Expect unexpected at Junior Legion state tournament

With some things, it’s best not to know.

Things like the Jamestown Blues’ record, pitching staff and batting tendencies.

“I don’t know anything about them,” Minot Metros coach Jason Steele said. “It’s nice not knowing anything about them, but it makes you nervous at the same time because you don’t know what to expect.”

The Metros (14-19) will quickly learn about the Blues at 5:30 p.m. tonight in a first-round Junior Legion state tournament game at Corbett Field.

The double-elimination competition, which runs through Sunday, kicks off today with three other first-round matchups including Bismarck vs. Fargo at 9:30 a.m., Grand Forks vs. Dickinson at noon and Mandan vs. West Fargo at 2:30 p.m.

Without bracket seeding, there is no official favorite to advance to the regional tournament. Metros center fielder Trevor Ringoen said the field is wide open.

“Everybody’s beaten everyone, so it’s anyone’s game this year,” Ringoen said. “I believe that a lot of teams can surprise other teams, so it will make for an interesting state tournament.”

Minot ended the regular season a week ago with a pair of home losses to Bismarck. Steele said the Metros prepared for the tournament with a week of “low-key” practices, primarily working on situational hitting – moving runners into scoring position and scoring them with less than two outs.

But a week off is plenty for Steele.

“I’m glad that we’re playing Wednesday and not Thursday or Friday because the longer you wait, sometimes it seems like the flatter you are in that first game,” Steele said.

A flat start is something the Metros need to avoid against an unfamiliar opponent.

“It will be important for us to get a quick start, get an early jump on Jamestown,” Steele said. “Score early and keep scoring every inning because if we start out flat – no matter who you’re playing – it can hurt you.”

Beginning double-elimination tournaments with a couple of wins is vital as team’s in the losers’ bracket “have to play a lot of baseball,” Steele said, causing mental and physical fatigue. Ringoen acknowledged losers’ bracket play adds nerves, too.

“Once you get into the losers’ bracket you’re nervous because this could be your last game,” Ringoen said. “Staying in the winners’ bracket is really important.”

The state tournament is an opportunity for the Metros to end their inconsistent season on a high note and earn a trip to the regional tournament. But that’s four or five wins away.

“It’s one of those things you have to go out and you have to earn,” Steele said. “Nobody’s going to give you that state championship trophy. You have to earn it.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Legion baseball and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgrenMDN.