ND’s three-class Legion system gets mixed reviews
FARGO – The postseason has arrived for North Dakota American Legion baseball and with it comes three – not two – state tournaments.
Prior to the season, the state’s Legion baseball board decided to implement a new three-class structure on a two-year trial basis. This week three state champions will be crowned.
The Class 2A division began its state tournament Tuesday at Jamestown’s Jack Brown Stadium. The Class 1A state tournament begins today at John Randall Field in Wahpeton and the Class B tournament kicks off today in Langdon.
Class 2A’s field is made up of all 10 teams in that division while Class 1A and Class B each have eight-team fields. Class 1A is made up of 12 teams with two six-team regions. Class B transitioned from an eight-region format to four regions with the top two teams from each region qualifying for state.
The reviews of the three-class structure have been mixed among coaches.
Logan Midthun’s Casselton squad moved to Class 1AA from Class B.
“I don’t think this season went as well as the years past have went in American Legion baseball,” Midthun said. “I think given the number of the teams we have in the state, I didn’t think we needed a third class, but we’ll play wherever they put us because we are not going to complain about being in Class A. I just think the amount of travel a lot of the teams have to do is going to make kids not want to go out for the legion team.”
Casselton played in the East Region that also included Grafton, Harvey, Valley City, Devils Lake and Wahpeton. Midthun said the three-hour trip to play Harvey was one such trip that stood out on the schedule.
Casselton opens the Class 1A tournament with a 5 p.m. game against Makoti – a co-op team from towns in northwest North Dakota.
“Our expectation is to win as many games early in the tournament as we can to get in the winners bracket,” Midthun said. “I’ve been to enough of these tournaments to know if you lose one of those first few games it is a long way back in the loser’s bracket. We don’t have the big target on our backs this summer and are in an underdog role, which is nice.”
Wahpeton, which previously played Class 1A with the teams that now make up Class 2A, are in the newly formed Class 1A.
“The concept behind the three classes is a great idea,” Wahpeton head coach Chris Kappes said. “There are a few kinks that need to be worked out. I think they could add two more teams in each region to make it two regions of eight teams.
“But having three classes makes it a little more competitive playing field. There is a little more travel for some teams. … It comes down to planning and that is part of having a program.”
Wahpeton plays Velva at 8 p.m. today. Wahpeton’s pitching staff is anchored by right-hander Brock Lingen, who is 8-0 this season with a 1.03 ERA.
Kappes said Tyler Gripentrog (six home runs) and Nate Albrecht (five HRs) have been the team’s top hitters. In addition to the pair of sluggers, twin brothers Ethan and Seth Meide have done well hitting in the leadoff and No. 2 spot in the batting order.
Losing teams to Class 1A has also meant more travel for Class B programs.
“I have mixed feelings on it,” Enderlin head coach Kevin Bratland said. “Some of the bigger schools in Class B were starting to dominate and I thought top to bottom our region this year was really competitive. It did create a lot of travel though.”
Enderlin played in the Southeast region that was made up of nine teams. It finished runner up to LaMoure in the region tournament and plays Burlington at 1 p.m. today.
The Class 2A division replaced Wahpeton with Fargo Post 400 to maintain 10 teams as it had when the teams were in Class 1A.
“Minnesota is a way bigger state in the number of teams they have and we have one more class than them,” Fargo Post 2 head coach Luke Rustad said.
Rustad’s defending state champion Post 2 squad is seeded No. 3 in the state tournament and plays No. 6-seed Dickinson at 1:45 p.m. today.
“We have been playing pretty solid right now and I like where we are sitting,” Rustad said. “Our pitchers have improved and have been throwing a lot of strikes. … The key for us heading into the state tournament other than our pitching, which is always important, will be our clutch hitting. At times that has not been a strong suit for us this year.”
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