Minot Vistas seeking final surge at Class AA State Tournament
The highs have been high and the lows have been low, now the Minot Vistas hit the road for one last summer adventure.
The No. 7-seeded Vistas (13-22, 6-10 statewide standings) enter the Class AA State Tournament this week with nothing to lose. While this season hasn’t gone exactly to plan, none of that matters now.
The reset button has been firmly mashed.
“Honestly, a lot of regular seasons don’t matter,” Vistas slugger Dylan Vigested said. “We are going to state and we can still win the championship. If we can get hot now, then we can go a long way and win it. For our seniors, this is their last games and it’s going to be tough for them. But they want to go out with a bang, not two losses and be done.”
Starting with the lows, Minot has lost its last six statewide counter games. That nearly forced them into a play-in game to even reach the state tournament. But, instead, the Vistas limped in as the No. 7 seed.
Minot will face tournament hosts, the No. 2-seeded Bismarck Governors, in the first round on Tuesday.
“It’s definitely been one of our more difficult seasons in terms of results,” Minot Vistas head coach Pat Arntson said. “When you are the No. 7 seed, you are probably never going to love your first-round matchup, given the way they put brackets together. But, if you want to win stuff, you have to beat good teams.”
Offensively, the Vistas are batting a .275 average as a team. Chase Burke leads the way with a .367 average, followed by Jack Plemel (.362, team-high 29 RBIs), Kersey Harris (.319), Calvin Watkins (.315) and Logan Merck (.308).
Burke is also 18-for-18 stealing bases. Whereas, Harris got some recognition for standing tall in the batter’s box.
“(Harris) adds that toughness layer,” Arntson said. “He gets on base a ton and leads us in hit by pitches (16). You need some of that. When you are struggling offensively, you need guys like that who will get on base when you aren’t banging the ball around.”
Arntson is giving the baseball to Eli Nissen to be Minot’s starting pitcher in the opener. In 35 innings pitched this season, Nissen has a sparkling 1.40 ERA. He has given up 31 hits while striking out 29 batters.
“I’m comfortable with fastballs in counts I’m down in, but I’m not afraid to throw the changeup or curveball,” Nissen said. “To keep them off balance, you don’t want them to know that a fastball is coming because they will hit it.”
Derek Nygaard and Tyler Harbort have also pitched over 30 innings and bolster an ERA under 3.00. Not to be overlooked, there is also Aydan Almy (4.93 ERA), who has thrown the most for the Vistas this season with 664 pitches in 42 1/3 innings of work.
“The coaches are showing a lot of confidence in me, which makes me really excited,” Nissen said. “Why not try and win it all? We are going to go out there, play hard and be competitive. Stay in games and try to win.”
One of the Achilles’ heels for the Vistas this season has been defense. They are averaging nearly two miscues per game, with 64 errors accumulated across 35 games.
Getting into the right mindset to play ball, whether on game day or during practice, has also been a work in progress throughout the season.
“I had some really older, mature groups in my first few years here (coaching) where I was able to give them the freedom to go get themselves ready,” Arntson said. “I don’t think this group always knew what that meant. They didn’t know what it was like to be ready. So, we got more hands-on and regimented in how we prepared. We saw immediate progress and better focus. So, as a coaching staff, I think we have learned to now start the season that way and let the players gradually earn that freedom.”
With all the struggles addressed and displayed in an unflattering 13-22 overall record, the Vistas still remain optimistic. They have shown glimpses of what can happen when they put everything together.
Top-seeded and defending state champions Fargo Post 2 only lost two statewide games this season. One of those defeats was a 3-1 road loss to Minot on June 9.
“It shows that we have the talent,” Vigested said. “We just have to use it.”
Minot hasn’t beat Bismarck this season (0-4). Getting that first win while Bismarck is hosting the state tournament for this first time since 2010 seems far-fetched. But there is a reason why “anything can happen” is a popular cliche.
“This is the only game that matters now,” Arntson said. “In one seven-inning game, a good inning here or there could make a huge difference for us. If we have that arm that can shut them down to a reasonable number, that’s not easy, but it’s possible. It’s possible to knock them off and move past what our regular season was.”
The Vistas will play the final game on Day 1 of the Class AA State Tournament against the Governors with an approximate start time of 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Bismarck Municipal Ballpark.
The double-elimination state tournament will run from August 4-8.
Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.