The 2000 season has been like a five-course meal for the Central Lakes College Raiders baseball team.
The Raiders finished off the main entree last weekend as they claimed the Region 13 crown.
Now CLC is on to its dessert. Playing in the Division III Community College National Tournament in Batavia, N.Y., should be sweet.
"We just need to relax and try to play error-less ball.," Raiders catcher and captain Derek Owen said. "Defense wins games. Everything has to be there just like it was last weekend."
CLC showed what it was made of last Saturday as it played four games and won the last three, including an 8-2 win over Dawson (Mont.) Community College in the championship game.
"If we play like we've been playing, we'll be all right," CLC coach Warren Mertens said. "The other players in the tournament wake up in the morning and put their pants on one leg at a time just like us. Last weekend means we're good enough to be there."
The Raiders (28-8) will begin their quest for a national championship Saturday at 9 a.m. against Joliet (Ill.) Junior College (29-30). The fact Joliet has played 23 more games than CLC doesn't worry Owen or Mertens.
"Now that it's the end of the season it doesn't matter," said Owen, who caught six games in two days last weekend. "We have our fair share of games in and that's enough to keep us going. Plus, we're not worn out."
Mertens said he has had no time to research Joliet. The Raiders played as many games as they were allowed to play this spring.
"They may have played a lot of four-year schools," Mertens said of Joliet's sub-.500 record. "I don't think it will make a difference because at what point is it too many or not enough? If you're mentally ready it doesn't matter how many games you've played."
The Raiders practiced Tuesday and scrimmaged Brainerd High School on Wednesday before flying to New York Thursday.
And their attitude has been loose.
"At practice all we did when we hit, we were just talking about the trip and what we're going to bring; the hype is pretty big," Owen said. "We're going to have fun and we're not going to be tight-butts. We're not going to be tense; we'll just play baseball."
Whatever the outcome of the six-day tournament Mertens knows it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the players.
"I think they have a mission," Mertens said. "They've been talking about going out there and winning. They're going to be like kids in a candy store. I told them to bring cameras and savor the moment because not many people get to do this in their lifetime and a lot of good baseball players don't get to do this.
"I said to them, 'I want to put it into perspective exactly what you've done,' and they asked, 'What do you mean?'" Mertens said. "So I told them we are now one of the eight best teams in the nation and then it kind of sunk in."
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