamestown, Central Cass beat Thompson 4-1. The Squirrels have won the last three Class B softball championships.
Despite the many on-field accomplishments, the state tournaments of spring 2021 will be remembered most for one thing – the heat.
“It was a challenge, but it really was a lot of fun,” Wiest said. “We had such great support from so many people from ticket-takers, press-box workers, other staff members. The Mandan community really stepped up to the plate and deserve a lot of credit.
“It was 100 degrees out there every day basically but you never heard anyone complain. Nobody was negative about anything, just a lot of smiles and people being positive and trying to make it a really good experience for the athletes. We’ll remember this one for a long time, but overall just a great weekend.”
Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org