Cal James' Northwoods League debut went a lot like his abbreviated freshman season at the University of Mary -- quite well.
James, playing shortstop for the Larks, went 3-for-6 with three runs batted in as the Northwoods League returned with a bang at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark. The Larks pounded out 15 hits in a 14-11 win over the Mandan Flickertails.
James did not get to play any games in Bismarck for the Marauders before the season was canceled due to the pandemic. He hit .319 with three home runs and eight RBI in 12 games for U-Mary before the shutdown.
"I got a call a couple weeks ago asking me if I wanted to come play," James said. "It's fun playing with these guys. We have a lot of great dudes. This is my home field, but I've never played here before so it was nice to get out here and play."
James was one of several players making their NWL North Dakota pod debut on Sunday. More than 50 players returned to their homes and colleges for the remainder of the summer last week. That meant Larks manager Will Flynt had to find a whole bunch of players.
"We have a couple more coming (Sunday night). A couple more (Monday). We'll get it done," said Flynt, who also is responsible for the Bull Moose roster. "It's Covid. We're having to adjust, but we're lucky to be playing."
The new-look Larks' lineup picked up where the old one left off.
Wyatt Ulrich and Brant Schaffitzel remained at the top of the order for the Larks. Ulrich had three hits, including a triple, and scored two runs. Schaffitzel and Trey Woosley, another holdover, added two hits apiece. Kyle Leapaldt, a Carrington (N.D.) product, who will play at Bismarck State College next season, added two hits in his first game. Brayden Koenig, another BSC Mystic, collected two hits in five at bats.
The Larks had four three-run innings, overcoming an eight-run bottom of the third by the Flickertails. Justin Janssen had two hits for Mandan.
Flynt said he's gotten considerable assistance from a pair of local colleges to pad the rosters.
"Mike Keeran's been unbelievable. He's given me so many dudes. Tanner Spencer, I can't thank him enough," Flynt said of the BSC and U-Mary baseball coaches, respectively. "I'm getting phenomenal kids and really good players."
Despite his stellar freshman season, James didn't have any summer-league offers. So he returned home to Minnesota and played Legion and town ball in Buffalo.
Coming back to Bismarck to face fellow college players is an ideal way to tune up his sophomore campaign with the Marauders.
"Being able to ramp back up seeing the higher speed pitching is really nice," James said. "Hopefully I'm able to get back into the flow of things and help these guys win games."
Having the 2020 season cut well short was a major disappointment.
"It was pretty abrupt," said James, who is studying criminal justice at U-Mary. "We were all pretty mad about it. We had a lot of new players but we were coming off a really good series against Central Mo (Missouri). We were starting to figure it out."
The Larks (23-10) and Flickertails (20-13) have 15 games left, then will meet in a best-of-three playoff series Sept. 2-4. Prior to the playoffs, they'll hold a draft of Bull Moose (6-26) players to bolster each roster.
"We had a bunch of really good players here before and we have a bunch of really good players here now. It's been a crazy season but we're having a blast with it," Flynt said. "I had to give a couple (Larks) pitchers to the Bull Moose. That's just the kind of summer it's been, but it's fine. We're going to keep coming to the ballpark every day and grinding. We love it."
Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or email@example.com