Sheyenne-New Rockford baseball picking up momentum heading into final week of regular season
As the month of May reaches nears its mid-point, high schools around North Dakota being to prepare for the end of the school year. Students begin to study for finals, along with picking out what they're going to wear to prom. Seniors making their final decisions about where they're going to be in the fall and everyone is getting ready for two months of vacation.
While things may be coming to a close in the classroom, on the baseball diamond, things are just starting to get good for the Black Sox. Starting off the season at 3-6, Sheyenne-New Rockford (S-NR) had things figured out on defense but was struggling to find big conversions at the plate.
Narrow losses to South Border and Kidder County proved that the Black Sox were getting the to get them on the board, but weren't exactly the ones they need. Now, with five games left before the region tournament, Black Sox have found their sticks and have been cashing in big-time over the past week and a half.
A 3-6 record has now rounded out to 6-6, seeing S-NR avenge losses to Kidder County and LaMoure-Litchville/Marion. On Friday, the Black Sox met a .500 record by defeating Finley-Hope-Sharon-Page (FHSP), 5-0. It wasn't just SN-R's third straight win, but it was its second straight shutout.
"These last three games we've been finally starting to hit," Black Sox head coach Elliott Blequist said. "We've been working on a lot of opposite fields and right center gap hitting in practice, and it's really helped in games. We've been hitting those gaps now and getting extra-base hits to drive guys in."
Having a season off, it took a little bit for S-NR to find its groove but heading into the final stretch, the Black Sox have come out swinging. They scored five runs on eight hits, seeing juniors Nick Berglund and Kaden Jensen, and senior Johnny Grann picks up the bigger hits on the day. Jensen's double would pick up the most tallies for S-NR as he would score two late to build upon the Black Sox lead to 4-0.
There was also a little redemption on the day for Grann and senior Koven Walford. Twice up to bat, Walford would be walked, but then get caught stealing second, and strike out. In the bottom of the sixth, he would double, snapping a foreseeable 3-and-out situation for the Black Sox. Grann followed Walford, who had struck out twice before and would single to bring Walford home for a 5-0 lead.
"That's baseball for ya," Belquist said. "You can look foolish two at bat, but then you get a third at bat, you go 1-3 and have a 0.133 average. That's good in baseball. In most other sports, that isn't good. You just gotta keep them positive and keep them to it. You can't think about the previous at-bat. You just got to move on and make the most out of it."
In addition to the Black Sox warmth on the bats, they continued to add more depth to their pitching unit, which has been an edge for S-NR this entire season. With it being a non-conference game, the Black Sox decided to go with freshman Keaton Cudworth on the mound. Belquist said he had texted Cudworth earlier that day, telling him he was going to start.
Cudworth has been pitching the better half of the JV games for the Black Sox this season and the game against the Spartans was going to be his first heavy varsity action of the season. In five innings, Cudworth would pick up the shutout win, facing 21 batters and striking out four.
"We finally have a non-region game and we were able to try out a little freshman in Keaton Cudworth," Belquist said. "He's been throwing strikes for us in the second games, so we wanted to give him an opportunity with us in the varsity game. He came out and did just that. He went through the lineup two times, threw strikes, and had the defense behind him."
Cudworth is another blade that S-NR is looking to add to its regular rotation alongside senior Alex Harrison and junior Nick Berglund, being two of the favorite hands for the Black Sox. The pitching has played a centerpiece into the Balck Sox's defensive successes, which helped Cudworth to a shutout victory tonight.
Early on when Cudworth was still finding his grounding, S-NR's defense was making big players inside and outside the diamond, allowing him to heat up. FHSP wouldn't get further than second base throughout the entire game.
"I think they knew that they had to back him up a little bit," Belquist said. "It's always fun for a defense for them to go out there and help out a freshman kid. It maybe gives them some motivation to get out there and make a couple of balls to go run in on."
Now finding a balance between its offense and defense, S-NR belive's that they can make a run at the region title, but in the same breath, know that so can its opponents. Region III is a competitive one, seeing LaMoure-Litchville/Marion pulling ahead into first place at 6-1, with their lone loss coming to the Black Sox. S-NR has beaten every team in the conference at least once except for Carrington and South Border, meeting the Cardinals on Monday.
Carrington is sitting in second place with its two losses coming to Kidder County and LaMoure-Litchville/Marion. The Black Sox are currently in fifth place at 3-5, but if they continue their winning ways, they can finish out with a 6-5 record in the regional standings. The Black Sox have Carrington and South Border left, the only two teams SN-R has not beaten in regional play at least once.
Things are trending upwards in New Rockford and the Black Sox know that if they want to be in a good place in two weeks, they need to continue brushing up on their game, with confidence, without looking back. The bats are coming alive and it has proven to be a major factor in S-NR's recent success.
"It's always nice to keep winning. Winning gives you confidence," Belquist said. "
Just like that last two games, we had a lot of confidence today. Looking back at the beginning of the year, we didn't have a lot of confidence in those losses. Winning helps, but we have to keep hammering the ball and keep pitching. We just have to keep the confidence and energy high."