If there was a silver lining in Minot High's unusual absence from last year's Class A state baseball tournament, it's that the Magicians were able to develop a wealth of young talent.
The senior-loaded roster of 2012 saw its share of underclassmen log innings in a less-than-memorable 14-18 campaign, and 17th-year coach Pete Stenberg is looking to get a return on that investment.
Junior slugger Kolton Larson - an all-West Region selection last spring - headlines a group looking to atone for the postseason whiff when the Magi open their season next Thursday at Bismarck Century.
"(Missing state) left a sour taste in our mouths," Stenberg said. "But now it's the start of a marathon season and we're looking to get back (to state)."
Outside of seniors Caleb Fornshell (shortstop) and Hunter Oothoudt (third base), Minot's returning experience is thin and comprised of juniors and sophomores.
Juniors Larson (designated hitter), Chandler Jacob (pitcher/outfield) and Brady Lampert (second base) are expected to start along with sophmores Grant Larson (first base) and Zach Danelson (catcher).
A pair of unexpected commodities figure to give the Magicians a boost, too.
Two imports - Dimitry Zafra of Naples, Fla., and Wesley Johnson of San Antonio - add experience and much-needed depth to Minot's battery.
Both starters at their former big-school programs, Zafra brings a strong right arm to the Magicians' rotation. Johnson, a capable hitter, plays catcher and infield.
"They're both looking pretty good," Kolton Larson said of the transfers. "You can never really tell until you get into a game, but to have a couple unexpected guys will really help."
Zafra and Jacob will lead a rotation of seven pitchers looking to make up for the void left by graduated all-West Region pitcher Austin Berntson.
"We're pretty deep with our pitching," Larson said. "We're throwing a lot of guys in practice each day."
At the plate, Larson is expected to bring power to the middle of Minot's lineup once again. Oothoudt and Fornshell were also trusty hitters a year ago.
A state-tournament regular, Minot finished fifth in the West Region before bowing out to St. Mary's in a 13-inning state-tournament qualifier. Stenberg expects the road to the West Region crown to be arduous again but sees his club in the mix.
"It was a well-balanced league last year and it will be again this year," Stenberg said. "I'd say Bismarck and Century are the favorites."