Batting has seldom been a problem for the Minot High School baseball team this season. Finding the right rotation will be the key for the No. 1 seed Magicians, who begin the West Region tournament against No. 8 Bismarck St. Mary's at 11 a.m. today in Mandan.
Sophomore Grant Larson is expected to start on the hill against the Saints (4-14 overall, 2-12 region).
"We haven't overthrown anybody," MHS coach Pete Stenberg said. "We have relievers that we can bring in in different situations and even a closer now with Demitry (Zafra) a little bit, and most people don't have that luxury."
MDN File photo
Minot High School junior Brady Lampert prepares a throw to first in a game earlier this season at Jack Hoeven Park. Also pictured is MHS senior pitcher Hunter Oothoudt.
Stenberg may go with juniors Chandler Jacob and Zafra and senior Hunter Oothoudt in games two and three. Zafra is expected to be a closer through the first two rounds and could start the championship or a state-qualifier on Saturday depending on how many innings he pitches through Friday.
MHS sophomore catcher Zach Danelson had the best view of the team's pitchers during the 16-2 regular season (12-2 region).
"We're pretty deep pitching-wise, I'd say, this year," Danelson said. "Chandler's got a great curveball. He's deadly when that's accurate. Demitry's the same way. He's got a good fastball and a good change up. Hunter, he's the same way; just good everywhere.
"Grant, he's another one too. He doesn't throw as hard as them, but he can still throw strikes and he has good curveball."
The winner of the tournament opener will face the winner of No. 4 Dickinson and No. 5 Bismarck Century at 4 p.m. Friday. To get there, MHS will need to play better defense than it did against St. Mary's in the teams' second region meeting. The Magicians won all four games against the Saints, but had a sloppy day in the field in an 11-9 region win in Bismarck. MHS committed eight errors and needed six runs through the final two innings to pull away.
"They made plays behind them and we gave some free bases early and I think we gave up some runs in the second and third innings," Stenberg said. "We've got to watch that and not give up easy ones."
The Saints had seven errors in that game and four in a 20-7 region loss in Minot on a frigid April day when players struggled to thaw out their fingers. A high of 70 is expected today in Mandan.
"I didn't think we were very sharp in the field (against St. Mary's) and we gotta make sure we throw strikes," MHS senior shortstop and reliever Caleb Fornshell said. "Can't let people get on without getting hits. They gotta make 'em earn it. No walks and no errors, just gotta stay sharp."
No. 2 Bismarck High dealt MHS its only losses of the season and the Magicians played at least one close game with nearly every team in the tournament. MHS has played remarkably relaxed much of the season and has reminded Stenberg of strong teams he had in 1999 and 2005, when the Magi won a state title.
"This team has real good hitters with two strikes, they do a real nice job with that," Stenberg said. "They hit the ball opposite field real well like in '99.
"Those are things that make a winning team. They don't get too excited about things. Everything is even keel and they don't get uptight."
The team emphasized that this week's top priority is simply qualifying for state, but a West Region title would be a bonus.
"It would just prove to everyone that we are the No. 1 team right now and it would feel good getting the (top) seed going in and coming out as a (top) seed," Larson said.