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Hawks flying high

Baseball is a funny game. Sometimes, a team suffers through a month or two of torment before figuring out its nuances and capabilities. But when that team finally finds a rhythm and all the intangibles come together, the team often becomes diffic...

Baseball is a funny game.

Sometimes, a team suffers through a month or two of torment before figuring out its nuances and capabilities. But when that team finally finds a rhythm and all the intangibles come together, the team often becomes difficult to stop.

This seems to be the case with Dickinson State, which won four straight games - two in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion - en route to capturing the Dakota Athletic Conference tournament championship last weekend and enters the NAIA Region III tournament today having won eight of its last nine games.

"It's good to see our team persevere and battle through a situation that looked pretty bleak," DSU coach Duane Monlux said.

Coming off back-to-back Dakota Athletic Conference titles and returning one of the conference's best pitchers, the Blue Hawks entered the season with high expectations despite losing several starters.

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However, a 3-12 start to the year at the Florida Jamboree and season-ending injuries to members of its pitching staff early on threatened to put an end to DSU's season before it even got going.

But as Monlux said, DSU remained persistent.

The Blue Hawks split doubleheaders, had good games, bad games, close losses and solid victories before finally coming together when they had to.

The Blue Hawks needed to win the DAC tournament in order to reach the region tournament for the third consecutive season.

"It was a win-or-go-home attitude. You have to play your best," Monlux said. "... It's either you do it, or your season is done. Did it make them play different? I don't know. I think we just had some good players that kept doing what they've been doing all year and had a couple guys rise to the occasion a little bit more than maybe they have during the year."

Winning the tournament title was also the only way the Blue Hawks would be able to reach the .500 mark. They are 24-24 heading into this morning's region-tournament opener against Great Plains Athletic Conference champion Morningside (32-15), a team the Blue Hawks have never faced.

After the DAC tournament, DSU appears to be a collection of players who know how to perform in clutch situations.

"The team chemistry wasn't quite there yet and then, through the course of the season, pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong," DSU junior designated hitter/pitcher Tony Isbell said. "Having that actually happen to us might not have been the worst thing in the world. It really helped us see what everyone was made of."

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Isbell hit a walk-off, two-run homer to help DSU beat Valley City State 15-13 in the DAC tournament. He had three homers in the tournament.

Meanwhile, senior pitcher Luis Avila turned in two of hits best games of the season at the right times.

He allowed two runs on five hits while walking four and striking out four in seven innings against Jamestown College in the DAC Tournament opener.

Avila also benefited from his teammates' offensive outburst as the Blue Hawks captured a 15-2 win.

Despite allowing six earned runs against Dakota State in the DAC title game, Avila had a solid outing and received more help from his teammates - including reliever Tyson Sturza, who pitched the final two innings and got the save - as the Blue Hawks prevailed 9-6.

"Some things have been clicking. We've got some hitters all on the same page," Monlux said. "We've got some clutch performances at the plate and our pitching has been better. Really, defensively we started to clean things up. It's been a collection of things."

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