Title aspirations

MAKOTI Trent Grimes led off the second inning of Watford City’s 5-3 win over Velva on Thursday with the Walleye already trailing by three runs.

Velva starter Ryan Kuntz, who retired Watford City on 15 scoreless pitches in the first, delivered a belt-high fastball to Grimes on his first offering. At the crack of the bat, the Walleye left fielder knew it was gone.

“The first inning, they got us down pretty bad, getting down 3-0,” Grimes said. “I guess when I hit it, it put a spark into everybody.”

Grimes’ solo shot brought the Walleye back within two. After tying it up in the third, they added others in the fifth and sixth innings to clinch the Class A West Region tournament second-round win.

Victory cements Watford City’s place in the tournament semifinal against Makoti, which begins today at 11 a.m. Velva faces a loser-out contest at 9 a.m. against Bottineau.

The Mavericks already upended No. 1 Beulah on Wednesday 2-0, and Watford City coach Pat Spacher understands the challenges Makoti will pose.

But the Walleye came into this weekend’s tournament with one goal: a championship, and they’re within touching distance of it now.

“We want to win the tournament,” Spacher said. “but we know we’ve got a good team to play against tomorrow in Makoti, and they’ve been playing very well lately. So we’re just gonna try and come out and play as hard as we can for seven innings.

“If we play like we did today, we’ll be pretty tough to beat.”

Velva initially snatched an early 2-0 lead after an odd play in the first inning.

Isaac Effertz reached safely on an infield single with one out, followed by a base hit from Drew Effertz to put runners on the corners.

After Drew Effertz stole second, Velva catcher Marcus Mack struck out on a pitch in the dirt, which allowed him to reach first base. Watford City catcher Mitch Liebel threw to first for the out, which inspired Isaac Effertz to take off from third.

The throw was late and off-target, skipping past Liebel and to the backstop. Liebel chased after the ball but was delayed after running into Isaac Effertz, and Drew Effertz came in to score from second.

Another Watford City error gave Velva in the second inning its third run of the game.

But despite an early 3-0 lead, errors and miscues hindered Velva in the game’s latter stages.

After Grimes’ second-inning blast, Watford City leadoff man Dakota Neether started the third with an infield single. Two passed balls put him on third. With Dustin Kleppen on first after a four-pitch walk, Walleye starter Andrew Sampsel reached on an error by third baseman Adam Dean, which allowed Neether to score. Two batters later, Kuntz plunked Liebel with the bases loaded to tie the game.

“Watford’s good. You can’t just give them an extra out, let alone two or three in an inning,” Velva coach Brent Engebretson said. “We just couldn’t make enough plays.”

Kuntz induced a pair of quick outs in the fifth with the game still tied, but he hit Watford City shortstop Brandon Allex with the first pitch he offered.

Allex proceeded to steal second moments before Grimes delivered an RBI single to right, giving the Walleye their first lead of the day. Grimes finished the day 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

“For the most part, I thought we played a pretty good ballgame offensively,” Spacher said. “We’re hoping for a little more consistent offense early on, but we’re excited to play and have a chance to go to the championship game. But win No. 1 is pretty huge for us right now.”

Two of the three runs allowed by Sampsel were unearned. He allowed just Velva hits and one walk over seven innings on the hill.

The 39ers managed one hit in their final 17 at-bats.

“We needed an extra timely hit,” Engebretson said. “We got two early on that weird play, but we really never got anything going. We’d have a guy on third, we’d have a guy on second but we could never get that extra hit to bring them in.”

Should the 39ers defeat Bottineau this morning, they’ll take on Beulah at 2 p.m. today.

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