We’ve had back-to-back seasons of Sheyenne defeating Shanley for the Class A state baseball title. What are the odds that we see a 3-peat? Pretty good, actually, as both squads return some great talent. I give Shanley a slight edge in the preview below because their lineup is stacked, but Sheyenne pitcher Casey Clemenson is as good as it gets on the mound. Out west, I think Minot and Dickinson will be in contention.
My top five teams are below along with bubble teams. This year, I’ve added my “extra innings” portion which offers a brief preview of additional teams that submitted a response to my preseason questionnaire. Thank you to all the coaches who took the time to respond! Enjoy the preview and let’s play ball!
Class A Baseball
After back-to-back runner-up finishes at state, is this the year that the Deacons break through and win the program’s second Class A state title? They certainly have the tools to get the job done and I think they’re viewed as the favorites. The majority of the Class A coaches I heard back from are high on the Deacons, too. Shanley returns several starters headlined by a couple of all-state returners in junior shortstop Tommy Simon and junior outfielder/pitcher Jordan Leininger. Pitchers won’t get much of a break facing the Deacons lineup. Simon hit .446 last year with 14 RBI, while Leininger drove in 24 runs with a .418 average. Adam Leininger (.417 BA, 21 RBI), Landon Meier (.265 BA, 17 RBI) and Sam Ovsak (.344, 14 RBI) are dangerous hitters, as well. The defense should be strong, too, and they’ll need it to be with some question marks in the pitching staff. Jordan Leininger is the only pitcher back with big game and big inning experience. Sophomore Boden Meier had his season cut short last year after breaking his foot. Meanwhile, Beckett Stimpson suffered a season ending knee injury midway through last season. Michael Rostberg, who quarterbacked the Shanley football team to a state title in the fall, returns to the diamond after a one-year absence. He can reach the low 80s with his fastball and they’ll need him to take one of the starting spots.
The 2-time defending state champions can make their own case for being number one. In my opinion, they have the best pitcher in the state in left-hander Casey Clemenson (Neosho commit). Last spring, the all-state pick finished 5-0, struck out 58 batters and surrendered only one earned run in 34.33 innings pitched. That one earned run came in the state championship victory over Shanley where he went the distance striking out eight batters in the 3-1 victory. Junior Caleb Duerr is also coming off a stellar season on the mound in which he boasted a 3-0 record with a 1.06 ERA. If the Mustangs want to make a bid for a 3-peat they’ll need some new faces to step up offensively. Five of the six players that drove in 10+ runs last year graduated including all-state pick Tate Gustafson (team-high 31 RBI). Duerr and his .424 BA return. Guys like Trey Stocker (NIACC commit) and Konner Entz (DMACC commit) will be called on to add some punch in the lineup, as well. If the Mustangs can get some solid hitting to pair with their star pitching, they should have a great chance to play for another state title.
A team from the west hasn’t reached the Class A state title game since 2019 when Century defeated Minot for a 2nd consecutive state championship. Keep in mind that the 2020 season was cancelled due to COVID-19. Minot has a good chance to end that drought after coming on strong late last season to place 4th at state. The Magi are led by their lone all-conference returner senior P/IF Morgan Nygaard. He’s been a standout athlete for a few years now in the Magic city. Expect big things from seniors Tyler Buchanan, Eli Nissen and sophomore C/SS Kellan Burke. Nissen announced his commitment to play baseball at Creighton University in October. He starred for Minot as a sophomore but didn’t play for the team as a junior. He’s back on the roster this year and will be viewed as one of the top arms in the state with a fastball that has been clocked in the low 90s. The Magi were voted as the preseason #1 in the WDA by the coaches, but I could see Dickinson and Century making a big push for that top spot too. I’ll keep Minot in 3rd because I expect their pitching to be strong.
Dickinson is one of the programs you can count on as being in the mix every year. A lot of that has to do with the reigning NDHSCA Coach of the Year Pete Dobitz. The Midgets finished 26-4 last season to earn the WDA regular season crown and eventually a 3rd place finish at state. DHS graduated a very gifted senior class headlined by senior athlete of the year Troy Berg. The emphasis early for this group will be getting every player locked in on the fundamentals, especially when it comes to pitching and defense. Dickinson will have an entirely new starting infield and they graduated 15 of their 26 wins on the mound from last year. They’ll lean on senior P/SS Jadon Bast both offensively and defensively. Bast, an Augustana University commit, hit .427 last year and recorded a 5-1 mark on the mound to go with a 2.406 ERA. He’s also the team captain despite being a homeschool student. That gives you a good idea of how intentional he is with his leadership skills. Look for returners like Jace Kovash (.297 BA) and Jeremiah Jilek (.303 BA) to lead an inexperienced batting lineup that’ll see some new names emerge.
5. Red River
The Roughriders lived up to their nickname last year with a rocky season. Mark Varriano’s bunch opened the year by winning eight of their first nine contests, but the season hit a roadblock against the conference’s best with three straight losses to Shanley, Sheyenne and West Fargo. Then in the EDC tournament, the Roughriders dropped a quarterfinal to Wahpeton before upsetting West Fargo to get into a state qualifier game against North. The Spartans took that game, and the season was history for Red River. The good news for the red and black is that nearly everyone is back. 2022 All-state pick P/INF Brett Feller and future Golden Gopher INF/P Gunnar Heuchert lead the way for a team that’s loaded with seniors and varsity experience. Heuchert’s strong defensive play and consistency at the plate make him one of the top prospects in the Dakotas. Another senior that’ll be at the top of opposing team’s scouting reports is Mason Stroh (NIACC commit) because of what he can do on the mound and in the batter’s box. Don’t be surprised if Red River gets off to another strong start.
The Patriots won the WDA tournament title and finished 6th at state last year. They return four starters including junior Gavin Lill (.404 BA, 13 RBI) in center field and senior Carter Krueger (.347 BA, 23 RBI) at 3rd base. Head coach Kent Schweigert wants to see his pitching improve from last year. “We have to make improvements from last year. As a staff we walked too many and put too much pressure on the defense. We need to get ahead in the count and challenge the hitters more.” If they can get some younger arms to step up look for the Patriots to be in the mix for a WDA title.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Spartans build off last year’s 14-9 record which included a state tournament berth. Head coach Nate Walsh feels really good about his pitching with Charlie Kalbrener, Peter Dorsher, Brady Manly and Zach LaMont (NIACC commit) all capable of working deep into games. Kalbrener was limited on the mound last year due to injury but he’s looking strong right now hitting speeds in the upper 80s with his fastball. The junior also hit .372 at the dish a season ago. Timely hitting will be critical for the Spartans to make some noise in the postseason.
2022 was a successful season for the Sabers in that they finished 17-7 overall and 14-4 in WDA play to finish WDA runner-up for the regular season. The bad news was that the Sabers stumbled in the WDA tournament and failed to qualify for state. Legacy did graduate eight players off last year’s roster, but head coach Eddie Streeter has done a nice job of building this program up to be a consistent contender even when the roster has a large turnover. Lucas Vasey and Marcus Butts return after all-region campaigns a year ago as sophomores.
The Huskies emerged as a dark horse last year and surprised a lot of people with their run to the EDC tournament championship game where they lost to eventual state champ Sheyenne. Keep this in mind, no team scored more runs against Sheyenne in the postseason than the Huskies (four). The Huskies have quite a bit of varsity experience returning after graduating just a trio of seniors. SS/P Caden Kappes and IF/P Caden Hockert are a couple of talented players to keep an eye on.
The Demons have nowhere to go but up after missing out on the WDA tournament for the first time in program history last year. 13 players return with varsity experience (eight seniors and five sophomores) including all the team’s main pitchers. Look for Cole Jahner to take the leadership reins as he enters his third year of varsity play.
The Knights are coming off a 5-win season but return seven starters. UM Crookston commit Chanceler Colgrove and Minot State commit Cole Barta will anchor the squad on the mound and at the plate. Head coach Tim Gregoire is looking forward to the season, “we can hit the ball as good as anyone and our pitchers will give our defense a chance to get outs.”
Last season was a grind for the Eagles. They had no varsity experience entering the year and finished 1-17. Head coach Hans Anderson says, “With a year of experience and growth, we hope to see the off-season work show this season. Our players battled through a tough year last year and are eager to prove themselves this year.” Chayse Keller was one of the top hitters on the team last year with a .345 BA and 9 RBI.
The Firebirds return five starters from a team that finished 6-8 in 2022. Head coach Brent Luehring is excited about the potential in his freshmen and sophomore classes. Senior 3B/P Jackson Baeth hit .400 last year with 9 doubles and 14 RBI.
The Hawks make their varsity debut this season after finishing 10-7 as a JV squad last spring. The roster is made up of a couple juniors, a handful of sophomores and freshmen and an 8th grader. First year head coach Quinn Irey wants his team to focus on generating offense in whatever way they can to win ball games.
The Braves return five starters from a team that finished 18-7 overall last year yet failed to reach the state tournament. Mandan does have to replace a trio of all-staters but head coach Dewitt Mack feels good about the team’s pitching depth.
The Bruins return all but one starter from last year. Head coach Nathan Sillerud feels good about his pitching and defense entering the season but knows that timely hitting will be imperative if they want to make some noise in the EDC. Freshman Carson Shiek will be a popular name on the recruiting circuit. He was South’s top pitcher as an 8th grader last season.
The Saints won twelve games last year which resulted in an 8th place finish in the WDA. Led by seniors Tommy Kraljic and Matt Porter (BSC commit) the roster has potential to make a sizable leap in the standings. Both of those guys are strong pitchers and consistent at the plate.
The Hi-Liners have four starters back from last year’s team that finished 7-10. Seniors Broden Muske (.378 BA) and Gavin Gerhardt (.323 OBP, 6 stolen bases) are the top offensive threats. Fellow senior Max Mehus logged 38 innings last year and recorded a 2.20 ERA.
The Packers have been waiting to get back on the baseball diamond ever since seeing their promising 2022 campaign come to a screeching halt. West Fargo took a perfect EDC record and the top seed into the conference tournament only to be knocked out with losses to Valley City and Red River. Brett Peterson’s team graduated 11 seniors but do return some good experience up the middle of the defense. The mission early on will be developing depth on the mound with junior Caleb Anderson being the lone pitcher with varsity experience.
The Coyotes return an all-state pick in senior P/INF Kadin Finders (Dickinson State commit). Head coach Aaron Finders says the keys to success for his team will be developing pitching depth and improving their situational hitting and baserunning.
Filed Under Power Rankings | Varsity Sports | ND High School | Baseball/Softball