PREP BASEBALL: Grafton taking on big programs
Grafton isn’t avoiding tough competition.
Grafton won the North Dakota Class B American Legion baseball tournament last season. With Legion baseball in North Dakota expanding to three divisions this summer, Grafton now is a Class A program. And it went 1-3 against big-city programs last weekend at the Mandan Seven Seas tournament.
Grafton beat Rapid City, S.D., 7-1, then dropped decisions to Pierre, S.D., (6-3), Mandan (7-6 in 8 innings) and Bismarck (7-5). Grafton out-hit its opponent in three of the four games.
“They called and said they needed a team and would give us free entry fee,” Grafton coach Chad Kliniske said. “We jumped at the opportunity. We’ll play anybody.
“If you want to be better, you have to play better teams. Playing those teams was better for us than beating a team with a bunch of 15-year-olds in its lineup.”
Grafton returns a solid nucleus from last season.
Brett Longtin, Jess Suda, Garek Droog, Hunter Baldwin, Cody Kingsbury, Charlie Thompson and Zak Hernandez all are back after seeing regular playing time last season.
Adam Mach, Baldwin and Hernandez — three of last season’s top five pitchers — return, and Jaron Lunday threw well during the high school season. Pitching depth is unproven.
“We’ll be competitive,” Kliniske said. “We proved that last weekend. Winning becomes a habit; these kids have developed good habits.
“We’re having a few injury problems right now, but when we’re healthy, we’ll score a lot of runs. Our pitchers won’t blow batters away. But they throw strikes and, if we play good defense, we’ll be tough to score on.’’
After seeing its program fold last summer, Midway-Minto is back in American Legion baseball.
First-year coach Thomas Sitzer, a former M-M player, has 17 players on his roster.
“I was afraid we wouldn’t have a team,” Sitzer said. “Once you lose a program, it’s tough to get it going again.
“I called our Legion people and said I was interested in coaching if we were going to have a team. They gave me the job and I started recruiting. I was hoping to get 12 or 13 kids.”
In addition to athletes from the Midway-Minto high school baseball co-op, Sitzer got a few players from Manvel, as well as a few whose parents move from Texas to the area in summers for work.
The strength of the team, Sitzer said, will be a deep pitching staff led by Clayton Linstad, Leo Garza, Lucas Mondry and Geno Gonzalez.
“They all throw pretty hard, and they throw strikes,” Sitzer said. “They’ll keep us in games.”
Former East Grand Forks player Michael Kinzler was named to the all-Minnesota College Athletic Conference and all-Region 13 junior college teams this spring. Kinzler pitched for Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls.