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Tom Mix, Published August 07 2012

Wahpeton gearing up for regional baseball tournament

Wahpeton, N.D.

John Randall Field has been a pretty active place in the city of Wahpeton the last week.

The ballpark, located in Chahinkapa Park, has been getting several upgrades as American Legion Post 20 prepares to host the Central Plains Division II Regional baseball tournament beginning Thursday.

Groundskeepers were busy touching up the field and giving the pitching mound a little TLC on Tuesday morning. A new 10-feet tall backstop fence was being installed, a new bullpen pitching mound was being constructed, and a second batting cage was being set up.

“To host a tournament of this size and magnitude is going to be something pretty special for the town of Wahpeton,” said Wahpeton Legion coach Chris Kappes. “It’s also special for our baseball team to play in and for our baseball program here in the future. It should be a fun baseball atmosphere to be around the next couple of days.”

The tournament, a double-elimination format, features eight teams from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada and Kansas.

“It is big,” said tournament director Kelly McNary. “The great sport of baseball is going to be promoted throughout the community. We are excited how the tournament is going to impact the community positively.”

Wahpeton found out it would host the tournament in February and once spring arrived, the work began to start improving the program’s facilities. McNary said there has been a lot of volunteer help from the community.

“We all kind of took it and ran with it,” said tournament chairman Joe Schreiner. “We decided this would be a great thing, not only for the community, but for the team. We had a little inclination these guys were going to be a pretty good ball club this year and we thought hosting the regional would be good treat for them.”

Wahpeton has put together a 42-4 season and lost 4-1 to Grafton in the North Dakota Division II state championship game last Sunday.

“We have been taking it chapter by chapter,” said Wahpeton outfielder Preston Kath. “The first chapter was the regular season, the second was sectionals and the third was state.

We didn’t come out with the win at state, but we are looking forward to the regional and playing the bigger teams.”

One of Wahpeton’s team strengths has been pitching. Wahpeton has a team earned run average of 2.45 and has six players with five or more wins.

Tyler Gripentrog is 6-2 with a team-high 66 strikeouts. Jeremy Bontjes is 6-0 with a 0.70 ERA, 51 strikeouts and one save in 38Xc innings.

“We know we can hang with these teams, but we just have to keep our confidence,” said Bontjes who will make the start against Groton. “If we play like we know we can we will be fine.”

Bontjes is also batting .450 with 43 RBI and is tied with teammate Ryan Sheeley with four home runs.

Two costly errors kept Wahpeton off balance in the state title game against Grafton, which is something Sheeley said the team has to correct before Thursday.

“In the next couple days we have to focus on eliminating that one play that can let the other team into the game,” Sheeley said. “We also have to play together as one.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562