BISMARCK - In 2018, the Dickinson High baseball team barely made it into the West Region tournament as the No. 7 seed. Once there, the Midgets dropped back-to-back games, ending the season.
One year later, Dickinson made a giant step up. Not only were the Midgets the No. 3 seed in the tournament, but they won two straight games and competed for the title.
With a spot at state secured, the boys in orange had nothing to lose as they faced No. 1 Williston in the WDA championship game Saturday evening.
The Midgets played from behind all game, but battled until the end. Dickinson turned a 4-0 deficit to a 4-3 game and when Williston jumped ahead again 7-3, the Midgets fought back once more. Unfortunately for Dickinson, the second attack wasn't strong enough, as Williston pulled out a 7-5 win for the West Region crown on Saturday, May 25, at the Sanford Sports Complex.
"Our team has had this goal to win the West Region regular season and to get to this point and win each day so we can get to the championship and win the championship and set ourselves up for the state tournament," Williston head coach Aaron Finders said. "We continue on."
Pitching was Dickinson's downfall.
Junior starter Kobe Krenz stumbled for 2 ⅓ innings. He struck out two, but allowed four runs on one hit as he gave up three consecutive free bases via walks and a hit by pitch in the third. Sophomore Landon Aman came in as relief with one out, but he too couldn't find the strike zone. By innings' end, Williston had a 4-0 lead.
Freshman Troy Berg manned the rubber through the fourth and the fifth. He gave up three runs - all earned - on five hits, while fanning one and walking two.
"I think we were getting too worried about the strike zone," Berg said. "The ump, (the strike zone) was kind of tight. We were all just stressing about it, I guess."
Sophomore Nathaniel Jilek came in for the sixth and was fantastic. He threw 10 pitches to the minimum three batters, inducing a ground out from each.
Jilek was key in the Midgets' comeback as well, tripling in the fifth to plate senior Morgan Wardner, who singled to start the frame. Jilek scored on a wild pitch, trimming the deficit to 4-2. Berg was beaned and an RBI double from senior Cody Maier got the Midgets within one run.
"I talked in the dugout about having a little bit better approach at the plate, not trying to guess curveball, fastball," Dickinson head coach Pete Dobitz said. "Let's just look for a fastball and hit a fastball and that seemed to work for us."
Berg, Maier and Krenz were named to the All-WDA team.
Junior Garret Hill, one of five Coyotes named to the All-WDA team, was one of the main reasons Dickinson didn't complete the comeback.
In the bottom of the fifth, a fielder's choice allowed Williston to score, increasing its lead to 5-3.
With two outs, Hill took to the plate. Senior Brady Aberle stole second during the at-bat, putting men on second and third. Two pitches later, Hill whacked the ball to deep right field, scoring two runs. When he popped up from his slide to third, he roared to the dugout, which screamed right back.
Dickinson added two more runs, though. Berg ran home on a wild pitch from junior starter Charlie Whitlock in the top of the seventh. Two pitches later, Whitlock walked Maier, bringing the tying run to the plate. Finders opted to put Hill on the mound to turn the last two outs.
In five pitches, HIll struck out Dickinson senior outfielder Justin Berger before drawing a fly out from Aman.
"He had a huge triple with two runs to tack on to the lead and give us a little more separation after they got right back in it in a 4-3 game. Those runs were big," Finders said. "For him to be on the mound, he wanted the ball all weekend, so it was big for him up there as well."
Finders was named the WDA Coach of the Year upon the conclusion of the tournament.
A surprising semifinal victory
In the semifinal, Dickinson and Bismarck Century endured seven innings of near-perfect defense combined with on-the-mark pitching. Getting a hit was difficult, let alone scoring a run.
The game was tied at one going into the sixth, with no real signs of momentum on either side.
Ultilzing Dobitz' signature small ball, Dickinson was determined to take advantage of every man on base.
A series of seemingly-small, but situationally-big plays scored the run that gave the Midgets the lead in their 2-1 semifinal win on Saturday afternoon.
Berger led off with a single to left field and was pushed to second with a sacrifice bunt off the bat of Aman.
"We know that they've been pitching away a little bit during the course of the game," Dobitz said. "So, I told (Berger), 'Just move closer to the plate so that outside pitch is not an outside pitch.' Then it was more of a middle pitch and he was able to hit it right up the middle."
That brought up freshman designated hitter Aiden Haich. He swung at the first two pitches, but missed.
"In the first two, I was seeing the ball alright, I was just missing it," Haich said. "The third one, I kind of just stuck my bat out and got it in play."
Haich sent the 0-2 pitch flying into the right-center gap and Berger wheeled home to score the go-ahead run, causing the Midgets faithful to rejoice.
The game wasn't over, though.
Junior Cade Feeney kicked off the bottom of the seventh with a high fly to left, but Wardner lost the ball. It hit his glove, but Wardner didn't make the catch, putting the tying run on second with no outs.
Following a 1-3 putout, Dobitz elected to intentionally walk senior Paydin Slette to set up a double play. Maier got the second out by catching a pop out, as a single out stood between the Midgets and the championship game.
Sophomore Colton Schulte, who had gone 1-for-2 up to that point, stepped up and sent the first pitch into the air, right above Wardner.
"I was just saying a prayer, 'please catch it,'" Haich said.
With the memory of his dropped catch still fresh, Wardner situated himself under the ball. This time, he caught it, ending the game.
The Midgets will be the No.2 seed out of the West at the Class A State Tournament in Minot next weekend and will face West Fargo, the No. 3 seed out of the Eastern Dakota Conference, at 2 p.m. CT on Thursday, May 30 at Corbett Field.
Championship: No. 1 Williston 7, No. 3 Dickinson 5
D 000 031 1 - 5 5 2
W 103 030 X - 7 6 1
D, Kobe Krenz (2.1), Landon Aman (0.2), Troy Berg (2), Nathaniel Jilek (1) and Logan Bentz. W, Charlie Whitlock (4.1), Garrett HIll (2.2) and Jack Heen.
W-Hill. L-Krenz. HR-None.
Highlights: D, Nathaniel Jilek 2-3, 3B, R, RBI; Cody Maier 1-3, 2B, RBI; Troy Berg 1-2, 2 R; Morgan Wardner 1-1, R; Krenz 2.1 IP, 1 H, 4 R (2 ER), 2 K, 3 BB; Aman 0.2 IP, 2 BB; Berg 2 IP, 5 H, 3 R (3 ER), 1 K, 2 BB; Jilek 1 IP. W, Brady Doeden 1-3, R; Garrett HIll 1-2, 3B, R, 2 RBI, 2.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R (1 ER), 2 K, 2 BB.
Semifinal: No. 3 Dickinson 2, No. 2 Bismarck Century 1
D 100 001 0 - 2 5 1
BC 001 000 0 - 1 3 2
D, Nick Deschamp and Logan Bentz. BC, Connor Hanson (6), Skyler Riedinger (10 and Cam Miller.
W-Deschamp. L-Hanson. HR-None.
Highlights: VD, Cody Maier 1-4, 2B, RBI; Aiden Haich 1-2, RBI; Troy Berg 1-3; Kobe Krenz 1-4, R; Justin Berger 1-3, R; Deschamp 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R (1 ER), 1 K, 2 BB. BC, Connor Weikum 1-2, R; Colton Schulte 1-1; Hanson 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R (1 ER), 3 K, 2 BB.