While flattering, the preseason No. 1 ranking is just that to the Minot High baseball team: a number.
The top ranking is a number the Magicians have no problem wearing, but there is another that they'd certainly like to forget. Seven. As in their seventh-place finish at the state tournament last season. Minot needed a five-run seventh to walk-off against Jamestown to place seventh.
"You always want to end the season on a win," Minot coach Pete Stenberg said. "It wasn't where we wanted to finish, but the kids rebounded from a couple tough games, so that's a good feeling. The kids do remember finishing seventh at the state tournament and they want to build on that."
MDN File Photo
Minot High senior Kolton Larson is one of nine seniors for the Magicians, who are the preseason No. 1 team in the state.
The seventh-place finish left a sour taste in the Magicians' mouth after winning the West Region regular season with a 12-2 mark against region opponents (16-2 overall). They lost three of their final six games.
Minot isn't concerned with the past nor the target on its back that comes with garnering the No. 1 preseason ranking.
"At the end of the day, it's just a number," senior Kolton Larson said. "A lot of guys have put a lot of work in during the offseason for every team around the state. Basically, that's just ranked off of last season. We're building for this season and establishing ourselves in the region."
The Magicians bring back a plethora of experience. Amongst the 14-man roster are 10 players with varsity experience led by Larson, an all-state selection last year, and all-region recipients Chandler Jacob and Grant Larson.
"Anytime you have seven guys that were basically full-time starters, you're going to rely on them heavily," Stenberg said. "The other three kids that are coming back were at least getting half-time.
"We have a lot of experience on the playing field, whether it's pitching or hitting or defensively. Getting a full year of varsity under your belt is very big."
The Magicians lost pitchers Hunter Oothoudt and Caleb Fornshell, but Stenberg said he's looking to throw 11 guys at some point this season. Stenberg said he plans to monitor pitch counts early in the season, beginning with today's opener against Mandan, limiting his pitchers to around 50 pitches per outing.
"We've had four weeks to get ready for this, so our arms are doing all right," Stenberg said. "We'll get them progressing through the first couple doubleheaders they throw and try to establish a starting rotation of four pitchers and from there we'll have our middle relief and closers. I think pitching, on paper, is probably our strongest point."
Said senior Brady Lampert: "We're really deep. We have a lot of pitchers. We have a lot of experience coming back as well."
The Magicians' experience extends to the batter's box. They averaged 9.6 runs per game last season and scored 10-plus runs 12 times.
"We're going to have a good lineup with a lot of guys that can really hit all the way through the order," Kolton Larson said. "Top to bottom, there's going to be guys that can step up to the plate and hit the ball and that's huge. We have a lot of guys that can come in as relief and also hit the ball."
Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics and the Minot Minotauros. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.