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Grafton baseball back at state after nine-year drought

May 28—GRAND FORKS — Grafton head baseball coach Joe Demers and assistant Jaime Villarreal are both Spoiler alums.

The two combined to play in three North Dakota Class B state baseball tournaments from 2011 to 2013, a three-year stretch where the Spoilers were state runner-up each season.

That's the extent of the Grafton state baseball experience on this year's roster, however.

After advancing to the state tournament for nine consecutive seasons from 2007 to 2015, Grafton is headed back to state for the first time in nine years.

Grafton will take the No. 3 seed into Thursday's state quarterfinals against Bottineau in Jamestown. The game starts 35 minutes after the completion of the 4:30 p.m. game.

"From the beginning of the year, I felt like this team was special and had what it took to get to the tournament," said Kyler Droog, a 6-foot-7 junior pitcher and first baseman in his third season of varsity with the Spoilers.

Grafton has to emerge out of a region with other programs that also have a rich tradition in baseball such as Park River and Langdon-Edmore-Munich.

"Our guys were aware (of the drought)," Demers said. "We talked a little about it. With our group, we were so young the last handful of years. These starters have been our starters since they were maybe ninth-graders. It got to the point, they're older now, an experieced group. Now is your time. They took ownership of it. They wanted to be the group to break the streak and get back. That was a big goal for them. It was a big sigh of relief to get it done."

Demers calls this year's team the best hitting team he's had in his seven seasons as coach. The Spoilers are hitting .337 as a team and Tony Villarreal and Droog are both hitting better than .500.

Villarreal is hitting .522 with eight doubles, four triples and five home runs.

Droog is battling .516 with six doubles, two home runs and 30 runs batted in.

Droog and Villarreal have also led the Spoilers on the mound. Droog is 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA.

"(Droog) is a tall kid, so the ball gets on hitters a little quicker," Demers said. "He's been lights out."

Trenten Keena, a freshman from Drayton, N.D., is also 3-1 on the year, while sophomore Brody Lillemoen has come on strong late in the year and holds a 3-0 record.

"Our times of having the biggest success this year is when we play relaxed and have fun," Droog said. "Don't stress about it, just go out and play hard."

Coach: Joe Demers.

Record: 16-4.

State tournament matchup: No. 3 Grafton vs. Bottineau, Thursday, 35 minutes after 4:30 p.m. game, in Jamestown.

Top hitters: Sr. P-IF Tony Villarreal .522, 8 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 5 HRs; jr. P-IF Kyler Droog .516, 6 2Bs, 2 HRs, 30 RBIs; fr. P-OF Trenten Keena .338; fr. C-IF Soren Olson .347; jr. C-OF Kruiser Burns .302; sr. C-P Ryan Hanson .385; jr. P-IF Hunter Johnson .500; soph. P-IF Ty Storey .342; soph. IF-P Brody Lillemoen .265; jr. P-IF Kyan Burns .377.

Top pitchers: Droog 5-0, 59 Ks, 1.05 ERA; Villarreal 5-3, 44 Ks, 3.16 ERA; Lillemoen 3-0, 28 Ks, 1.06 ERA

State tournament history: After making the state tournament for nine straight years (2007-15), the Spoilers are back at state for the first time in nine years.