Metros face stern challenge

Junior legion baseball epitomizes the future of varsity-level competition in North Dakota, featuring up-and-coming players destined to, one day, grace the senior ranks.

But this weekend, the Minot Metros Junior Legion baseball team – comprised of mostly 15- and 16-year-olds – will encounter its share of top-grade talent.

One of three junior legion teams competing in this weekend’s Minot Qdoba’s Baseball tournament, the Metros will play four games at Corbett Field over the next three days.

They start with the most difficult of them all at 5 p.m. today against Watford City, a team consisting of several players from Watford City’s state championship-winning squad from the spring.

Metros coach Jason Steele knows the Walleye are a talented group. But his approach to today’s game remains unchanged.

“(Our kids) know as well as we do that Watford City had success, but as far as having a different mindset going into the game, that really doesn’t change,” said Steele, coaching in his second year with the Metros. “Every game that we play, no matter who it is, we tell our kids to have a good approach at the plate, have a plan at the plate. Our pitchers will have to compete and throw strikes, and guys will just have to make plays.”

Against a veteran Watford City staff, the Metros hope Conor Taney can continue swinging a hot bat. His .429 batting average sets the pace for Minot so far, as does his total in runs scored (18).

Noah Tate and Jesse Roberts join Taney as the only other Minot players batting over .400. Five others are batting over .313.

On the hill, Liam Owens gets the nod from Steele against the Walleye. Through 14 innings, Owens boasts a 2.50 ERA for the Metros, conceding five runs and 14 hits, striking out nine.

Playing a team like Watford City can be daunting for a team as young as the Metros (11-6).

Steele insists his players are ready for the challenge.

“Our kids are excited,” Steele said. “We’re looking forward to this one. They’re ready to compete and play against some older kids and see how we match up.”

That’s exactly what this weekend will be about for the Metros: discovering how they stack up against older players.

After Watford City, Minot takes on Richland County, a Class A Montana team, at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. To cap off the weekend, the Metros battle a pair of local teams – Garrison and Surrey – in back-to-back contests at Corbett Field on Sunday.

In many ways, this weekend will be a learning experience for the Metros.

But that doesn’t mean the Metros aren’t ready to fight for wins. Just ask Steele.

“Obviously, we want to win all four,” he said. “We’re gonna compete and try and go 4-0. If that doesn’t happen, then we’ll learn a few things.

“We’ve talked all year that we need to stay focused for seven innings of baseball, every game. So I think that’s another way that we’re gonna approach this weekend, that we have four games, each of them seven innings, and we’re gonna try and win every inning.”

Joe Mellenbruch covers legion baseball and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.