Magi set for state baseball tournament in their own backyard

Justin Martinez/MDN Minot High School sophomore Kaleb Bellew (13) slides into third base during a regular-season baseball game at Corbett Field.

Corbett Field is just under a mile away from Minot High School, but it took much more than just a short drive down the road for the Magicians to get there.

The West Region Tournament in Bismarck couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for the No. 6-seeded Magi last Thursday, or so it seemed. A 9-3 loss to No. 3-seeded Dickinson in the opening round put the team’s season in jeopardy, as it now needed to win two loser-out games across the next two days to keep its season alive.

Then the rain came. Officials ruled the fields to be unplayable on Friday, forcing the Magi to play two loser-out games on Saturday with a trip to the state tournament on the line.

It was a daunting task, but Minot didn’t flinch. Instead, the Magi outlasted No. 7-seeded Jamestown for a 5-4 win and toppled No. 4-seeded Mandan by a score of 4-2.

Their reward: Hosting the state tournament at Corbett Field for the first time ever.

“The kids just had a willingness to compete (at the WDA tournament),” MHS head coach Pete Stenberg said. “They were resilient, and they fought back… Now the kids are pretty pumped to be hosting the state tournament back here in Minot. I think that’s going to be a big plus for us.”

The home field advantage brings obvious advantages from a competitive standpoint. The Magi will get to sleep in their own beds as opposed to sharing a hotel room. They’ll get to make the short drive to Corbett while other teams ride on buses for multiple hours, etc.

But the biggest plus is more on the sentimental side. Reaching the tournament guarantees at least two more games in front of a home crowd.

Perhaps the person that cherishes those extra games at home the most is Kyler Stenberg, a senior for the Magi and the son of head coach Pete Stenberg.

Pete has been coaching Kyler since his T-ball days, and now the duo is on the home stretch of their time on the diamond together. It’s a home stretch that Kyler hopes will be a lengthy one.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Kyler said. “Other than like a two-year stretch when I was 13 or 14, he has coached me all the way up to now. It might sink in during the next few days, but we’ll see how it goes.”

First up for the Magi is an opening-round matchup with the No. 1 seed out of the East Region, West Fargo Sheyenne.

After missing out on last year’s state tournament, the Mustangs redeemed themselves by defeating Fargo North by a score of 12-6 in the East Region championship to reach the big dance.

Leading the charge for Sheyenne in that game was Alexander Urlaub, who recorded four hits and four RBIs in the win. Fellow sophomore Lance Oster also drove in two runs in the winning effort.

The last time the Mustangs were in the state tournament was in 2015 when they made it all the way to the state title game. For the Magi, they’re hoping to use their momentum to halt Sheyenne’s run much sooner than that.

“I think we’re playing some of our better baseball of the season right now,” Pete Stenberg said. “We’ve been pitching really well and have had some really timely hitting. The kids have some pretty good rhythm…so we’re in pretty good shape right now.”

Minot will lean on its seasoned veterans in the high-stakes battle, and that includes Kyler. The 6-foot-1 right fielder has been on a rampage in the month of May, going 20-for-52 (.385 batting average) while recording 15 RBIs and 14 runs.

Aiding him is fellow senior Alex Schimke, who has been consistently brilliant all year. The Lower Columbia commit connected on 38 of 81 at-bats (.469 batting average) and racked up 29 runs and 15 RBIs in the regular season.

It’s heavy hitters like Kyler and Schimke that the Magi plan to unleash early on against Sheyenne in an effort to fluster a Mustangs group that will be the home team on the scoreboard but not in the stands.

“We want to put a little pressure on them and see if we can score first,” Pete Stenberg said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to get in that game and put it all on the line.”

But Kyler and Schimke aren’t the only seasoned players for the Magi. Minot returns seven players from the group that placed fourth in last year’s state tournament — six of which saw time on the field.

Now this veteran core, along with a number of young contributors, will try to work their magic once again in their own backyard.

“I think that experience is huge,” Kyler said. “It kind of gets rid of those first-game jitters that you tend to have… We know what to expect, and we know what we have to do.”

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