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Larks begin final week on the road after splitting series with Rochester

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Larks manager Will Flynt watches from the dugout during Northwoods League action against the Rochester Honkers at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark.

When the earliest of early birds crack open the newspaper Monday morning, the Larks will be en route to Mankato, Minn., for a late-season doubleheader.

They will be doing so after a 15-2 loss to Rochester Sunday afternoon in 101-degree heat at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark. Such is life in the Northwoods League, which begins its final week of the regular season today.

The Larks dropped to 10-16 in the second half of the season, but manager Will Flynt said no extra motivation will be needed to jump on the bus at 6 a.m.

"You either love it or you don't. If you want to play beyond this, this is how it is," Flynt said. "This is the easy part for these guys. You get to sleep till noon. You get free food. You're in a great city, that's what I tell them. When you go back to school, that's when you have to go to work.

"Our guys understand that. We have a good group. They never give up."

The Larks play three games in two days in Mankato, come back to Bismarck for their final homes games Wednesday and Thursday, and close the 2021 campaign in Duluth on Friday and Saturday.

It'll be a challenging last week. Mankato is nearly 20 games over .500 for the season. St. Cloud is a Northwoods League best 46-16 and Duluth is still in the mix in the Great Plains East, which has been weaker than the Great Plains West, the division the Larks play in.

"There's better pitching, more velocity in our division," Flynt said.

Sunday's winning pitcher, Austin Jerylo was a good example of that. The Rochester right-hander was still humming in 93 mile-per-hour fastballs in the ninth inning Sunday. 

Ben Teel didn't have any trouble with the heater Sunday, however. He put the Larks ahead 1-0 with an RBI double to score Brant Schaffitzel in the bottom of the first, and smacked a solo home run in the eighth. The Larks had just four hits otherwise.

Flynt has already began to prepare for next summer when he'll return for his third seasons as Larks' manager. Bismarck was 16-8 and tied for first place in June before injuries and player defections began to put a dent in the roster, particularly the pitching.

"I don't really like doing the first-half, second-half-type thing with the roster, but we might have to do more of that. We'll see. It's tough for the host families and it's not easy for the players, either," Flynt said. "When we get pitching, we're right in the game. We just ran into a situation where we're short on the mound."

The four-game series ended in a 2-2 split, although the Larks could've taken three of four, a 3-1 ninth-inning lead slipped away Thursday night.

The Larks' roster will be light for the final week. With players headed back to college for the fall the number likely will deep into the mid-teens as the season ends next weekend.

Still, the energetic Flynt has plenty of juice for the stretch run.

"Pitching's going to be a challenge. We can't throw all position players even though our position players -- (Jarrett) Bickel, Cal (James), Schaffitzel, (Jordan) Sagedahl -- are pretty good," Flynt said. "These kids will compete. It might not go our way, but they'll give me what they have."

Looking toward 2021, finding more thump for the lineup will be targeted. Finding more pitching depth also is an area of emphasis, although that is a challenge all Northwoods League teams face. Flynt said his sales pitch is an easy one.

"Bismarck is the best place. It's that simple," the manager said. "Best organization. Best treatment. Best host families. Best city. What more do you want?"

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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