Correction: Fargo’s Lincoln Voss graduated from Fargo Shanley.
The Minot Vistas entered Saturday’s doubleheader at Fargo with a chance at earning the No. 2 seed at the American Legion Class A state tournament, which begins today in West Fargo.
The Vistas (24-20) left Fargo without a win and dropped to the No. 5 seed. Minot got caught up in the home team’s banter, dropped a two-run game followed by a one-run, 12-inning game and will face No. 4 Fargo (37-17) in a first-round matchup at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
“It’s just kind of a long history between the two programs and that’s a program that should win a state title every year based on their population and they just can’t get it done,” Vistas coach Todd Larson said Monday at practice. “We’ve been fortunate enough to win five state titles since 2001. Their kids on Saturday acted completely out of control.
“It’s unfortunate we got two losses. We got too wrapped up in the atmosphere, the behavior of the Fargo players. We need to come out Wednesday and be quiet, be steady and channel all the energy toward us, not toward them.”
Minot lost focus as boisterous Fargo came out with more of an edge.
“Fargo, they’re just really chippy,” Vistas pitcher Austin Berntson said. “They talk a lot and they have the ability to get in your head. So when you’re playing them, you just have to be mentally strong and not let what they’re saying get to you. We had a couple of players that were caught up in that.”
Fargo coach Luke Rustad said his team was eager to move beyond a pair of losses to Bismarck the day before and came out with new enthusiasm. Both coaches noted that the umpires allowed the taunting, though neither skipper expects the same Wednesday.
“Hopefully, when you get out there you don’t care what your feelings are toward the other team,” Rustad said. “I’m not worried about focus. This team actually does come to the ballpark pretty focused. All you have to worry about is how we battle through the first inning.”
Both teams could go with pitchers from Saturday. Casey Ryan (2-1) held Fargo to one run on five hits in 5 2/3 innings of relief in a 5-4 loss in 12 innings. Shawn Danielson (5-0) gave up four runs on six hits in the start. Ryan also pitched one perfect inning of relief in Saturday’s first game and was a winner earlier in the season in a 5-4 decision over Fargo.
Austin Berntson (5-2) and Hunter Oothoudt (3-3) are also being considered for the Vistas.
“We feel good about our pitching,” Larson said. “We’ve steadied that ship. We’ve got guys throwing strikes right now, we’re not walking a lot of hitters, we’re playing pretty good defense, but it’s gonna come down to the hitting.”
Fargo threw five pitchers in the 12-inning game with Ryan Smith earning the win in one inning of relief. Jake Salentine was the winner in the first game, limiting Minot to four runs on nine hits. Stephen Howlett had success in a 17-6 win earlier in the season.
Fargo’s deep rotation also includes Lincoln Voss, a Fargo Shanley graduate, who shut down many of the Vistas when Minot High School fell 10-2 in the first round of the state tournament in May. Voss had 10 strikeouts in that game.
“They’re a very good ballclub,” Larson said. “They really are. They have so many arms to pick from.”
Oothoudt is looking to give Minot a boost whether he’s behind the plate or on the mound. The final-year player emerged as the team’s top catcher after filling in during a five-game swing in Omaha in June. Oothoudt was new to the position, but has proved a steady option ahead of younger catchers Jake Magnuson and Wesley Johnson.
“(Oothoudt) made the comment the other day he wishes he started catching earlier because he really enjoys it,” Larson said. “He just gives you a physical presence back there. He throws the ball well from back there. He’s starting to block like a catcher now. We’ve been really surprised. He’s hitting, so we gotta find a place in the lineup for him and right now that’s the spot in the lineup.”
Oothoudt (.356) is third on a squad with seven players batting above .300, led by Brock Krueger’s .369.
“If coach gives me the start in the first game, I’m gonna go out there and pitch my game,” Oothoudt said. “I know how Fargo likes to hit because I was catching, so I know where to put the ball and stuff, but if he gives me that opportunity, I’d definitely go out there and pitch the best game of my life.”
He and Berntson will likely give Fargo’s chatty bunch something else to focus on. The pair dyed their facial hair before Monday’s practice.
“Every at-bat they’d pick out one thing about the batter and just yell at ’em about that,” Oothoudt said. “Like for me, it was tennis, but I really don’t care.”
Oothoudt was a tennis standout for the Magicians and state title contender the past two seasons. Light-haired Oothoudt and Berntson may be easy fodder with their near-black goatee and mustache, respectively, if Fargo players can contain their laughter at the humorous new looks.
“We just gotta come out and if we stick a couple on them real quick, they seem like a team that will lay down and just give up,” Berntson said. “We’ve shown that we can play extremely good baseball.”
Center fielder Alex Mack will not swing until Wednesday morning as he’s nursing a sore shoulder following a diving play on Saturday. Mack hit a solo home run in the first game.
The ninth-seeded Williston Keybirds (17-25) kick off the tournament today with a 5 p.m. matchup against No. 8 Dickinson. Williston won 3 of 4 meetings with Dickinson this season, but split games that counted in the state standings.
Despite the success against Dickinson, Williston coach Greg McNary doesn’t believe today’s matchup favors the Keybirds.
“We know they’re going to hit the ball so we have to minimalize the damage,” he said. “They’ve torn into every pitcher we’ve thrown at them. I don’t think they fear us in the least.”
McNary said Matt Kohler, Lane Huck or Trenten Hove could get the starting nod against Dickinson, but also said it would be a game-time decision to see who’s healthy. McNary said some players have been battling an illness this week.