Win or head home: Sabre Dogs host Big Sticks in first-ever Divisional playoff game

Alex Eisen/MDN Sabre Dogs pitcher Aaron Kern (center) congratulates Chauncey Callier (left) after a run scored in an Expedition League baseball game played earlier this season. The Souris Valley Sabre Dogs host an all-or-nothing Divisional playoff game against the Badlands Big Sticks at 7:05 p.m. this evening at Corbett Field.

After a grueling 64-game regular season, everything comes down to one game tonight at Corbett Field.

The Lewis Division champion Souris Valley Sabre Dogs (40-24) welcome the Badlands Big Sticks (33-31) to Minot for a Divisional playoff game to decide who will play for the inaugural Expedition League championship later this week. There is no place to hide, one nine-inning game will determine the Sabre Dogs’ fate.

“Baseball is a crazy sport and anything can happen,” Souris Valley coach Corey Thompson said. “So, a one-game playoff makes me extra nervous.”

The pressure that comes with an all-or-nothing playoff game is both nerve-wracking and exciting.

“A two out of three (series) would make it a little bit easier just because baseball is so crazy,” Thompson said. “But, a one-game playoff, I guess it makes it more fun and more interesting.”

The Big Sticks hold a slim 9-8 series edge over the Sabre Dogs in the regular season. The two teams were hard to separate with 10 out of the 17 games being decided by one run.

They also know each other pretty well as of lately. Over the Sabre Dogs last 17 games, they played the Big Sticks 11 times. That includes ending the regular season with a split against Badlands over the weekend.

“Whether we won or loss, it was always a one run or two run game,” Thompson said. “It’s always within one swing of the bat that could change the game.”

Right-handed pitcher Seth Kuykendall will be called upon to get the start tonight for the Sabre Dogs despite only starting four games all season. He carries a 5-0 record and 3.22 ERA on the season in 50.1 innings pitched.

“We have seen (Badlands) a lot,” Kuykendall said. “They have a lot of good left-handed hitters, so I have to have my changeup on because that’s the pitch that really keeps them honest. Just throw a lot of strikes and keep them off balance.”

Thompson added: “If we get a good start on the mound from Seth, then we can come out on top. Hopefully, Seth can give us five to seven (innings), somewhere in there. Then, we are set up and we have (Austin) Kern, (Jesse) Ellefson and (Zach) Lang in the bullpen.”

All season long, Souris Valley has provided its pitchers with run support. The Sabre Dogs led the league in runs scored (539), hits (719), triples (24) and total bases (1,104). They tied with the Pierre Trappers for the most team home runs (70) and RBIs (464).

EJ Ranel, from Chattahoochee Valley Community College, dominated the summer and set some lofty franchise single season records in the Sabre Dogs first summer. With a stunning triple crown performance in just 46 games played, Ranel led the league in batting average (.466), home runs (20) and RBIs (68).

Also batting over .300 and knocking in at least 20 runs were Justin Glover, Mason Dinesen, Chauncey Callier, Clay Ashworth, Jack Schuler and Brock Baughcum.

“They have been awesome all year,” Thompson said about his offense. “If we don’t come out on top, then it is what it is. But, they earned the right to be here. We will see what happens.”

The theme for tonight’s game at Corbett Field is a blue out and first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

“It’s been a super long summer, but it’s been fun getting to work every day with these guys,” Kuykendall said. “It’s kind of sad that it’s coming to an end because I’ve gotten pretty close to these guys over the course of a couple months. It’s been an awesome experience.”

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