WEST FARGO - A day after Austin Berntson's Minot Vistas struck out 18 times in a first-round loss to Fargo, the left-hander put on a show of his own Thursday.
Not to be outdone, Berntson matched Fargo's Casey Quinlan for the tournament-high by recording his 18th strikeout for the final out in a 3-0 win, making Mandan the first team eliminated from the American Legion Class A State Tournament. Phil Shirek set the Vistas' single-game strikeout record with 21 in a national semifinal game in 2001, Minot coach Todd Larson said.
"The reason I got 18 is I just went out there with confidence and I wish more of our pitchers would be out there with confidence," Berntson said. "We believe in all our pitchers, I just wish they went out there knowing that they're the best player on the field."
Berntson grew stronger as the game progressed and struck out six straight Chiefs (11-34) in the seventh and eighth innings. He gave up just three hits. Hunter Oothoudt, who took the loss in his start Wednesday, returned to his spot behind the plate for Berntson's career high in strikeouts.
"It makes it really easy for the catcher if you have an awesome performance on the hill like Bernie did today," Oothoudt said. "He hit every spot that I lined up for him, so it was just perfect."
The No. 5 seed Vistas (25-21) kept their title hopes alive and will play at 11 a.m. for the third straight day when they take on No. 8 Dickinson (23-23) today in another loser-out game.
Minot's struggles at the plate continued against No. 10 Mandan, but Brady Lampert broke out of his slump with a two-run single in the eighth inning. Lampert struck out three times in Wednesday's 11-1 loss and was fanned in his first two at-bats against Mandan's Parker Harm.
"I just kept my head up," Lampert said. "I kept saying to myself, 'I'm gonna get a hit in the next at-bat,' and it came up big. The bases were loaded and I just stuck to it.
"I've been struggling for quite awhile now and I think things are gonna turn around for us."
Harm, 16, had eight strikeouts and settled in after giving up a run and three hits in the first inning. He struck out the side in the fourth inning and limited Minot to one runner in innings three through six. Harm gave up six hits and walked four in 7 2/3 innings.
"Those are the games that as a coach you hope for and to be honest those are the games that I expect of him," Mandan coach Ryne Jungling said. "He's got that talent, he's a competitor like very few, he competes real hard and he just kept the ball around the zone."
Marcus Quist, the only Vista with multiple hits in the game, connected for his second single in the eighth. Berntson was intentionally walked with two outs, despite being 0 for 7 in the tournament to that point. Oothoudt was hit to load the bases and Lampert followed with the single.
"I called Brady over and Grant (Larson) over and just told 'em, 'Hey, you guys are our starters,' " Todd Larson said. " 'Don't worry about it, hits are gonna come. You know, don't press. Just try to get your pitch, put a good swing on things,' and (Lampert) was able to do that. Couldn't be happier for him."
Larson also couldn't be happier with his pitching choice.
"My gut told me to start Bernie and that's who we went with," he said. "Thank goodness we did because we needed a shutout the way we were swinging the bats again.
"We're around for one more day. That's all we can ask for at this point."
Berntson's shutout included just two walks. The second walk followed an error at third base by Lampert to start the ninth. Berntson retired the next three batters.
"I felt like I could locate very well," Bernston said. "Oothoudt would call a pitch outside and I'd hit that pitch outside. I had command of my pitches today. When you have command you can work with things. You can change eye levels and make them think, 'Oh, he's gonna throw it up here, but then he can throw it down over the other way.' "
Quist finished 2 for 4 with an RBI and Lampert was 1 for 3 with two RBIs and a stolen base.
Dickinson took three of the four meetings with Minot in the regular season. Berntson was the lone Minot winner in a 2-1 battle with Minot State University teammate James Kary. Kary pitched Dickinson to a 11-1 win over No. 9 Williston on Tuesday. Alex Huschka was the losing pitcher as the Roughriders fell 4-0 to No. 1 West Fargo on Wednesday.
Larson plans to start Shawn Danielson (5-0) today. The winner of Minot and Dickinson plays Grand Forks at 5 p.m. today in another elimination game.
Tim Chapman covers the Vistas and Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.