A couple weeks ago, the Trenton-Trinity Christian baseball team had to play its way into the Region 7 tournament.
Now, the Crusaders are preparing for their first-round matchup with Region 3 champion Carrington at 11:30 a.m. today at the Class B state tournament in Mandan.
The Crusaders - the No. 3 seed entering the region tournament - surrendered four runs in as many games and defeated Lewis & Clark-Parshall 7-3 in the championship for their first state tournament in program history.
"With the weather-shortened season, we only got to play everyone in our region once," T-TC coach Dave Huck said. "I felt we had just as good of a chance as anyone. Anyone in the top four could have won the region."
Of the eight participants at state, T-TC is the only team that didn't finish in the top two of its respective region during the regular season. The Crusaders didn't get much of a test from No. 2 seed Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood in the first round of the region tournament, defeating the Mavericks 10-0. T-TC outlasted L&C-P 2-1 in eight innings before claiming the title hours later.
Senior Lane Huck said the team started to believe they could make state after routing M-L-S.
"We have a lot of young kids and first-timers and they didn't really know what it took to get there," he said. "After that game, we had it in the back of our heads that we could make the tournament. I consider us to be an underdog, but we have the tools to play with anyone."
The Crusaders are led on the mound by senior Trenten Hove and Lane Huck. Hove is T-TC's ace and picked up wins in the Crusaders' first two region tournament games.
"He's our leadoff hitter and probably our most consistent starter," Dave Huck said. "He's such a gamer. He'll do anything to win. He directs our team."
Lane Huck - Dave's son - is the Crusaders' No. 2 pitcher and bats in the heart of the order at the No. 3 spot. When he's not on the mound, Lane Huck is the signal-caller behind the plate.
"He does a really nice job for us behind the plate," Dave Huck said. "Having a good backstop is really a big plus and he does a great job."
The Crusaders' clean-up hitter wasn't even part of the team at this time last year. Senior Walker Lindeman moved to North Dakota from Texas midseason last year, but wasn't allowed to join the program until the following season. Dave Huck said Lindeman can play just about any position on the field.
While there are nine seniors listed on the 18-man roster, T-TC receives quality contributions from other classes. Dave Huck said sophomore Austin Schell is a "solid young player" and "has quite a big future ahead of him."
If the Crusaders are to advance far in the tournament, they will need the same pitching effort from their array of arms that won them the region title.
"I keep telling our team that if we keep throwing strikes and make them earn their place on base, we have just as good of a chance as anyone," Dave Huck said. "In a tournament like this we feel like we may be the underdog, but it's not anything we're not accustomed to."
Although this will be the Crusaders' first time on the diamond in the state tournament, several members of the team aren't foreign to playing on the big stage. Hove, Lane Huck, seniors Jade Bentz and Michael Rademacher and sophomore Brandson Bentz were part of a Trenton team that placed third at the Class B state basketball tournament in March. They're hoping to one-up that performance on the ballfield.
"Different sport, but same type of thing," Lane Huck said. "I keep telling everyone that it's just another baseball game."