Sabre Dogs, Big Sticks square off again in one-game playoff series

Alex Eisen/MDN Sabre Dogs’ Justin Henle (24) rounds third base in an Expedition League game played earlier this season at Corbett Field.

After 64 games, everything comes down to this.

The Souris Valley Sabre Dogs travel to Dickinson this evening for a one-game Divisional Playoff series against the Lewis Division regular-season champions, the Badlands Big Sticks.

It’s a role reversal for what happened last year during the Expedition League postseason when the Big Sticks came to Minot and knocked off the Sabre Dogs 12-9 after trailing 7-0.

The rematch offers a chance at redemption for the Sabre Dogs.

“It’s going to be a fun day,” Souris Valley head coach Corey Thompson said. “I know (Badlands head coach) Hayden (Pewitt) really well, and we are both looking forward to the showdown.”

The Badlands (45-19 overall) have won five out of the six games against the Sabre Dogs (38-26 overall) in the regular season.

But, the Sabre Dogs come into the must-win contest riding a six-game winning streak.

“Once we got back for that final homestand, we told them, ‘Let’s get back to having fun and playing baseball,'” Thompson said. “I guess it worked out.”

Souris Valley made its postseason push despite seeing a handful of key players depart early for school or getting benched because of injuries. Even the heart of the Sabre Dogs’ lineup has been reworked as of late.

“It hurts to have Mason Dinesen and Chauncey Callier go down; both got injured,” Thompson said. “Bo (McClintock) got injured during the last couple games of the season. That’s our 2-3-4 right there, so that hurts. But, we got other guys who have been stepping up all summer.”

Leadoff hitter Phillip Childs is still setting the table with a .332 average and 30 stolen bases in the regular season.

Sam Powers and Drew Pollum have seen their roles expanded recently as well and will be needed to drive in runs.

“It’s a good time for them to be hitting their stride,” Thompson said.

The Sabre Dogs will bring a whole cast of pitchers to Dickinson. On Tuesday, Thompson said Jace Mapston would be the starting pitcher.

Mapston (1-1 record, 3.37 ERA) has thrown in 18 games this season and made two previous starts.

The first came on May 30 against Wheat City. Mapston threw three innings and allowed two runs on two hits. His second start was his longest outing of the season. On July 31, Mapston put up seven scoreless innings and only allowed three hits.

“Everybody should be ready to go,” Thompson said. “All hands on deck.”

Souris Valley will attempt to slow down a lethal Badlands’ offense that led the league in runs scored, hits, doubles, triples, home runs and total bases.

Team leaders include Bryson Ford with a league-leading .418 batting average, Nathan Sanders with a league-most 14 home runs and clean-up hitter Conner VanCleave (.384 average, 12 home runs).

Last year’s pinch-hit hero Cort Dietrich is also still on the roster. Dietrich, a pitcher by trade, smacked a crucial three-run home run against the Sabre Dogs in the Divisional Playoffs last year. It was his first at-bat of the entire season.

Perhaps a new unsung hero will emerge.

First pitch from the Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark in Dickinson will be at 7:35 p.m. CDT this evening.

The other Divisional Playoff series will feature one of the new expansion teams, the Fremont Moo, on the road against the defending Expedition League champions, the Western Nebraska Pioneers.

The best-of-three game championship series will start Friday.

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