Back on track

VELVA – Before its first game of the year, Velva-Drake-Anamoose’s baseball team – the two-time defending Region 6 champion – had suffered just two region losses since 2014 en route to consecutive fourth-place finishes at the Class B state tournament.

Not bad.

But that brand of success has been lost on the Aggies in recent weeks.

With counting contests already played against Central McLean and Bishop Ryan, V-D-A lost twice in as many games – both by one-run results – to kick off its 2016 region campaign.

“We’ve left a lot of runners on base our first few games,” V-D-A coach Matt Weidler said. “That cost us.”

Needing victory to avoid an 0-3 start, the Aggies got back to their winning ways on Thursday.

“It was nice to see the guys produce here and find ways to get guys in,” Weidler said.

On a gorgeous afternoon at Buen Field, V-D-A needed just six innings to dispatch Max-Garrison 17-7. The Aggies (1-2 Region 6) and Cossacks (1-2) are now level at the bottom of the region standings, still more than a game back of first-place Central McLean.

“We just put the ball in play,” Weidler said. “When you do that, sometimes you get a hit, sometimes you get an error here and there, and then all of the sudden you’re scoring runs. It was good to see.”

The Aggies racked up 14 hits on Max-Garrison starting pitcher Ty Zacharias – who conceded 11 runs on nine hits over five innings – as nine of V-D-A’s batters scored at least one run while eight others registered at least one RBI.

But Zacharias’ defense didn’t do him any favors.

Over six innings, the Cossacks fell victim to a whopping nine errors, three of which were committed in the Aggies’ six-run sixth.

“In the middle innings we just kicked the ball around a little bit,” Max-Garrison coach Jade Larson said. “We didn’t make outs when they gave us outs.”

And V-D-A took advantage.

After conceding a run in the first inning, the Aggies responded with two in the bottom of the same frame, the first of which was unearned, as senior infielder Kobe Bright initially reached on an outfield miscue before scoring on Jeseb Mogen’s RBI single.

Then, with V-D-A sporting a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the third, the Cossacks committed two additional errors as the Aggies tacked on six more runs – half of which were plated by Bright’s three-run double to deep center.

“Just getting that ball in play and making the opposing defense make plays is a big deal,” V-D-A junior pitcher Nick Effertz said.

After a while, Max-Garrison started hitting, too.

The Cossacks limited V-D-A to just one run over the fourth and fifth innings, and shrunk their deficit to four by the middle of the sixth inning. Max-Garrison plated three runs in the sixth alone helped by a pair of V-D-A errors – to make it 11-7.

“I’m proud of the kids for battling back,” Larson said. “We made it a four-run game, and then in the last inning we were dropping the ball in the infield and had a few go under our legs. You’re not going to beat a team like Velva doing that. We have to be better in the field.”

Needing six runs to end the game early, the Aggies brought 10 batters to the plate before capping their second six-run frame of the afternoon. With relief pitcher Casey Kramer – who went 1-for-3 at the plate with two runs scored – on the mound, V-D-A racked up five hits in the inning along with two hit batsmen.

Senior infielder Bryce Florence provided the knockout punch, as his RBI single to left brought home the Aggies’ game-clinching run.

Bright led the way for V-D-A at the plate, finishing 3-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs scored. Senior Shad Vedaa and junior Aaron Dean also registered two RBIs apiece, while sophomore Jon Thomas went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.

All but two of V-D-A’s starters scored at least two runs. All but one tallied at least one hit.

“We know we can be at the top of the region if we just do our jobs,” said Effertz, who gave up six hits and two earned runs over five innings on the hill. “We’ve had a couple close games where we know we didn’t play our best. If we can come in and get to work on our remaining games, I think we’ll win quite a few.”

Said Weidler: “It’s early, but the region tournament is coming up quick. I think we’re down to three weeks of regular-season play here, but I think our chances are as good as anybody else. I think any other coach in our region would say the exact same thing. We’ve all beat each other up here through the first round of seeing everybody, so it’s up for grabs. It’s going to come down to who’s playing the most consistent.”

Joe Mellenbruch covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.