It's been three years since the Minot Vistas American League baseball team hosted its then-annual tournament at Corbett Field.
The last time teams flocked to Minot to participate in the three-day tournament was in 2011. Just a few days later, Minot experienced the worst flood in its history, and thus, baseball became an afterthought. Now, the Minot Qdoba's Baseball tournament begins today with 12 teams ranging from Class AA to Juniors.
"It means a lot to me," Minot coach Todd Larson said. "It took me a long time to get that tournament going pre-flood and we got it to a point where it was one of the better tournaments in the upper Midwest in terms of the competition goes. This has been a year-and-a-half work in progress. We're moving past that flood and getting back to a sense of normalcy at Corbett Field and hopefully baseball fans come out and watch some good baseball."
If the Vistas are going to win their tournament, they'll have to earn it, because they didn't schedule lightly.
Minot plays three games against out-of-state teams before finishing with the Bismarck Senators, a Class A ballclub. The Vistas open the tournament against Regina (Sask.) tonight at 7:30 at Corbett Field. They play Richland County, Mont., and Spearfish, S.D., on Saturday.
"We're not overly concerned with wins and losses," Larson said. "We're 12-12 going into this thing. I just want to keep getting better each game. I don't want to take a step back and try to reteach a bunch of things. Right now we want to keep progressing forward with this pace we have going. It would be awesome to win the tournament, but there's some awfully good teams in there."
After a slow start to the year, the Vistas have found their stroke at the plate. They're batting .314 as a team with a .446 on-base percentage. Grant Larson leads Minot with .420 and .529 marks in the same categories, respectively. Seven others are batting over .300.
With the hitting woes seemingly solved, the focus shifts to pitching. Minot has struggled to throw strikes all year. As a staff, the Vistas have walked 126 batters and hit 22 more. Only Chandler Jacob has recorded more strikeouts (19) than walks (13).
"We've been hitting a lot lately and I think our biggest weakness right now is throwing strikes," Grant Larson said. "We need to have guys go out there and throw strikes and then we have to protect our lead."
Dalton Cooper boasts Minot's lowest ERA at 2.838, followed closely by Hunter Duttenhefer (2.940) and Jacob (3.048). Jacob has the lowest WHIP at 1.645. Demitry Zafra (0-2) gets the start tonight.
"The stats prove it. We throw more strikes and play better defense we win baseball games," Todd Larson said. "Our pitchers have struggled throwing strikes and that really puts our defense to sleep and the tempo of the game slows down so badly. We haven't fared too well in those games, but our offense has bailed us out a few times."
Minot views the tournament as an opportunity to put together a bit of a winning streak as the season enters its second half. The Vistas had won six straight before dropping a pair to Bismarck on Wednesday.
"Maybe we'll get on a little bit of a role," Grant Larson said. "We've won some games in a row and then we dropped two yesterday. Just play good hard baseball all weekend."
Being at home is an added bonus.
"Four more home games for us and that's always better than being on the road," Todd Larson said. "The kids are excited. Hopefully the weather holds off and the tournament goes off without a glitch."
Mike Kraft covers the Minot Vistas and racing during the summer. Follow him on Twitter at MKraft24_MDN.