The Laurel Dodgers won't have to wait around in anticipation while thinking about nothing but baseball.
The defending state champions and Medicine Hat will jump-start the State A Legion baseball tournament by playing the first game Tuesday at 10 a.m. at Ryan Sparks Field in Lewistown.
The Dodgers (45-15) will throw ace right-hander Kameron Fisher (8-0, 2.23 ERA) against Medicine Hat. Laurel won the Eastern A district tourney Saturday for the sixth consecutive time.
Laurel has won the Class A state title four of the previous five seasons under two different coaches. Brent Sukut was the coach last year, while the Dodgers claimed championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011 under Matt Kimmet.
"Our chances, just like everyone else, once you get there you have a one in eight chance in winning," Laurel first-year coach Doug Studiner said. "Every team has proven they belong. Anything can happen at state. You are not as familiar with the other teams, like you are in the conference and regular season. ... As long as I've been around Legion baseball and watching Legion baseball, anything can happen at a state tournament. You take it one game at a time and never look too far in the future as anybody can get you."
Asked who the favorite was going in, Studiner said Gallatin Valley, Belgrade and Mission Valley will be tough to beat.
But that's not to say he doesn't believe in his Dodgers, who feature a deep pitching staff that is suited for tourneys.
Left-handed pitcher Anthony Panella, who joined the team in June after pitching for Spokane Falls Community College, is 3-0 in five games started and has a 1.65 ERA. He has struck out 23 and walked four in his fourth year on the Dodgers.
Another stalwart for the Dodgers' staff is right-hander John Preller, who has 68 strikeouts in 57 innings. He is normally a starter, but can be a long reliever. Closer Mitch Kaufman is 4-1 with five saves and a 2.31 ERA.
"We have a deep pitching staff," Studiner said. "I've started eight different kids on the mound in a starting role and we've used 13 kids on the mound this year. So we are deep. We have strong starters and strong relievers."
While Laurel has plenty of pitching, the Dodgers bats have been lethal. Overall, the team is hitting .329.
"We are pretty proud of that fact that as a team up and down the lineup we are pretty solid," Studiner said.
Catcher Mason O'Donnell is the team's top hitter. O'Donnell has a .393 average with 50 RBIs. Dawson Cortese is hitting .390 and leads the team with three round-trippers. Cortese also leads the Dodgers in extra-base hits with 20, which includes 14 doubles and three triples.
Fisher has scored 66 runs and is batting .337 out of the leadoff spot. Fisher tends to find a way to get on base. He has walked 26 times and been hit by a pitch 16 times and leads the team with a .457 on-base percentage.
Trevor Meier is tied for the team lead in doubles with 14. Meier has drove in 38 runs and has a .330 average.
NOTES: Studiner coached the Laurel Little League juniors and seniors for a handful of years before becoming the Dodgers coach. He has 20 years coaching experience in Laurel and Washington state in Little League. Studiner played for the Billings Royals from 1981-84. "It was a long, long time ago. They probably lost all my stats," Studiner joked. ... The tourney wraps up with the championship game Saturday.