Hitting their stride

Throughout the season, Minot Vistas coach Todd Larson reiterated to his players that he wanted them to be playing their best baseball at the end of the season.

After 48 games filled with highs and lows, the postseason has arrived as the No. 5-seeded Vistas open their Class AA American Legion baseball state tournament against fourth-seeded West Fargo on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Jack Brown Stadium in Jamestown.

From Day 1, Larson hoped his team would be at its best at this point of the season, and he believes it is.

“I feel like our kids have made huge strides from the early part of the season, mentally and physically,” Larson said. “We’re excited to get the state tournament going.”

The Vistas (26-22) haven’t seen West Fargo since their season-opening doubleheader on June 5. The Patriots won both contests – 2-0 and 8-5. A doubleheader in West Fargo scheduled for June 11 was rained out.

Larson said he expects to see Cameron Bonnema on the mound for the Patriots. Bonnema shut out the Vistas in the season opener, allowing just two hits. He had a perfect game going through 4 1/3 innings and a no-hitter through 5 2/3.

“We saw them right away in the season when we were just starting to figure things out,” Vistas third baseman Brady Lampert said. “I think we’ve come a long way since then and so have they. It should be a good matchup.”

As for Minot’s starter, Larson said he hadn’t decided who will get the ball in the tournament opener, but noted it would most likely be between Demitry Zafra, Chandler Jacob and Grant Larson. Jacob and Larson started against the Patriots during the regular season. Larson leads the team with five wins and a 2.69 ERA. Zafra has pitched a team-high 46 innings while Larson and Jacob each have thrown over 30.

Regardless of who gets the nod, throwing strikes and limiting walks is a must. The Vistas pitching staff has issued 216 free passes this season.

“Our pitchers have to throw strikes,” Todd Larson said. “We’ve walked too many guys at times during the season and I think that’s gotten better. We have to fill up that strike zone.”

At the plate, Minot averages seven runs per game. Eight players are hitting over .300 and 10 have an on-base percentage over .400. Grant Larson leads the team in most offensive categories, including batting average (.404), hits (57), doubles (16), RBIs (66) and home runs (5).

Minot won’t be the only team at the state tournament that has improved since June.

“They’ll be a lot better, too,” Vistas catcher Jake Magnuson said. “We weren’t the only team that got better throughout the year. But it’s a state tournament and you never know what’s going to happen. The seeding doesn’t really matter once you get there. You just have to win and that’s everybody’s goal.”

The Vistas’ 2013 state tournament lasted all of three games. The Vistas opened with a loss to eventual state champion Fargo Post 2, stayed alive with a victory over Mandan before being eliminated by Dickinson. The Vistas hope this year’s state tournament trip lasts a bit longer, but they will need a complete effort to do so.

“For us it’s all three – hitting, pitching and fielding. We have to have all three going for us to have a chance to get deep in this tournament,” Todd Larson said.

For the Minot High players, it serves as a chance to wipe away the disappointment of going two-and-out at the West Region tournament – the last time they played in a double-elimination tournament.

“There’s definitely unfinished business,” Lampert said. “We just want to get really deep in the tournament and secure a first-round win that will set us up for success.”

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