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Defense to play vital role for Midgets baseball at West Region Tournament

Defensively, the Dickinson High baseball team practices and focuses on the basics. But the Midgets defense is far from basic. Behind its pitching staff, Dickinson has held opponents to 85 runs while scoring 177 of its own on the way to the third ...

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Dickinson High senior Brock Messer records the putout at first base May 17 against Minot at Southside Ballpark and Astoria Field. (Press Photo by Colton Pool)

Defensively, the Dickinson High baseball team practices and focuses on the basics.

But the Midgets defense is far from basic.

Behind its pitching staff, Dickinson has held opponents to 85 runs while scoring 177 of its own on the way to the third seed in the West Region. With this defense, the Midgets will face No. 6 Mandan in the first round of the West Region Tournament beginning at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday in Jamestown.

“Defense gives your pitcher confidence, and yet on the flip side of that, throwing strikes keeps your defense on their toes,” Dickinson head coach Pete Dobitz said. “When we’ve had quality games is when our pitchers are throwing strikes, not walking people, then the defense is solid behind him. … They both go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”

As a team, Dickinson (24-8, 24-8 West Region) is fielding at a .952 rate. Regular contributors Shortstop Lucas Jones, outfielder Shawn Steffan and first baseman Shawn Stoltz all have fielding percentages at 100, with several others close behind.

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“If our pitchers throw the ball over the strike zone, just let our defenses work,” said Brock Messer, a pitcher a part-time first baseman. “We’ve got one of the best defenses in the state, I think, so I just let them handle it and let us get out of innings.”

What helps in this tournament, Dobitz said, is his team has a deep pitching staff - in other words, guys who will throw strikes.

“You’ve got to win two before you lose two,” Dobitz said of what his team will need to do to make the state tournament. “It’s always nice to get that first one, but we’re going to go with our best guys on the hill and try to get two wins right off the bat.”

Cam Jorda, a pitcher and third baseman, said pitching will be key for a postseason run - mostly because that’s what Dickinson lacked in seasons prior.

“We’ve practiced since March and our whole lives just for this,” Jorda said. “I think we’re pretty excited and ready to go.”

Dickinson’s defense has even seen strides since the beginning of the year, said Messer, who added that the Midgets’ focus allows them to keep opponents’ offense in check.

Dobitz has been instrumental in that defensive progression, Messer said, because he keeps it simple, and that’s been successful.

“(Defense) gives you the confidence to throw more strikes, let them hit it and let your defense work,” Messer said. “Let them make the outs for you.”

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All season long, Dobitz has preached to his pitchers to not get too fancy and let the defense get outs by throwing in strike zones.

And strikeouts are just icing on the cake.

“You’re not out there to strike a bunch of people out, you’re out there to get 21 outs, and if those 21 outs are 21 groundouts, then that’s what it is,” Dobitz said. “Every once in awhile, you get a strikeout as a bonus.”

Even on offense, Messer said, his team’s defense boosts the confidence of the dugout because the Midgets know they don’t have to swing for the fences.

One run might even win them a game.

“If we start throwing strikes and the defense stays awake, as long as they stay awake, they make plays,” Jorda said. “As soon as you start pitching balls, then they start getting sleepy and that’s when mistakes happen.”

Of course, a defense has to stay error-free, Jorda said. That kind of consistency has allowed the Midgets to be near the top of the West Region all season.

Now in the West Region Tournament, Dickinson will be seeing some of the state’s best pitchers, so limiting runs will be even more vital.

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“They can hit the ball pretty well and have some solid defenders,” Messer said of Mandan. “Really, we’ve just got to get our focus level up, because they got one (game) from us. We just have to pitch the ball well and keep playing defense. If you don't have a good defense, it’s not really going to help us get anywhere. If we stay focused and keep our defensive intensity up, we’ve got a good shot at it.”

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