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Press Photo by Royal McGregor Dickinson Mustangs shortstop Tanner Ouellette, bottom, fields a ground ball during practice Monday as Shawn Steffan looks on. The two play for Dickinson's 12-year-old Cal Ripken baseball team that is headed to its second consecutive Midwest Plains Regional Tournament this week. The team hasn't lost to North Dakota competition in two years.

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Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

The trip is a much shorter, but the goal is still the same -- make it to the Cal Ripken World Series.

The Dickinson Mustangs (17-2) have won back-to-back state titles and are looking for some redemption at the Midwest Plains Regional Tournament this week in Baxter, Minn.

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The Mustangs, who have a team batting average of .412, made it to the Midwest Plains Regional last season and traveled 820 miles to Lyons, Kan. This season, Dickinson is a little closer to home, 426 miles into central Minnesota.

"I think for the kids there are pros and cons to it," assistant coach Dave Ouellette said. "I think they thought it was pretty cool going down to Kansas and maybe it's not as exciting going to Minnesota.

"For the parents, it's probably a little more convenient going to Minnesota and trying to accomplish the same thing in half the distance."

Jack Hanstad knows the trip might be shorter and can act a good thing for the players.

"We won't be a lagged as we were last year going into the first game," he said. "We should have a little more energy."

Treven Hopfauf has a different reaction about the travel.

"It doesn't really matter how long the trip is," he said. "We are still going to play baseball."

This time around the Mustangs' have a little more to prove. The team finished second last season and lost in the championship to a team from Waite Park, Minn.

"We had high expectations for the boys because they did as well as they did last year, taking state when they were 11-year-olds," head coach Jason Hopfauf said. "Last year we finished second at the regional tournament and we hope to win one more game this year, then we would be able to move onto the next stage which is the World Series."

No Dickinson team has ever reached the Cal Ripken World Series. This team might be floating in unfamiliar waters.

"It would be good to be the first," Treven Hopfauf said.

He thinks getting this win will set the tone for the younger players coming up through Dickinson.

"It will show that not only big towns make it to the World Series," he said. "But that a small town has talent too."

Dickinson might play at a slight disadvantage by not having the luxury of having a 10-month playing season like some teams in the Midwest region. The Mustangs are lucky to get four to five months, at best.

"It just gives you a bit of motivation to know that there are things that teams can go back and work on during the offseason." Jason Hopfauf said. "This year the boys started their offseason in January and started three-a-week practices in the gym."

The hard work paid off as Dickinson went undefeated against North Dakota competition and lost only to all-star teams from Texas and Indianapolis.

Despite all the practice time and preparation coming into the Midwest Plains Regional, Ouellette still knows players are going to make mistakes.

"We're just hoping that with the extra time we've put in they will make fewer mistakes than the other kids," he said. "We have to remember that these kids are 12 years old and everyone is going to make mistakes."

Those mistakes are noticed, but Jack Hanstad said the team continues to motivate each other whenever an error is made.

"We've always talked about playing as a team and pick players up by not getting down on them when they strike out or make a mistake," he said.

Dickinson starts the tournament against North Fork, Colo., on Thursday.

The nerves and jitters will probably lead into the first game, but it shouldn't take long for those jitters to quickly disappear.

"I think we are all going to have butterflies when we get to that first game," Jason Hopfauf said. "I think once we get into that game, we've practiced enough and played enough games throughout the year those butterflies will go away. It's just exciting to qualify and go to a tournament like this and to go two years in a row makes it that much more special."

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