Flair for the dramatics

Klabunde walk-off HR highlights Vistas sweep of Williston

Alex Eisen/MDN Vistas' Conor Taney (17) makes a leaping catch with Easton Bennett (18) watching on in the first game against Williston on Friday at Corbett Field.

Roaming back and making a catch in front of the imposing 400-foot sign in center field, Lofton Klabunde headed back to the Minot Vistas’ dugout in disbelief. Had he gone to any other part of the ballpark, Klabunde would have had a home run.

“I thought it had a chance,” Klabunde said. “I was hoping, but I got unlucky I guess.”

He recalculated and made up for it later.

With the help of a Klabunde extra inning walk-off home run in Game 1, the Minot Vistas (22-9) defeated the Williston Keybirds twice in an American Legion baseball doubleheader on Friday at Corbett Field, 3-2 and 12-3.

“After a while I was just saying to my teammates that we got to step up and win this one,” Klabunde said about Game 1. He took his own advice, “At the end, I found a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”

Williston threatened to score first in Game 1 with four singles and five runners left on base in the first three innings against Vistas starting pitcher Eli Stewart.

After Klabunde crushed his could-have-been home run about 390-feet to warning track in center field for an out, Williston’s George Callan found the right trajectory an inning later to clear the fence in left field with significantly less distance to put the Keybirds up 1-0.

The Vistas came just short of another home run in the bottom of the fourth inning, as Johnny Tubbs hooked a ball a few inches wide of the foul pole in left. Not dwelling on the missed opportunity, No. 7 hitter Alex Schimke and No. 8 hitter Paxten Wahlund came through with RBI singles later in the inning to give the Vistas a 2-1 lead.

“It’s good to have a deep lineup,” Wahlund said. “It helps with everyone being able to contribute and put up runs. Everyone helps out.”

The one-run advantage looked like it was going to hold up, but Tate Ferrell rescued the Keybirds late. Down to their final strike, Ferrell prevented Vistas closer Carson Tonini from shutting the door by hitting an RBI single between second baseman Conor Taney and third baseman Easton Bennett.

In the first frame of extra innings, Williston loaded the bases with one out. Tonini bunkered down and worked out of it with a shallow flyout to center field and a strikeout. The Keybirds outhit the Vistas 10-8, but it was Minot’s eighth hit that made all the difference.

After just missing a home run in his first at-bat of the day, it was only fitting Klabunde got the last laugh in the bottom of the eighth. The Vistas’ bench jumped up in celebration before the ball had even left Corbett Field. The sound off the bat was enough evidence that Klabunde had delivered the game-winner, 3-2.

It was Klabunde’s third home run of the season and the Vistas 15th as a team.

Minot opened Game 2 of the doubleheader by jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning without registering a hit. Williston starting pitcher Koby Klassen walked the bases loaded to start, issued another free pass to Eli Stewart on a full count for the first run and Taney cashed in with a sacrifice fly.

Stewart had to work a little harder in the third inning to get his second RBI of the game with a double off the wall in left. The Vistas went up 4-0 a couple batters later on an unfortunate bases loaded double play that scored Stewart.

Unexpectedly, Wahlund went deep in the bottom of the fifth inning for his first career home run. A two-run shot off the scoreboard in right field to put Minot up 6-0.

“It feels pretty good to finally get one out,” Wahlund said. “I had no idea it was out (for a home run) until I got to second base and the ump gave me the sign.”

On the mound, Minot starter Schimke cruised through five scoreless innings before getting hit around in the sixth. Giving up an RBI double to Chance Johnson and Ferrell, plus a sacrifice fly had the Keybirds cut the Vistas lead in half, 6-3.

The Vistas got all three of those runs back and more in the bottom half. Klabunde kept his hot bat going with a two-run double, a fielder’s choice error scored another run and a dropped fly ball in left field plated two more. Kyler Stenberg ended the onslaught with an RBI double.

When the dust settled, the Vistas had doubled up their lead 12-3. They scored their 12 runs on just seven hits. Four Vistas finished with multiple RBIs: Klabunde, Stewart, Taney and Wahlund.

Pitcher Broden Wunderlich closed out the victory with a 1-2-3 top of the seventh.

“We pitched pretty well and played pretty good defense,” Vistas coach Pat Arntson said. “We didn’t make our bats do too much. We gave up five runs total today in fifteen innings, that’s pretty good from our pitching staff.”

With the sweep, the Vistas continue their impressive run of form at Corbett Field with a 14-1 home record on the season.

The Vistas are on the road at Mandan next on Monday. The doubleheader is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. Minot swept Mandan earlier this season at home by scores of 1-0 and 7-3.

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.