Pick any sport you want. The athletes who are adept at making plays at the end will win more than their share.
That helps to explain why Minot resides atop the West Region baseball standings today at 4-0 and Mandan rests at 0-3.
There wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two teams on Friday at Municipal Ballpark — except that little intangible spark. Minot swept two one-run regional games from the Braves, twice rallying in the last inning for 3-2 and 7-6 victories.
A doubleheader sweep didn’t appear to be in the cards for the visiting Magicians in the second game. They trailed 6-4 when they went to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning in the second game.
When Wesley Johnson singled to center and Kolton Larson legged out an infield hit, Minot was back in business.
Chandler Jacob followed with a long one-out double to left-center, plating Johnson and sending Larson to third.
That was the end of the line for Zittleman after 96 pitches. Right-hander Jared Walters came on and issued an intentional walk to Grant Larson, loading the bases.
Walters coaxed a groundball from Brady Lampert, but first baseman Logan McDowall misplayed the ball. Larson dashed home with the tying run and Jacob slid across the plate head-first with the game-winner.
Minot failed to qualify for state last spring and finished 14-15. Still, Kolton Larson, who rapped four hits, including a home run on Friday, said he’s not surprised by this season’s fast 6-0 getaway.
“All of us have played together in the summer and we have a lot of chemistry going. We knew what to expect out of each other,” Larson said.
Larson, a two-time all-state linebacker in football, said what happened Friday provided a shot in the arm for the team’s confidence.
“Early in the season it’s good to see we can persevere, come back and win like that,” he said.
Larson, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior, pounded his home run over the left field screen monster in the first inning of the second game.
That was just over a half-hour after he knocked in the game-winner in the first game.
With the first game knotted at 2-2, Larson followed Johnson’s single with a run-scoring two-bagger over center fielder Derik Schaner’s head.
“(Mandan right-hander Zach Scott) did a good job all game of keeping in the zone and keeping the ball away,” Larson said. “He left one right across the middle, which I was looking for with a full count. It was a fastball, probably belt-high.”
Larson’s double made a winner of right-handed reliever Dimitri Zaphra, who pitched a perfect 22/3 innings. Zaphra improved to 2-0 with the victory.
“We have a really deep pitching staff and then we got a new guy who moved in from Florida,” Larson said. “He was the guy who closed the (first ) game.”
Zaphra combined with Jacob, the starter, to limit Mandan to one hit in the first game. McDowall’s two-run third-inning double was the Braves’ lone safety.
With the two losses Mandan dropped to 0-4. The Braves have led in all four games.
“It seems like the same story, just a different chapter,” Mandan coach Dewitt Mack said, recalling Tuesday’s two losses to Century. “... We’re there. We’re competing. We just have to finish the game. In the four games we’ve played we’ve had great pitching. We just haven’t had the bats to back them up.”
Mack said the Braves have played two of the best teams in the west tough.
“If Minot is one of the top teams in the West, by no means did they blow us out of the water,” he said.
Mandan returns to action today, visiting Bismarck at 1 p.m. at Municipal Ballpark. Both ends of the doubleheader will count in the region.
Because both Friday games with Minot were regional contests, Minot was designated the home team in the nightcap.
Minot 3, Mandan 2
Minot 000 110 1 — 3 9 1
Mandan 002 000 0 — 2 1 2
Chandler Jacob, Dimitri Zaphra (5) and Wesley Johnson; Zach Scott, Jared Walters (7) and Tre Kautzman. W — Zaphra, 2-0. L — Scott, 0-1. HR — None.
Highlights: Minot — Caleb Fornshell 2-for-3; Johnson 3-for-4, 1 R, 1 SB; Kolton Larson 2-for-4, double, 1 RBI; Zaphra 22/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO. Mandan — Logan McDowall 1-for-2, 2 RBIs, 1 SB; Brady Zittleman 0-for-2, 1 BB, 1 R, 1 SB; Zach Scott 61/3 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO.
Minot 7, Mandan 6
Mandan 211 200 0 — 6 7 2
Minot 130 000 3 — 7 7 3
Grant Larson, Caleb Fornshell (4) and Zach Danelson, Chance Smith (4); Brady Zittleman, Jared Walters (7) and Trever Leingang. W — Fornshell, 2-0. L — Zittleman, 0-1. HR Minot, Kolton Larson.
Highlights: Minot — Kolton Larson 2-for-4, HR, 2 R, 1 RBI; Chandler Jacob 2-for-4, double, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 SB; Grant Larson 1-for-1, double, 1 R; Fornshell 1-for-4, double, 1 R, 1 RBI; 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2 SO. Mandan — Kyler Vogel 2-for-4, double, 2 RBIs; Derik Schaner 0-for-3, 2 RBIs; Leingang 1-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 R; Zittleman 3-for-5, 1 R, 1 SB; 61/3 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 7 SO.
Records: Minot 4-0 West Region, 6-0 overall; Mandan 0-3, 0-4.