X-factor: What each high school baseball team must work on to finish the 2022 season

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – Instead of bunkering down for any weather patches, each Class A and B baseball team is preparing for the 2022 NDHSAA State Tournament, slated to be held on June 2-4.

But things aren't that simple. Games still have to be played on the field leading up to the tournament slate itself. So what will each local team need to do should they wish to attend the tournament in the first place? Here is what each local team must emphasize for the last stretch of the regular season: 

Devils Lake: 

The x-factor: Deal the opening blow…and then deal another 

The Firebirds have been a mixed bag in the consistency department this season. In games they score first in, the team is 3-2. In their nine games heading into May 11 action, the team has been shut out twice (May 3 @ Shanley, May 6 vs. West Fargo Sheyenne). For the Firebirds, the key is to pull ahead first and then continue to lay on the damage. Their blueprint was precisely this when they swept Bismarck in two games to open the year on April 1. After scoring four runs in the first inning, the team scored three more during the following inning (Devils Lake won, 10-3). Then, the Firebirds scored two runs in the opening frame in the second game and scored four more three innings later (Devils Lake won, 10-0). 

Catcher Hayden Hofstad looks toward the dugout during a game against West Fargo Sheyenne.

Confidence is critical for any team, and Devils Lake is no exception. For the Firebirds, maintaining pressure and leaning on the opponent after the fact will be pivotal to keeping the confidence in their favor. 

Midkota/Dakota Prairie/Lakota/Griggs Co. Central: 

The x-factor: Level out and maintain altitude

Pilots might level out to a certain altitude to bypass a turbulence patch or weather cell. In comparison, the Mustangs need to level out the roller coaster journey that has been their 2022 season. After winning their opening April 4 contest against Sheyenne-New Rockford, 8-6, the Mustangs lost their next three games by a 32-1 margin (April 28-May 3). The team then won three of their next four games by a slim 33-27 scoring margin (May 5-10). Finally, the Mustangs dropped a 12-2 stinker against Kidder Co./Napoleon/Gackle-Streeter to close out their May 10 doubleheader.  

The Mustangs have shown the ability to score on a whim. Now, it is about showing it consistently to counteract any pitching lulls that may come about. 

Sheyenne-New Rockford: 

The x-factor: clean up the defense

Through May 10, the Black Sox have played in 10 total games. In those 10 games, the Black Sox have committed 25 total errors. The team has kept an error off the stat sheet in only two of those games. In six of those 10 games, the Back Sox have committed three errors or more. Of the team's 64 total runs allowed, only 37 have been earned to top it all off. 

Keeping it efficient on the defensive end will go a long way toward Sheyenne-New Rockford's postseason chances. 

"I think we are a little bit sloppy on the field right now," Sheyenne-New Rockford player Nicholas Berglund said. "We need to clean it up, but I think we can do it. We have the ability and the players to do it, and we just need to get on the sticks. Hitting is contagious, so hopefully, one after another, get some runs in, and it'll be a great year, I think." 


The x-factor: continue the balancing act 

Langdon/Edmore/Munich head coach Joshua Krivarchka kept it simple before the season started: be able to do anything asked of you in the batting order. 

"Team-first," Krivarchka said before the season. "Whether you are the best player or the number nine batter, we expect you to do what is best for our team."

Luckily for the Cardinals, the offense has done just that. Trekking into May 11 action, five players have amassed five hits or more in 10 games. Three of those five players – Mason Romfo, Carter Tetrault and Markus Kingzett – have maintained a .400+ batting average (.414, .409 and .407, respectively). Should the consistency on the offensive end continue, the Cardinals will be in the state title hunt. Simple. 

North Star: 

The x-factor: Jack Ahlberg – continue the surge in the batter's box

North Star's strong point heading into the 2022 season was always their pitching, headlined by Dane Hagler and Zachary Jorde. But their hitting was going to be another story. The potential was there, but who would consistently step up to drive in enough runs to make the pitching truly count? 

Enter Jack Ahlberg. 

The junior infielder has cranked it up a notch after playing in only three games last season – and slashing a minimal .250/.400/.650 with one hit. Heading into May 11, Ahlberg has tallied seven hits, scored eight runs, and driven in two in three games played. 

Ahlberg has been a much-needed surprise for a team in need of every run it can muster. He will continue to be a critical piece as the season continues. 

John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell  phone (701-230-4339), email (jcrane@gannett.com) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.