High 5 for Minot

If the Minot Vistas American Legion baseball team wanted to avoid defending state champion Fargo in the first round of the state tournament for the second straight season, it had to beat Dickinson on Friday in the final league contest of the regular season.

The Vistas did just that, defeating Dickinson 5-3 at Corbett Field to grab the No. 5 seed in the state tournament. The Vistas will play West Fargo on Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Jamestown. The Roughriders are the No. 6 seed and play Fargo. Minot dropped the nightcap 10-8.

“We’re building and just getting better each game,” Minot coach Todd Larson said. “It’s big. We finish 9-9 (in the state standings) and finish fifth. We get a tough draw in West Fargo. We’re confident going in. They haven’t seen us in a long time. I feel we’ve improved tremendously.”

Aside from prevailing in the winner-take-all game, the Vistas also won their first contest at their home diamond as the road team. In a makeup game originally scheduled for June 16 in Dickinson, the Roughriders were the designated home team despite being 175 miles from home.

It didn’t bother Dickinson as it jumped out to a one-run lead in the first. Dylan Skabo led off with a single to right field and scored on an RBI single to center field by Tanner Hopfauf.

Dickinson starting pitcher Mark Erickson stymied Minot early, retiring six of the first eight batters. But the Vistas broke through in the third as they plated three runs on three hits and took advantage of two Dickinson errors to grab a 3-1 lead.

Grant Larson tied the game with an RBI single to score Jake Magnuson, who was plunked in the shoulder to lead off the inning. With runners on the corners and two outs, Minot benefited from an errant throw to second from Dickinson catcher Andrew Heckaman attempting to throw out Austin Eggl. Heckaman’s throw sailed into center field, allowing Larson to score. Eggl advanced to third, drawing a throw that went well wide of its intended target. Dickinson’s second error brought in Eggl for Minot’s third run.

“We played a little bit of small ball,” Todd Larson said. “We tried to take advantage of our speed on the bases a little bit. Bottom line is we got a ‘W’ in that one and the kids played well.”

Needing a win to help their positioning in the standings, the Vistas handed the ball to Demitry Zafra and he didn’t disappoint. After Hopfauf’s RBI single, Zafra retired seven straight and 12 of 14. As has been the case with Zafra all season, the right-hander got stronger as the game progressed. He struck out Cole Anderson to lead off the fourth and got Heckaman looking to end the frame.

“Demitry got a little bit stronger as they game went on,” Larson said. “Overall, he’s done a good job and certainly sets us up well rotationwise going into the state tournament.”

Zafra allowed a run in the fifth and ran into trouble in the sixth while clinging to a 3-2 lead. Chandler Jacob helped out his starting pitcher by throwing out Alex Huschka at the plate with a one-hopper from left field to keep the Vistas in front.

The Vistas gave Zafra a couple of insurance runs in the seventh and he shut the door for a complete-game victory. Zafra allowed three runs on eight hits, struck out three and walked four.

“It gives us a lot of confidence going into the state tournament knowing we can compete with a team like that,” Zafra said. It gives us a confidence boost knowing we can play good defense, pitch and hit really well.”

The nightcap was anything but what Todd Larson wanted to see as the Vistas enter the state tournament. Minot committed seven errors and needed five pitchers to get through the game.

The Roughriders roughed up Minot’s pitching staff to the tune of 13 hits. They opened the game with three runs in the first and broke it open with five in the third.

“We came out flat,” Larson said. “There was no pace to the game. Things were just real slow. We as coaches have to get our kids to play through everything even after a big win. We shouldn’t have a letdown. We were disappointed the way the first six innings went, but happy with the way we battled in the seventh.”

The Vistas made it interesting in the final frame. They brought 11 batters to the plate and scored five runs before Brady Lampert grounded to first with the bases loaded to end the game.

Mike Kraft covers the Minot Vistas and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft24_MDN.