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No bloop, two blasts

Nik Levensteins cranks a couple of HRs, Sabre Dogs win 5-1

Alex Eisen/MDN Sabre Dogs first baseman Nik Levensteins (right) completes the putout ahead of Pioneers runner Ethan Loveless (left) in an Expedition League baseball game played Friday in Minot.

Nik Levensteins turned woes into oohs.

The Souris Valley Sabre Dogs infielder from the University of North Georgia entered the seventh game of the Expedition League season in a mini-slump, batting .083 (1-for-12).

With two lethal swings, Levensteins turned his misfortunes around in a hurry. He blasted a pair of vital home runs to lift the Sabre Dogs (3-4) to a 5-1 cross-division win over the Western Nebraska Pioneers (4-4) Friday evening at Corbett Field.

Levensteins is now tied with Josh Solomon and Mason Dinesen for the team lead in home runs with two each.

“I’ve been preparing a lot and getting in the (batting) cages since our (collegiate) season was canceled,” Levensteins said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get back and get playing time. I’m just happy it showed out on the field tonight… I was struggling, so I was getting a little frustrated. But keep grinding, keep grinding, keep grinding. That’s what baseball is. Never get too down or too up. Be prepared for when it comes.”

Alex Eisen/MDN Souris Valley Sabre Dogs outfielder Allen Grier breaks his bat while making contact with a pitch Friday evening against the Western Nebraska Pioneers at Corbett Field.

Western Nebraska struck first with its only tally.

In the top of the third inning, Sabre Dogs right fielder Tim Conway watched helplessly as the first run of the game sail over his head and landed next to the scoreboard. The solo line-drive shot by Dylan Gerard was his first home run of the summer campaign and only the second long ball for the Pioneers a week into the season.

The Sabre Dogs responded quickly in the bottom half with an RBI two-out single back up the middle by Dinesen to keep the contest level.

“I’m just thankful to be out here when there are kids at home with this whole virus thing going on,” Dinesen said. “I’m just doing the best I can. I try to keep it pretty mellow and even-keeled, regardless of how good or bad I’m doing.”

The first no-doubt solo home run to right field by Levensteins broke the deadlock in the fourth inning, 2-1. His first home run of the season also produced his first RBI for the ballclub.

“I really got that one,” Levensteins said. “I’ll take a home run if it comes.”

Dinesen picked up another RBI with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.

Levensteins provided more fireworks with his second home run of the game in the sixth inning. It was another loud solo blast, which cleared the fence in right-center field.

“(Levensteins) shows it in BP (batting practice) all the time,” Sabre Dogs head coach Corey Thompson said. “He just hadn’t tapped into it yet, and tonight he did. It was fun to watch.”

The Pioneers, pressing to tie the game, loaded the bases with one out in the top of the eighth inning. Sabre Dogs relief pitcher Tanner Riley worked out of the jam he created with two timely strikeouts.

Souris Valley kept its rather comfortable 4-1 lead intact. A sharp contrast to the lopsided 11-1 loss the Sabre Dogs suffered the night before in Dickinson against the Badlands Big Sticks.

“Before BP today, I told the guys to come out, have fun and change our energy,” Thompson said. “They did just that. Everybody was having fun in the dugout, and it turned out to be a positive day for us.”

Dinesen added: “I think Corey (Thompson) and (assistant coach) Brock (Baughcum) do a great job of keeping us in a positive mindset. After losing big, they pulled us aside and told us to flush it. Move forward and try to win tonight. It’s a long season.”

Levensteins tacked on an opposite way single in the eighth inning to cap a 3-for-4 showing at the plate with two home runs and two RBIs. He was brought home on an RBI double by Ivan Prejean.

The Sabre Dogs ended up leaving runners on second and third base, meaning they didn’t manage to score more than one run in any inning.

Riley struck out the side in the ninth to finish with six strikeouts in two innings of work. The Sabre Dogs pitching staff finished with 15 punchouts in total. Starting pitcher Matt Houlihan went four innings before giving the ball off to Drew Lang, who picked up the pitching win.

“It all starts with pitching,” Thompson said. “Tomorrow, we will go with Marcelo (Terrazas), a three-year veteran. Throw strikes and play defense, and I think we will be alright.”

A Fourth of July rematch is set for 2:05 p.m. this afternoon at Corbett Field. The three-game home series will then conclude at 2:05 p.m. on Sunday.

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

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