Sabre Dogs return for another Expedition League season

Alex Eisen/MDN The Souris Valley Sabre Dogs huddle up before taking the field at Corbett Field in an Expedition League summer baseball game played last season in Minot. The Sabre Dogs open the 2019 season on Friday at Corbett Field.

With rain drizzling down, the Souris Valley Sabre Dogs brushed off the slight inconvenience to hold a workout session that was open to the public Wednesday evening at Corbett Field. A time for the team to bond with each other and a chance to meet any spectators who decided to brave the elements.

Playing and talking baseball in the rain proved to be an unconventional way to build team chemistry. Exactly what the Sabre Dogs are looking for right now, as players and coaches have come in from across the country to play summer Expedition League baseball in Minot.

After a modest inaugural season a year ago, Souris Valley is eager to get season No. 2 underway.

“We know what we kind of got with the returners, so that’s good,” Sabre Dogs returning head coach Corey Thompson said. “But, the new guys look solid right now as well. They put up some decent numbers in the spring, so I’m excited. For sure.”

The Sabre Dogs bring back six players from last season: Hunter Holland, Chauncey Callier, Mason Dinesen, Aaron Kern, Marcelo Terrazas and Brock Baughcum (added to the coaching staff).

Alex Eisen/MDN Sabre Dogs infielder Mason Dinesen makes a throw in an Expedition League game last season at Corbett Field. Dinesen is one of six returning players from a season ago.

The first-year 2018 squad won the regular season Lewis Division title with a 40-24 record, but suffered a heartbreaking divisional playoff defeat to the Badlands Big Sticks to mark the end of the season. The Sabre Dogs lost 12-9 to the Big Sticks after being up 7-0 through two innings in the one-game playoff contest. The dagger was a pinch hit, three-run home run by pitcher Cort Dietrich in the seventh inning.

That was Dietrich’s only hit of the entire season, as he went 1-for-2 at the plate while pitching 38 2/3 innings.

“Don’t hang a slider to the pitcher,” Thompson joked about the lesson learned from last season. “We put ourselves in a position to win a playoff game and that’s all we can ask. It just didn’t go our way. If we can get back to that game again, then maybe it goes our way this time… Our returners, like Chauncey Callier came into the office today and said, ‘Coach, we got some unfinished business.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.'”

Thompson envisions an offensive lineup that will be similar to a year ago with speed sprinkled throughout and power in the middle of the lineup to drive in plenty of runs. The Sabre Dogs led the league last season with 8.4 runs per game and a total of 228 stolen bases. The Pierre Trappers had the second-most stolen bases with 124.

“I’m excited to be back, it’s a great city,” said Dinesen, who stole a team-high 44 bases last season to go with a .306 batting average. “It’s a fun field to play at and good coaches to play for. I’m looking forward to it.”

The biggest piece missing from last season is undoubtedly EJ Ranel. The Souris Valley slugger won the league triple crown with a .458 batting average, 20 home runs and 71 RBIs in only 47 games played. His departure leaves a glaring hole to be filled.

Auditioning for that spot is newcomer Crews Taylor. The Lawrenceville, Georgia, native just wrapped up a solid sophomore season with the University of North Georgia. Taylor batted .319 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs.

“I don’t know if he is going to do what EJ Ranel did last season, but he has a chance to do something similar,” Thompson said about Taylor. “I’d keep an eye out for him. Also, Sage Diehm on the mound. If he can figure it out in the strike zone, he has a special arm. He has played for Team USA and has been highly regarded as a big prospect. He could show something special too. We shall see.”

Diehm will join the arms of Minot State hurler Kern and Terrazas. The returning duo tossed the most innings for the Sabre Dogs last season with 76 and 62 1/3 innings, respectively.

Sorting out a rotation and the batting order will take some time.

“I haven’t seen a lot of these guys and just met some of them today,” Dinesen said. “But, offensively, I think we are looking pretty good after just watching BP (batting practice). Unfortunately, I haven’t got a chance to see the pitchers pitch, but I got a good feeling.”

The Expedition League added two new teams this season: Fremont Moo (Fremont, Nebraska) and the Wheat City Whiskey Jacks (Brandon, Manitoba, Canada). The teams will play a 64-game regular season, running from late May to early August, and a postseason that will feature another one-game divisional playoff contest and a best-of-three game championship series.

Depending if the weather cooperates, the Sabre Dogs will open the new season with back-to-back home games at Corbett Field this weekend (Friday and Saturday) against the Whiskey Jacks. First pitch for both games is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

“I just want to have fun,” Dinesen said. “Play hard and whatever happens, happens.”

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