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Tom Mix, Published July 30 2013

Balance abound as Class A Legion baseball tournament begins

WEST FARGO – Parity may best describe this year’s North Dakota Class A American Legion state baseball tournament.

The field of 10 teams doesn’t have a clear-cut favorite.

“I think this is the most balanced the state tournament has been in quite a long time,” West Fargo Patriots head coach Bill Ibach said. “There are quite a few teams that are in this tournament that could win it this year. I wouldn’t say that every year, but we have been playing a lot of highly contested games all season long in the state.”

Defending state champion West Fargo (35-16) enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed and will play Dickinson at 8 p.m. today at the West Fargo Legion Field. Fourth-seeded Fargo Post 2 opens with a game against Minot at 11 a.m. today.

“Some teams are going to get bounced that are not used to it and hopefully that isn’t us,” said Ibach, whose team finished 14-4 in the state standings.

“Anybody on any given day in this league can beat anybody,” Fargo Post 2 head coach Luke Rustad added. “A year ago you could look and say, ‘These four teams are going to win their first-round games.’ This year that is not the case. If a team doesn’t come ready to play in this tournament, it isn’t going to win any baseball games. … It’s going to be a matter of who is going to throw the most strikes and which team is going to have its bats show up.”

Post 2 (37-17) has experienced the state’s parity first-hand, going 6-4 in its last 10 regular season games.

“It’s been up and down of late,” Rustad said. “There are a lot of great teams in our conference this year. Toward the end of the regular season, we got swept by Wahpeton and Bismarck, but within that same stretch we swept Mandan, Jamestown and Minot. We are wondering what team is going to show up in the first round of the state tournament.”

“If we play hard like we did against Minot, where he had some edge to us, I really like our chances,” Rustad added. “I hope that continues.”

Post 2 features the potent pitching duo of Jake Salentine and Casey Quinlan. Salentine is 7-1 with a 2.14 earned run average. Quinlan, a pitching recruit Neosho Community College in Kansas, is 6-3 with a 2.54 ERA and also is tied for the team lead in batting average (.392).

Center fielder Andrew Beyer is hitting .392 and leads Post 2 with six home runs.

First baseman Gunnar Linstaedt and outfielder Aaron Green are both batting .355 for Fargo.

“The thing that has been there the most for us is our defense,” Rustad said. “I trust our defense and our decision making. If our pitchers throw strikes and stay ahead of batters, we will be fine.”

West Fargo also has plenty of pitching depth. The Patriots have had several pitchers make starts throughout the summer, but the team will rely on the arms of Andy Young, Camran Bonnema, Kory Wolden and Landon Uetz.

Last year’s run in the state tournament and berth into the Central Plains Regional is something Ibach said has been beneficial, especially down the stretch this season. West Fargo is 7-1 in its last eight games, scoring league wins over Wahpeton and Grand Forks.

“Having a veteran team has helped,” Ibach said. “I don’t think we have been playing our best baseball, but we have come through at the right times. Those veterans helped us get through a tough final week.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562