Long overdue matchup

The Minot High girls tennis team was supposed to play West Fargo in late April in Bismarck, but the match was canceled.

There’s no avoiding each other this time around as the Majettes and Packers will meet in the first round of the state tournament today at 1 p.m. in Bismarck. Minot is the No. 3 seed out of the West Region, while West Fargo is the East Region’s No. 2 seed.

“Their top players are very solid,” Minot coach Scott DeLorme said. “We do think a couple of our top girls can match up with theirs. We’re going to have to play really well and we’re going to need seven girls in the lineup to compete and play well. Hopefully, we can pull off a little bit of an upset.”

The Packers boast all-state senior Samantha Smith at No. 1 singles. Smith took third at the East Region individual tournament. She will match up with Minot’s top singles player, senior Ban Dodin. Dodin finished runner-up at the West Region individual tournament.

West Fargo has seven seniors to Minot’s four. Senior Kaylee Stock and Katie Baasch are the Packers’ top doubles team and was a second-place finisher at the EDC tournament behind Grand Forks Red Rivers’ Maddie Anderson and Alexis Caoili. With West Fargo’s roster loaded with talent, the Majettes know there is no room for error.

“We can’t afford to go down early in matches,” Dodin said. “We can’t afford to not put as much effort in as possible because we need every single point we can get against tough teams who are deeper than we are.”

Another reason for the sense of urgency is the format. Unlike in the regular season with the 6-3 format (six singles matches and three doubles matches), the state tournament consists of three singles matches and two doubles matches, much like the region tournament.

“In the 3-2 (format), it does have a lot less room for error because there are fewer matches you need to win,” senior Kendra Collins said. “Sometimes it can be tricky, but it’s one of our strong points.”

DeLorme said while he’ll look toward his top players the most, the other girls could be the difference.

“We look highly on our 1-4 players,” DeLorme said. “They’ve been around. They’ve played in state tournaments. They’ve been successful in state tournaments. We told them last week that we’re going to ride our 1-4 players. Our 5, 6, 7 players can get us wins on any given day, so we’re going to need that this weekend.”

The Majettes had success in the first round at state last year, knocking off Valley City 3-2 to advance to the semifinals. If Minot posts another first-round victory this season, it’ll likely play St. Mary’s, a team that handed the Majettes their worst loss of the season (8-1). St. Mary’s also has the West Region singles champion in Caitlin Bakke, who defeated Dodin in the championship match 6-3, 6-4.

“I do want to play them again,” Dodin said. “I enjoy playing against those tough teams because that makes us tougher. I like playing challenging teams and they are a challenging team, probably one of the best teams in the state.”

Magicians not concerned

with seeding

The Minot High baseball team entered the spring as the preseason No. 1 team in the state. The Magicians viewed that as just a number.

Now, Minot enters the West Region tournament in Dickinson as the No. 5 seed. Again, to the Magicians, it’s just a number. They’re more concerned with getting at least two wins and advancing to the state tournament.

“I don’t think it means a whole lot with the year we’ve had and how evenly spread it is in our conference,” senior Kolton Larson said. “One through 5 is pretty solid for the most part. Wherever you are you’re going to have to play them, it just depends when you’re going to play them.”

The Magicians (16-12, overall, 9-5 region) open the tournament against fourth-seeded Century today at 2:30 p.m. The teams split during the regular season, with the Patriots taking the opener 6-2 and Minot winning the finale 4-2. The Magicians have beaten every region opponent at least once.

After a midseason slump in which Minot lost four straight region games, the Magicians rattled off six straight and found both their offense and pitching. In those six games, Minot averaged 7.3 runs and limited opponents to 2.7.

Minot had a chance to grab the top seed with a win over Dickinson in its regular-season finale, but dropped an 8-2 decision and slipped to the middle of the pack. Minot coach Pete Stenberg said that’s a testament to just how competitive the region is this season.

“There were five teams that were in the hunt for first and second going into the final weekend and it wasn’t finalized until that Saturday,” he said. “Even the bottom teams have people that can come out and beat you. In baseball, a pitcher can get hot and shut teams down. We have to play all three parts of the game. We have to pitch it, we have to hit it and we have to play defense.”

The Magicians said they have put that loss to Dickinson in the back of their minds and are focused on getting an opening-round victory against Century. A win in the first round would make Minot’s road to the state tournament smoother.

“That’s very important,” Minot senior Brady Lampert said. “It would give us a lot of confidence and hopefully boost us the rest of the tournament.”

Said Larson: “Getting that first-game win, your back’s not against the wall as much as it would be if we dropped the first one and then all the sudden you have to fight two wins out. It’s going to set the tone for the weekend and hopefully get us going to where we need to be.”

Lions favorite

to claim West Region crown

Just like last season, the Bishop Ryan softball team is the prohibitive favorite to win the West Region tournament, which begins today in Jamestown.

The Lions enter the tournament winners of 23 straight. They haven’t dropped a game since a 10-0 loss to 16-time defending champion West Fargo. Ryan hasn’t lost a region contest since falling 3-2 in its opener to Bismarck on April 8.

“We’re by and large a seasonal team,” Ryan coach Julie Stewart said. “We really do roll from sport to sport to sport. When we start the season, we just haven’t been able to prepare like we need to.”

During the second half of the season, the Lions have looked like the team that has advanced to the state championship game the last two years. In their last 12 games, the Lions have scored 145 runs and posted 10-plus runs in nine of them.

“I was really happy with our finish,” Stewart said. “We improved immensely throughout the season. We want to be sharp and be ready to go. I just like where we’re at in all three aspects. I like our pitching, fielding and our hitting has come on strong. Our hitters are really doing a good job at the plate.”

The Lions (24-2 overall, 23-1 region) aren’t lacking in the fielding and pitching department either. Ryan hasn’t allowed more than four runs in a game since surrendering seven against Jamestown on April 25. Junior Hannah Stewart and senior Brieann Backes will continue to shoulder the load on the mound.

“We have a great defense behind our pitchers,” Julie Stewart said. “Our pitchers really work on their pitches. To have two solid pitchers is a nice bonus. It’s just nice to have that depth.”

Ryan is the only team to receive a first-round bye in the seven-team tournament. It will await the winner of today’s Century/Minot winner.

The Lions and second-seeded Dickinson are all but locks to advance to the state tournament as they are a combined 39-1 against teams seeded 3-7. That leaves five teams battling for two spots, among them Minot. The Majettes are the No. 5 seed and play the fourth-seeded Patriots in the first round of the tournament.

Minot (14-16, 11-13) hasn’t advanced to the state tournament since 2009, the first year of North Dakota High School Athletic Association sanctioned play. Yet, the Majettes haven’t talked about state tournament and are more focused on themselves than they are their first round opponent.

“Honestly, I don’t know if it matters our opponent as much as it matters ourselves,” Minot coach Gerard Cederstrom said. “We’re working on controlling the things we can control and whatever happens then happens. We need to take care of the things we can take care of.”

The Majettes have appeared solid at times and have struggled at others. They’ve put complete games together in wins over Century, Bismarck, Jamestown and Turtle Mountain, but have struggled with errors in losses to Ryan and Dickinson. A complete game is what Minot is looking to put together at the tournament.

“We just need to throw a game together for seven innings and I like my chances if we do,” Cederstrom said. “There are some games where we’ve had everything. We will mix in a bad inning here and there, but sometimes a bad inning is only two runs and other times a bad inning is 7-10 runs.”

Zafra signs

with Mustangs

Senior Demitry Zafra joins classmate Chandler Jacob as the latest Minot High baseball player to sign with a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference team.

Zafra officially signed with Southwest Minnesota State University on May 15 and will join the Mustangs pitching staff next season. SMSU loses two pitchers to graduation, but still has 13 returning for next season. The Mustangs went 27-23 overall and 17-14 in the conference, advancing to the NSIC tournament.

The Minot right-hander had his best outing in his first start of the season, tossing six innings of no-hit ball as he notched the win against eventual-West Region regular-season champion Dickinson 6-2 in mid-April.

Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft24_MDN.