The Minot Vistas American Legion baseball team made coach Todd Larson sweat out his 700th career victory Friday.
Sitting on 699 wins entering his team’s doubleheader against defending state champion Fargo Post 2- the preseason No. 1 team – Larson watched as the Vistas suffered their worst loss of the young season in the opener, falling 17-4 in six innings at Corbett Field.
In the nightcap, the Vistas led 5-1 entering the seventh. Fargo loaded the bases and cut its deficit to one with two outs. Minot reliever Liam Owens struck out Alex Steffan to preserve the Vistas’ 5-4 victory and give Larson his 700th victory.
“It’s pretty neat,” Larson said. “It’s my 20th year coaching with the Minot American Legion baseball program. It’s an honor to put on the jersey every time we play. I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of young, very nice men, some terrific baseball players and even better people. Very satisfied, very happy, very humble.”
It was all Fargo in the opener as it scored the first 10 runs of the game and threatened to end the game after five innings. But Minot’s offense came to life with its backs to the wall in the bottom of the fifth. Chandler Jacob walked with the bases loaded to plate Dalton Cooper for the Vistas’ first run of the game. It also guaranteed at least a six-inning ballgame.
Minot (1-3 overall, 1-3 league) tacked on three more in the inning. Grant Larson laced a two-run single to right field, scoring Travis Walker and Jake Magnuson. A single by Brady Lampert brought Jacob into score to cut Fargo’s lead to 10-4.
Fargo countered with a seven-run sixth to put the mercy rule into effect for the second time in the game. It brought 11 batters to the plate and Seth Tollefson, Jake Salentine, Andrew Penney and Carter Thompson recorded RBIs in the frame.
Fargo (1-1, 1-1) scored a run in every inning but the fifth. It took advantage of three Vistas errors in the third to push across five runs to take a 9-0 lead. Fargo chased Minot starting pitcher Demitry Zafra after 2 1/3 innings. Zafra was touched up for nine runs on six hits. He struck out three, walked four and threw three wild pitches.
“We certainly didn’t play well,” Larson said. “We didn’t pitch it real well. We had miscues in the field. We put one inning together offensively, but we can’t do that against the No. 1 team in the state like Fargo. It was good to see us come back in game two after that lack of effort in game one.”
Larson used four pitchers in the opener. Shawn Danielson pitched the last 1/3 of the third, Connor Taney tossed the next 2 1/3 and Alex Arrayan threw the final 2/3.
Minot’s inability to get out of an inning after recording two outs came back to bite them. Fargo scored nine of its first 10 runs with two outs. In the fifth, Taney retired the first two batters before giving up two singles and a double for Fargo’s 10th run. Fargo had at least three baserunners in every inning.
“That helps a lot,” Fargo coach Luke Rustad said. “You always need hits anyway, especially when there are runners on base. It’s nice to see that you can get down with two outs and the kids didn’t give up. They kept grinding out at-bats.”
The Vistas took their first lead of the season in the second inning of the nightcap. A sacrifice fly by Hunter Duttenhefer scored Lampert, who was hit by a pitch, moved to second on an error and advanced to third on a balk by Fargo starting pitcher Colin Birch.
Austin Eggl came around to score on an RBI double by Travis Walker. Trevor Ringoen, who was also hit by a pitch in the third, scored Minot’s third run of the frame on a wild pitch.
The Vistas added a run in the third on an RBI single by Ringoen and another in the fifth when Penney sailed a throw over the first baseman’s head, allowing Duttenhefer to score all the way from first.
Eggl flirted with disaster throughout his outing on the mound. Fargo loaded the bases in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth against the right-hander, but could muster just one run. Fargo stranded 19 runners.
“Our pitchers made some very good pitches at key times,” Larson said. “Austin Eggl gave us a lot of heart, a lot of effort out there. He was pretty sore. He was tired, but he kept getting outs he needed.”
Eggl pitched to two batters in the seventh before being relived by Owens. Eggl allowed three runs on six hits, striking out four and walking six.
“Once they loaded the bases I finally started throwing some strikes and really just getting lucky they popped a few out and we made some good plays behind me,” Eggl said.
The Vistas play a makeup doubleheader against Grand Forks on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Corbett Field.
Mike Kraft covers the Minot Vistas and racing during the summer. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft24_MDN.