‘One more chance’
Recovering from a loss is not something the Minot High School baseball team wants to deal with again, but the Magicians responded well in that predicament this season.
MHS (18-3) crushed Williston 10-0 in a state-qualifier Saturday to set up a first-round matchup with East Region No. 2 seed Fargo Shanley-Oak Grove at 11:30 a.m. today in Jamestown. Last season marked just the second time since the current tournament format began in 2000 that MHS didn’t advance to state.
The West No. 3 Magicians entered last week’s West Region tournament as the top seed, but committed five errors in a 5-4 semifinal loss to Dickinson. The only other time MHS came off a loss was after dropping a regular season doubleheader to Bismarck High.
Players and coaches said there was not much to talk about after the uncharacteristic sloppiness against the Midgets.
“After losing to BHS, we came back the next day and beat up on Century, so we kind of just took it from that,” MHS senior Hunter Oothoudt said. “So after the Dickinson loss we came out and beat up on Williston. We don’t like to lose, so we take it out on someone.”
Shanley (7-12) out-played its No. 7 seed in last week’s East Region tournament, advancing to the title game before falling 4-1 to West Fargo. Despite being the only team at state with a losing record, the Deacons have strong pitching and newfound success at the plate.
“Offensively, I talked to a couple different guys out East and they said (Shanley) hadn’t really hit all year and they finally came around at the (East Region) tournament,” MHS coach Pete Stenberg said. “Once again,2 I just think if we come out and play our baseball, take care of ourselves in the field we’ll be just fine.”
Getting a second straight win means the Magicians need to beat Shanley senior ace Lincoln Voss. The Deacons lost three one-run games with Voss on the mound and two were 2-1 decisions. Shanley coach Joel Swanson didn’t hesitate when choosing Voss for the first game.
“I think the first game is the most important. If you don’t win that you’re (not in contention),” Swanson said. “He’s got three good pitches – fastball, curveball, changeup – probably about a minus-8 on his changeup, which is one of his quality pitches. He keeps the ball low and mixes a lot.”
Voss was remarkable in an 11-0 win over Grand Forks Central in the first round of the East Region tournament. He threw 12 strikeouts before being relieved in the seventh inning. The Deacons beat Wahpeton 7-3 in the second round.
Minot and Shanley didn’t see each other this season, but both programs were aware of the opposition’s marquee players.
“Anybody who’s in the (East Region) knows that any team coached by Stenny is gonna be very well prepared,” Swanson said.
Stenberg is prepared to throw senior pitcher Hunter Oothoudt, who didn’t pitch in the West Region tournament, but listed juniors Chandler Jacob and Demitry Zafra as options.
Zafra pitched all five innings against Williston, giving up just two hits while striking out six.
“Felt really strong, I could’ve went the whole game if we went seven,” Zafra said. “I was pretty proud of it.”
The Florida transfer said he struggled in recent outings, but his pitches came together much like the MHS defense following its five-error performance.
“They knew it was a win-or-go-home situation, so they had to have more focus in it and came out as victors,” Zafra said.
For Oothoudt, shortstop Caleb Fornshell and reserve catcher Chance Smith, graduating was nice, but a run at the state title has their focus.
“It feels good to get back to state, especially after last year,” Fornshell said. “It’s always a bad deal if you don’t get to go to state your senior year, so it’s nice that we have one more chance.”
The winner will play the winner of No. 1 Bismarck High vs. No. 4 Grand Forks Red River on Friday. Tuesday evening’s forecast called for severe thunderstorms Thursday in Jamestown.