This year’s preseason top five for Class B boys baseball has a lot of programs with terrific multi-sport athletes. We’ve seen these schools competing for state titles across various other sports even dating back to last spring. That should make for a very competitive field once we reach this year’s state tournament in Minot. Will Thompson make it back-to-back or do one of these other contenders rise to the top?
My top five teams are below along with bubble teams. This year, I’ve added my “extra innings” portion which offers a brief preview of additional teams that submitted a response to my preseason questionnaire. If you don't see your favorite team listed it's because I didn't receive a response. Thank you to all the coaches who took the time to respond! Enjoy the preview and let’s play ball!
Class B Baseball
The Tommie train keeps on rolling. They’ve played in five of the last six state championship games and nabbed their sixth state title overall with an 11-7 victory over LaMoure-L-M at Newman Outdoor Field last June. Head coach Nate Soulis can count on good leadership with six players returning with multiple years of starting experience. A talented sophomore class that won a Babe Ruth state title last year is also added to the varsity mix. Thomas Schumacher is part of that group, and he made an impact for the varsity squad last year as a freshman hitting .300 while scoring 29 runs and driving in 18 more runs. Senior Reece Berberich (St. Cloud Tech commit) is the top player returning after leading the squad with a .429 BA last spring. Berberich (13.2 IP, 3-0, 1.02 ERA, 13 K) will also see his role on the mound increase after the Tommies graduated their top three starters from a year ago. Junior Brayden Wolfgram is a crafty pitcher that’ll log a lot of innings, as well. Soulis says, “Our strength will be our defense and depth of our lineup. Our pitching staff has talent but needs experience and innings at the varsity level.” I’m confident the pitching will develop, and we’ll see the Tommies in the title hunt once again.
2. Central Cass
The Squirrels showed the ability to blow teams out and win some tight games last year. Unfortunately for the boys in red, the offense dried up in the quarterfinal round against Des Lacs-Burlington in a 2-0 defeat. The Squirrels did end up winning their next two games to capture fifth place and an overall record of 16-2. Central Cass hit right around .400 as a team last year but they’ll need to replace six seniors that played a significant role in that offensive output. Junior 3B/P Carter Maasjo returns after a strong sophomore campaign in which he was one of the team’s top pitchers and among the team’s RBI leaders. Players like Sam Kobbervig, Cooper Johnson and Carter Vrchota have been around the program for multiple years now, too, and will be expected to take that next jump of making the Squirrels a state championship contender. Speaking of championship, this roster has a lot of carry over from the state runner-up football team and state championship basketball team. These players have competed in a lot of big games throughout the school year and that should be a huge advantage come tournament time.
With all but one player returning from last year’s third place team, the Cardinals look poised to qualify for their third consecutive state tournament. The only thing preventing them from being ranked higher on this list is the uncertainty of two of their top returning players. Both Carter Tetrault (.538 BA) and Markus Kingzett (4-1, 38 K) are recovering from ACL surgeries. According to head coach Josh Krivarchka, Tetrault is expected to be ready for game one, while Kingzett, the ace of the pitching staff last year, should return sometime in May. Jack Romfo joined Tetrault as a first team all-state selection last year. Romfo batted .429 on the season and was one of the team’s stronger pitchers, as well. Krivarchka tells me, “We feel we have very focused kids that are good baseball players. Hopefully we can refine the little things to make us one of the top teams in the state.” If the Cardinals get healthy and stay healthy, I think they have a good chance to win their second title in three years.
The Loboes finished 15-2 last year and came up one win shy of claiming the program’s first state title falling to Thompson 11-7 in the last game of the year. A group of nine players return from that team hungry for another opportunity at the ultimate prize. First team all-state pick Tate Mart (.373 BA, 27 runs) and second team all-state selection Anthony Hanson (30 IP, 5-1, 1.40 ERA; .346 BA, 13 RBI, 12 runs) are the headliners. Hanson will be the ace of the pitching staff, but senior Connor Johnson is coming off a solid season, too, in which he logged 23 innings and finished with a 1.83 ERA. As a junior, Dylan Carlson hit .391 last year and he’ll see his opportunities at the plate increase in his senior season. This group of players have played in a lot of state tournaments in high school and legion. No moment is too big for them, and I see the Loboes flourishing again in 2023.
5. Des Lacs-Burlington
The Lakers turned heads in 2022 with a run to the final four of the state tournament finishing with a 16-4 record. Head coach BJ Karhoff knows the blueprint, “As with all teams in the spring season, we will need to be sharp on the mound and disciplined at the plate.” Two all-state picks return in senior IF/P Carson Yale (.383 BA) and junior IF/P Paxton Ystaas (.463 BA). Yale fired a three-hitter and struck out eight batters in last year’s 2-0 quarterfinal win over Central Cass at the state tournament. Outside of Yale and Ystaas, look for Rylan Olson (.431 BA) and Braylon Fisher (.343 BA) to be the top contributors on an offense that hopes to pile up the runs this spring. The Lakers only graduated one senior off last year’s team. The combination of experience and talent should have them vying for a second straight state tournament berth.
Is this the year that the Patriots can break thru and beat Thompson for their first state tournament berth since 2015? I don’t think it’s out of the question. MPCG returns eight starters and all their pitching from a team that finished 12-5 last year and runner-up in the always tough region two. Senior IF/P Landon Koenig is regarded as one of the top players in the state and committed to NDSU back in October. The 1st team all-state pick hit .333 last year with a team-best 16 RBI while also boasting a 1.62 ERA in a team-high 21.3 IP. It’s not just Koenig though. The Patriots had seven different players record a start on the mound and had six batters hit over .300. Seniors Ethan Bergstrom (.370 BA, 12 RBI, 22 runs) and Jacob Hutter (.309 BA, 13 RBI, 14 runs) were also among the team’s most clutch hitters. If the Patriots can be consistent with the bats this season, they might give Thompson a run for that coveted state tournament spot.
There’s plenty of reason for optimism surrounding the Bearcats in 2023 with everyone returning from last year’s state tournament squad. Head coach Jesse Vote believes the team’s experience, pitching staff and execution of “small ball” will have his squad in the hunt for a 4th straight state tournament bid. Junior SS/P Dane Hagler is coming off an all-state selection. He hit right around .400 during the varsity season and was one of the team’s top pitchers finishing with a 2.55 ERA and 41 strikeouts on 24.2 IP. Hagler, who can hit mid 80s with his fastball, shined even more during the summer season with a .420 BA and 0.80 ERA. Jack Ahlberg, the lone senior returning from last year’s team, hit .531 a year ago and scored 15 runs. Junior Garrett Westlind is another familiar name to Bearcat athletic fans, and you can expect that he’ll continue to trend up after hitting .464 a season ago.
The Skyhawks hasn’t reached state since 2019 but I can see that drought ending this spring. Shiloh Christian graduated three seniors off last year’s team that finished 16-6, but they also return a trio that earned all-state honors. Senior Trace King (.288 BA, 26 runs) and junior Michael Fagerland (.364 BA, 22 runs) were both selected to the first team after tremendous seasons. Both of those guys will anchor the pitching rotation this spring, too. Junior Eli Thompson was a second team selection after scoring 20 runs to go with his .315 BA as a sophomore.
The Mustangs are coming off a terrific year in which they won the region title and placed 6th at state. They return six starters and some of their top pitchers like seniors Coltan Francis and Noah Erickson. That duo along with sophomore Andrew Eby will be called on to produce a lot for Bruce Mack’s program this year. Francis took a .516 BA into the state tournament last year and should find his way onto the basepaths frequently again this spring. They’ll be the favorites to win region six again, but their goal is to make more noise at state.
The Miners are coming off a seventh-place finish at state but will look a lot different in 2023. Not only did the team graduate seven talented seniors, but they underwent a coaching change. Beulah alum Tyler Schmidt has returned home after very successful stints of being an assistant at West Fargo Sheyenne (2 state titles) and leading Casselton’s legion program (1 state title). Seniors Mason Mellmer (.320 BA, 8 RBI, 24 runs) and Cruz Reigel (.286 BA, 10 RBI, 20 runs) will be the leaders for this bunch. The roster turnover will be a challenge, but a tradition-rich program like Beulah should be able to navigate its way back to playing for a region crown.
The Lions have a lot of returning varsity experience from a team that finished 9-10 last year and reached the region six championship game. Seniors Carson Merck (.468 BA, 18 RBI) and Brady Feller (.446 BA, 17 RBI) have started since their sophomore years. Merck anchors the infield at shortstop while Feller covers a lot of ground in center field in addition to being one of the team’s top pitchers.
After winning just five games and failing to make the region tournament last year, the Eagles are hoping for better results in 2023. Kevin Bratland’s team returns eight position starters highlighted by senior IF/P Carson Bartholomay (.396 BA) and junior IF/P Anthony Wendel (.304 BA). Bratland says, “In order for us to turn the corner this year our pitching and defense needs to be more consistent.”
The Spoilers return eight starters from last year’s region runner-up team that finished with a 9-11 record. The team will be led by junior Tony Villarreal who’s coming off a breakout sophomore season in which he led the team in innings pitched while hitting a team-high .429 at the dish to go with 23 runs and 10 stolen bases. Junior OF/P Braylon Baldwin (.328 BA, 12 RBI) and junior IF/P Ryan Hanson (.298 BA, 13 RBI) are a couple more reliable players for Joey Demers’ squad. Sophomore Kyler Droog (17.1 IP, 28 K, 0.81 ERA) will try to back up his great freshman season on the mound.
With only one senior and one junior on the roster, the Cougars understand that 2023 will be baptism by fire for their young squad. Head coach Kurt Silbernagel says, “I expect we will have many ups and downs during the regular season, but we need to keep our focus and use the regular season to gain the experience we will need to win games in the postseason.” One of the leaders for Silbernagel is senior Austin Buckman who is entering his fifth year as a varsity starter. He has a career batting average of .327 and is a versatile defender that primarily plays shortstop. Despite being young, this group has a good amount of varsity experience, and we’ll see if that translates into improved play this spring.
The Night Hawks finished 7-12 overall last season and return seven of their nine starters in the lineup. Head coach Nolan Dix points to the team's pitching as the biggest strength entering 2023. Hettinger-Scranton's top five pitchers are back and they have a handful of others that will be vying for innings on the mound. Junior Maddox Pierce (1.14 ERA, 24 K) and senior Devin Greff (28 K) will be the leaders of the staff. Look for juniors Joey Perkins (.390 BA) and Tanner Blackwell (.357 BA) to be among the team's top threats in the batter's box for a second consecutive season.
The Honkers return all but one player from last year’s team that finished three games above .500 but are thin on numbers. Thirteen kids make up the program and they’ll all dress varsity. A scenario that isn’t new by any means for William Lowry’s program. “It is pretty common for our guys to play five or six different positions in a week, pitch in any role and bat anywhere in the lineup. They are pretty versatile players.” Web Lowry is one of four seniors on the team and hit right around the .400 mark last year. Fellow seniors Luke Crosby and Derrick Handeland are a couple of other consistent offensive threats for the Honkers. Pitching should be a strength, as well.
The Vikings were 11-8 last spring and earned a third-place finish in the region tournament. After losing seven seniors to graduation, the team will look quite a bit different in 2023. Seniors Masen Allmaras (.429 BA, 11 RBI, 17 runs), Jorgen Swenson (.306 BA, 11 RBI, 16 runs), Max Opgrand (.353 BA, 7 RBI, 7 runs) and Jeremiah Dockter (.263 BA, 14 RBI, 7 runs) have proven themselves at the varsity level. Swenson (17 IP, .54 ERA, 29 K) will also anchor the pitching rotation for Scott Milbrandt’s team.
Last year’s finish to the season was a gut-punch for the Jaguars as they fell in the Region 1 championship game 3-2 in a game that was played over the course of two days due to weather. There was still plenty to be proud of with the team winning 15 games against only three losses. Senior Keegan Neva (.436 BA; 23.3 IP, 4-0, 0.30 ERA, 45 K) is the player to watch for the Jaguars coming off a strong junior campaign. Sophomore Trey Husar has the potential to be a breakout player in the region after bursting onto the scene last year as a freshman.
The Grovers finished fifth in Region one in the regular season but managed to crack the semifinal round of region play before losing in walk-off fashion to Northern Cass. The Grovers return five players with varsity experience headlined by Greyson Dockter (.471 BA, 15 RBI) who had a stellar freshman campaign last year and Mayson Hjermstad (.462 BA, 20 RBI). Both Dockter and Hjermstad will be counted on as run producers in the meat of the lineup. The Grovers will receive a boost with the return of senior Trey Hatfield who’s back out for high school baseball for the first time since his freshman year. Hatfield played legion ball last summer and can do damage from both the batter’s box and the pitching mound. Head coach Justin Pieterick says, “In order to be successful this season we will need to be consistent on the mound and in the field. We are replacing a lot of consistent players from last year’s infield, so we will need some guys to step up and fill those spots.”
The Aggies are coming off an 8-10 season in 2022. They only have two seniors on the roster this spring but that leaves more opportunities for some talented young players to step up. This year’s freshman class finished runner-up to Thompson in the 2020 State B 12U Cal Ripken tournament. Head coach Brett Omdahl says, “We will see a blend of experience mixed in with some very talented young baseball players.” Junior Calvin Otto (.400 BA, 9 RBI, 14 runs) and senior Logan Wieler (.326 BA, 4 RBI, 15 runs) are among the top hitters returning from last year. This team might go through some more ups and downs, but the future looks bright for the Aggies.
The Cardinals usher in a new era with Travis Stevens taking over the head coaching duties. The new coach will have five seniors to help lead the way including standout Trey Koski. Junior Alex Retterrath will be one of the team’s top pitchers along with classmate Hunter Hoffman. Coach Stevens says his primary focuses will be player development and making the routine plays.