Bright future ahead

It may not have been the ending the Minot Vistas American Legion baseball team was hoping for, losing 18-10 to Grand Forks in an elimination game in the Class AA state tournament, but there were plenty of positive moments during the 2014 season.

That’s not to say there weren’t growing pains, because there were. The Vistas struggled out of the gate to the tune of a 1-5 record. Minot’s strength of schedule had a little bit to do with that as well as the Vistas hosted doubleheaders with West Fargo, Fargo Post 2 and Grand Forks – three of the top four seeds in the state tournament – to open the regular season. Minot was mercied twice and outscored 46-16 during that stretch.

The Vistas found their bats from then on, posting 46 runs over the next four games during a four-game winning streak. They plated a season-high 22 runs in a 22-14 victory over Williston on June 21. Minot scored 10 or more runs 17 times. The Vistas accomplished that feat twice in the state tournament.

“We played some awfully good competition,” Minot coach Todd Larson said. “Once we got into the middle of the season we played pretty good baseball and, just as we had hoped, we played our best baseball at the end of the year.”

Larson reached a coaching milestone in the Vistas’ first win of the season – a 5-4 victory over Fargo Post 2. The win was his 700 career victory as a coach. He won 143 games as the coach of the Minot Metros. Following a 28-24 year this past season, Larson is approaching 600 victories with the Vistas. He is 16 wins shy of that feat.

Grant Larson led the Vistas in nearly every statistical category, compiling 66 hits, 18 doubles, eight home runs, 80 RBIs, a .420 batting average and a .520 on-base percentage. He was one of eight Vistas who batted over .300.

Hunter Duttenhefer had a team-high 50 hits – 45 of them singles. Alex Mack led the way with three triples, Chandler Jacob had 59 runs and 44 walks in the leadoff position and Brady Lampert got hit 22 times – 13 more than any other Vista.

Demitry Zafra didn’t factor into the offense, but he had quite an impact on the mound. He tossed a team-high 54 innings, his best performance coming in a complete-game one-hitter against Mandan in Minot’s first elimination game of the state tournament.

“Demitry Zafra certainly answered the bell in that loser-out game against Mandan,” Todd Larson said. “He looked like an ace that day.”

Zafra had the second-lowest ERA (3.24) and the lowest WHIP (1.56). He was one of three pitchers with a positive strikeout-to-walk ratio, striking out a team-best 41 while walking 27.

Larson (422/3 IP) and Jacob (402/3) were Minot’s second- and third-most used arms. Larson recorded a team-best five wins in 15 appearances, sporting a 3.45 ERA. Jacob went 2-2 in 10 appearances with a 3.79 ERA.

Dalton Cooper had an unblemished 4-0 record in 16 appearances. He had a team-best 3.23 ERA. He allowed 14 earned runs in 30 1/3 innings pitched.

The state tournament provided the Vistas with their most memorable moment. Trailing 7-4 to Fargo Post 400 and down to their final strike, Jake Magnuson blooped a three-run single to right field in his final at-bat, tying the game. Jacob won it with an infield single to add one final game to Minot’s season.

“I’ve been around the game a long time and you just don’t see that happen very often when you score that many runs with two outs,” Todd Larson said. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid in Jake Magnuson.”

With all the new faces this season, the Vistas advanced further into the state tournament than the previous season. With college freshmen again being allowed to play Legion baseball next year, the Vistas can return as many as 11 players. Only Austin Eggl, Magnuson, Lampert and Shawn Danielson are ineligible to return due to age limitations.

“We’re excited (about next season),” Todd Larson said. “Guys like Chandler Jacob, Alex Mack and Grant Larson, who were second-year players this year, made some big gains from their summer last year. Very, very excited about what 2015 could bring if everybody gets into that weight room, puts in a lot of time in the cage and throws that baseball around.”

Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft24_MDN.