Bishop Ryan begins climb back to the top

Ashton Gerard/MDN Ryan’s Logan Merck unloads a pitch from the mound during a Class B baseball game last season at Corbett Field.

This time around, the Lions won’t be entering the new season as the kings of the jungle.

The then No. 1-seeded Bishop Ryan/South Prairie baseball team was in full control during last season’s Region 6 championship game against No. 2-seeded Velva/Drake-Anamoose on May 22, 2018. With a second straight state tournament appearance on the line, the Lions held a comfortable 5-2 lead entering the bottom of the sixth inning.

That’s when the Aggies caught fire and scored six runs in the inning to gain an 8-5 advantage. VDA never looked back, as it secured the 8-6 victory to advance to its first state tournament since 2015.

Meanwhile, Ryan’s season came to a screeching halt.

“(The loss) gives a lot of motivation,” senior Mason Hedberg said. “We felt like we were the better team, but we just didn’t play well enough to get it done. We’re kind of looking forward to proving people wrong and showing that we’re still around. Our end goal is to get back to the state tournament.”

But with a new season comes a clean slate, as the Lions are set to begin their climb back to the top of the food chain.

Overseeing the journey is newly-appointed head coach, Ben Magnuson. A former player and assistant for Ryan, the fresh-faced coach will look to continue the program’s winning tradition in the aftermath of former head coach and 2018 Region 6 Coach of the Year Fred Nelson’s resignation.

“I’ve been around the program for close to 10 years now,” Magnuson said. “I know what’s expected with this team, and I’ve learned a lot from some great coaches since I’ve been here. I’m just trying to take in what I’ve learned, apply a little bit of that and also put my own stamp on it.”

Fortunately for Magnuson and the pride, Ryan boasts a roster filled with both seasoned veterans and talented underclassmen.

Heading the list of vets is Hedberg, a standout basketball player equally adept at inflicting damage on the diamond. The senior second baseman has started the past three seasons and occupies the top portion of the hitting rotation with a keen eye for the ball at the plate and some speed to boot.

It’s this speed that seems to be the norm for all of Ryan’s players, as the team plans to do most of its damage with its lightning-quick runners.

“We lost a little bit of power from last year, but I think we’re going to be a lot quicker,” Magnuson said. “We’re going to use our quickness to our advantage, play a lot of small ball and run the bases really well.”

Leading the young guns is Logan Merck, a sophomore pitcher/shortstop that brings some versatility to the team. Despite being an underclassmen, Merck enters the new season with plenty of experience and figures to be a staple for the Lions this time around.

“I think we’re a solid baseball team,” Merck said. “A lot of these players have played many years on this team, including myself, so I think the leadership is there…I think we can make a good run.”

Providing some brute force at the plate is junior Calvin Watkins, a heavy hitter in the middle of the lineup. Then there’s junior Kersey Harris, a skilled wrestler that also keeps opposing base runners honest as the team’s catcher.

With so many pieces in the mix, the Lions will look to find their rhythm in the start of the season before region play begins. Ryan will kick things off on Saturday when it travels to Shiloh Christian to face the Skyhawks at 5 p.m.

“A lot of it is going to be learning right away,” Magnuson said. “We’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but the best way to get better in baseball is to make those mistakes and learn from them. That’s really what we’re going to have to do these first few games.”

Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.