Austin Berntson couldn't help but laugh on Tuesday when Minot High School baseball coach Pete Stenberg complimented his base running.
"I think that's the first time I've heard that," said Berntson, a senior pitcher and outfielder.
Practicing with runners on first base and third base, the Magicians rotated catchers to work on base-stealing defense.
Minot High School senior Austin Berntson takes a lead off third base during a practice at Sertoma Sports Complex on Tuesday.
Berntson, touted for his pitching and hitting by Stenberg, looked just as comfortable on the base paths, routinely beating throws and avoiding tags at Sertoma Sports Complex.
The Magicians open the season at 4:30 p.m. Friday against Mandan at Surrey. (Due to the flood damage at local fields, Minot will play its home games at area schools, including Velva.) Berntson is one of nine seniors on a team hoping to improve on fourth- and seventh-place finishes in the 2011 West Region and state tournaments, respectively.
"We're looking at Austin Berntson to lead us on the hill," Stenberg said. "He's a lefty that's gonna come in and he can throw hard, but he has a nice slider and changeup."
Berntson will start the first game against the Braves, a team he held to two hits in a 14-0 win at the West Region tournament last year.
"I just went into the day feeling super comfortable," Berntson said. "We had that little break because it started to rain and switched fields. I just didn't let that affect me and went up there and threw strikes."
The Magicians are third in the West Region preseason rankings with Mandan one spot ahead. The Braves are also fourth in the state rankings.
More than half of Minot's roster is expected to see time on the mound, but most pitchers will be limited to between 40 and 50 pitches per appearance over the first couple weeks.
"Out of the 15 guys that we have practicing with the varsity right now, we have nine of them that we feel can come out and throw strikes," Stenberg said. "Once we get toward the end of the season, if we can (we want to) have a four-man rotation."
Junior shortstop Caleb Fornshell will lead off for Minot, followed by senior second baseman Marcus Quist and sophomore catcher Kolton Larson. Bernston and senior outfielder/pitchter Brock Krueger will battle for the cleanup role.
Fornshell led the Magicians last season with a .444 batting average and reached base in more than half his at-bats.
"I've done a lot of work with coach (Todd) Larson and Stenberg in the cage and the leadoff hitter is supposed to take pitches and get on base a lot and not try to do too much with anything," Fornshell said.
Minot batted .261 as a team last season, but Stenb erg would prefer to see that improve to .320.
Berntson remembers inconsistency at the plate as Minot's biggest problem last season.
"This year I feel like we have a lot of talent because we have a lot of returners," Berntson said. "We just got to get more solid with the bats because we kind of fell apart there. Otherwise, I feel like we're pretty solid and have a good chance."