Playing baseball in the upper midwest is always an adventure, but let's hope we get plenty of games in this spring. The excitement has been building for a new season and I'm excited to unveil my preseason rankings for Class A and Class B baseball. I reach out to all the coaches across the state to gather information and to get a feel for who the strong contenders will be this season. Read on to learn more about my top five lists and some of the other teams worthy of consideration.
Class A Baseball
The Midgets won 28 games last year and finished third place at the state tournament. They return a lot of key pieces from last year’s successful run headlined by all-state pick Troy Berg. Berg hit .486 at the plate, drove in 42 runs and scored 49 runs. The stellar 3rd baseman also finished with 26 stolen bases in his junior campaign. Aiden Haich, a standout 1st baseman and pitcher, returns for his senior season after hitting .385 with 29 RBI and 24 runs. Haich also starred on the mound, pitching 25 innings with a 2.24 ERA. Starting pitchers Drew Kovash and Isaac Daley are back to anchor the rotation after combining for a 12-0 record a season ago. Pete Dobitz is one of the top coaches in the state and has developed a ton of talented players over the years. He has another loaded group this year and expectations are to compete for a state championship, something that’s eluded them since winning it all in 2016.
The defending state champions graduated ten seniors but do return their top two pitchers in DMACC commit Brennan Haman (0.66 ERA) and Casey Clemenson (1.02 ERA). Those two give the Mustangs an incredible 1-2 punch on the mound. Pitching and defense will be the strengths for Sheyenne this season and if they can get the bats going this team will be dangerous. Other talent returning includes Grant Warkenthien, Tate Gustafson, James Hagen, Evan Berg, and Cooper Borchardt (Concordia-St. Paul commit). Many of these players got to experience not only a varsity state title last year, but also a legion state title in the summer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them playing for more hardware this spring.
The Deacons finished 27-6 last season and finished runner-up in the state tournament to Sheyenne. Luke Rustad’s team returns only three starters, but it’s a very talented trio. Tommy Simon made big news in early February by committing to play college baseball at the University of Nebraska. The stunning part is that Simon is only entering his sophomore season. As a freshman, he hit .291 at the plate and logged 14 innings on the mound, striking out 20 hitters while finishing with a 1.93 ERA. Simon is also an elite defender at his shortstop position. Senior Isaac Emineth and sophomore catcher Adam Leininger (.254 BA) are the other returning starters. Twin brothers Landon and Boden Meier are expected to play significant roles for the team this season, as well. University of Jamestown commit Elias Harris was 7-0 as a starter last season with a 1.67 ERA and 66 strikeouts, but they’ll need to find some pitching depth behind him. If the Deacons can develop some depth on the mound, they’ll be a tough team to compete with.
The Braves finished 19-8 overall last year but failed to reach state with losses to Century and Minot in the WDA tournament. Most of that team returns with Mandan losing just four seniors to graduation last spring. All-state selection Isaac Huettl is the marquee player in the lineup, and he plays great defensively whether it’s at catcher or another spot in the infield. Huettl is already committed to play at the next level for North Iowa Area Community College. Three other Braves plan to continue their career after high school in Lucas Burgum (Alexandria Technical College), Avery Bogner (Dickinson State), and Stetson Kuntz (Bismarck State College). Head Coach Dewitt Mack has plenty to be excited about with this year’s balance of talent and experience.
The Sabers turned some heads last year by winning the west region tournament and eventually settled for a 4th place finish at state. Legacy graduated all-state picks Ben Patton and Cru Walker, but do return all-state selection Isaac Pegors. Pegors is a special talent and has developed into a great leader. He has the tools to be a strong candidate for senior athlete of the year this spring. Eddie Streeter is the reigning Class A baseball coach of the year and doesn’t seem to be afraid to move guys around from position to position in order to get his best lineup out on the field. Junior Wyatt Kraft and senior Jackson Klipfel are a couple of other players that will help lead the Sabers in what should be a successful 2022 campaign.
Bubble Teams: Minot, Red River, West Fargo
Class B Baseball
After finishing runner-up to Langdon-Edmore-Munich last spring at state, I see the Loboes as this year’s favorite to be celebrating the Class B state title at Newman Outdoor Field in early June. There are ten Class B players returning this season that were named all-state last year and three of those come from the Loboes (Tate Mart, Landon Piehl and Anthony Hanson). Mart was sensational as a sophomore, leading the team with a .431 BA, 31 runs scored and 20 stolen bases. He’s expected to wreak all sorts of havoc again this season. Meanwhile, Piehl and Hanson are dynamite talents at the plate and on the bump. Piehl logged a team-best 39 innings last season, recording a record of 6-2 with 48 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.85. Those numbers combined with his .355 BA and 17 RBI make him one of the top threats to win senior athlete of the year this season. Meanwhile, Hanson was a stud last year as a sophomore going 6-0 as a pitcher with 43 SO and a 2.55 ERA. He also added a .288 mark at the plate and finished 2nd on the team with 20 runs driven in. Those are just three of the names on this roster littered with multi-sport talent that helped L-L-M win a state football title in the fall and finish 3rd at the Class B state basketball tournament in March. Not to mention, LaMoure won the 2021 ND Class B legion state title this past summer with Hanson earning MVP honors. Derold Haugen’s team has a great shot to capture a state title for the first time in program history.
To be the champs, you must beat the champs. So, someone will be tasked with eliminating a tough Langdon-Edmore-Munich team at some point and that’s no easy feat. Sure, the Cardinals lost some elite players to graduation last spring headlined by first team all-state picks and twin brothers Simon and Grant Romfo. But that team didn’t finish 28-1 and state champs based off just two players, Josh Krivarchka has developed a top-notch program. The Cardinals have a host of hitters returning that hit well for average last season including Mason Romfo (.395), Brady Regner (.385), Markus Kingzett (.365), Jack Romfo (.333) and Carter Tetrault (.329). That list doesn’t include Tucker Welsh who was hitting .500 last season when a wrist injury required surgery after just eight games. Look for Romfo (20 IP, 2.70 ERA, 28 K), Kingzett (17 IP, 26 K) and Welsh to anchor the pitching rotation this spring too. Coach Krivarchka tells me he’s confident in the depth of his lineup and the team’s defense. If they get some solid pitching, this team will be a serious threat to repeat.
Thompson slots in as my #3 in the preseason, which is the same spot they finished at state in 2021. The Tommies went 19-6 last year and return eight starters and all their starting pitchers. All-state selection Connor Welsh (6-2 record, 1.76 ERA; .345 BA, 24 RBI) is back as one of the leaders both on the mound and at the dish. Welsh is part of an intimidating pitching group. Kyle Odenbach, a Bismarck State College commit, was 5-3 last year with a 1.54 ERA and eye-popping 63 strikeouts. Tyler Cunningham (8-1, 2.84 ERA, 30 K) and Reece Berberich (1.32 ERA, 32 K) are a couple of other hurlers that’ll have opposing lineups flustered. Cunningham (.326 BA, 18 RBI) and Berberich (.291 BA, 15 RBI) are also among the hitting leaders in this group. This year’s Thompson squad has some stellar pitching and fields an experienced lineup full of solid hitters. Head coach Nate Soulis believes the key to going from good to great for this year’s squad will be finding consistency in the field.
4. Central Cass
Coming off a 22-win season and 5th place finish at state, the Squirrels seems to have the ingredients for another successful campaign in 2022. Head coach Dustin Maasjo is really excited about his team’s depth, especially on the mound. Brendan Maasjo, Ethan Muchow (VCSU commit), Kade McKinnon, Cooper Johnson, Carter Maasjo and Carter Vrchota are all capable of keeping hitters off-balance. Maasjo is a returning all-state pick that features a low to mid-80s fastball, changeup, curve and knuckleball. He was 5-0 on the bump last spring. Sam Kobbervig and Alex Everson (U. of Jamestown commit) are returning all-region picks that should be steady contributors once again. Coach Maasjo knows he has a talented group and he’s hoping that they can find the right lineup to string together hits on a consistent basis.
With a couple of all-state picks returning from the 2021 season, optimism remains high for Beulah baseball. Seniors Trey Brandt and Trapper Skalsky have been two of the top athletes in Class B – no matter the sport – for the last three years. Now, the two of them will try to lead the Miners to another region championship and state tournament bid. Skalsky batted over .500 last season and was a bandit on the basepaths, as well. Beulah always seems to have strong pitching, too, and I don’t see that changing this year.