The Surrey-Our Redeemer's Christian School Mustangs made a habit of scratching their way back into games last season, clawing toward contention when all hope was seemingly lost.
The most dramatic of their 16 wins came against eventual region runner-up Velva-Draka-Anamoose, an 18-17 slugfest win highlighted by a six-run comeback effort from the Mustangs in the bottom of the seventh.
A young team, Surrey-ORCS will be back at it again this spring, but is surely hoping to avoid digging out of such deep holes.
MDN File Photo
Junior shortstop Noah Knipp and Surrey-Our Redeemer’s Christian School opens its season Friday against Thompson. The Mustangs placed third in the Region 6 tournament last year.
MDN File Photo
Surrey-ORCS finished the 2013 season at 16-15. The Mustangs have plenty of returning players, and only two seniors.
The Mustangs finished just above .500 last season - 16-15 - while taking third at the Region 6 tournament. Surrey-ORCS coach Bruce Mack believes his team can accomplish even more.
"I think we're gonna compete with everybody," Mack said. "We just need to find a way to win those close games that we scratched and clawed for last spring. We have to find a way to get over the hump, and hopefully with some of the experience we have, I'm hoping we can do that and learn how to win those close games."
Surrey-ORCS also gave region champion Bishop Ryan a late run for its money last season. The Mustangs charged back with seven runs in the final two innings, but their comeback effort fell short in a 10-7 loss.
The key for the Mustangs will be to avoid early deficits.
Mack believes that a shortened season last spring robbed his young players of valuable varsity innings, something he says could have helped add experience to the team.
"I think it would have benefited us to play more games, obviously," Mack said, "and it would have helped other people, too. But I think it would have helped us more than anybody because we're so young, so inexperienced.
"Sometimes, with that game-situation stuff, you can't really practice that. It's just not the same. I think it would have helped us a lot to have that extra time, those extra games and extra reps."
Like all other North Dakota high school baseball programs, Mack hopes to have his Mustangs on the field sooner this spring, giving his young group the game time they need to progress.
And progress is something that Surrey-ORCS is very interested in achieving. The team hasn't made a state tournament appearance in 11 years.
The Mustangs aim to end that drought.
"We're young on paper, but the nice thing is that the young guys we have coming back have another year of experience," Surrey-ORCS assistant coach Jeremy Heller said. "We feel like we have a nice crew this year that can do some good things. We're just hoping we can put it all together."
But the Mustangs will need to be careful, according to Mack. Just because the team is a year older does not mean guaranteed improvement.
"We're going to return a lot of experience, but we have to make that work for us," Mack said. "We can't just be a year older and think that's going to work by itself. We're still young compared to the other teams in our region."
After a slow start to the season, the Mustangs went on to qualify as the No. 4 seed at the 2013 Region 6 tournament. After defeating Central McLean in the first round, Surrey-ORCS found itself squared off with V-D-A, the team it had so stunningly defeated just weeks prior.
The Mustangs lost that game 8-1, but they rebounded for a third-place finish.
"I was very pleased with the way we ended out season last year, even though we got beat," Mack said. "We played great in the regional tournament, and if we had gotten an extra break here and there, we probably were in the regional championship game, but that's baseball and that's the way it goes."
Mack hopes to bring the Mustangs back to the state tournament this season.
"We've had a pretty strong tradition in Surrey of having good baseball and making state tournaments," Mack said. "We shoot for a regional championship spot and a chance to go to the state tournament every year."
The Mustangs open their season at 3:30 p.m. on Friday at home against Thompson.
Joe Mellenbruch covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.