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Patriots look to start summer off right

Have bats, balls and gloves; will travel.

That's the mantra carried by manager Brett Peterson and the West Fargo Patriots Summer Baseball Club, which will play plenty of tournament and regularly scheduled games on the road this season.

The aggressive schedule includes five tournaments overall, not including the East Region and State tourneys. The Pats will travel to destinations like Mandan (this weekend), Omaha and Detroit Lakes while co-hosting two tournaments here in Fargo/West Fargo.

"We're definitely going to get a lot of experience over the course of the summer," Peterson said. "It's a scenario that means a lot of guys will get a lot of playing time. After playing the number of innings we will over the course of those weekend tournaments, getting to the regional tournament and hopefully state won't seem like such a big deal."

The Patriots will look very similar to the spring squad that placed third in the Eastern Dakota Conference through the course of the regular season. Though the Packers were knocked off at the EDC Tourney, losing back-to-back heartbreakers to Jamestown and South, Peterson said this group has the skills to get to the big dance.

"We just need to play with more consistency on defense and pitch better," he said. "Walks killed us. And we have to keep our errors down. We gave up way too many free passes when we couldn't afford to. We know that putting up runs won't be a problem. We just need to get our defense off the field and get up to the plate."

Leading the way will be Dustin Gregory and Grant Schmidt, two players who earned unanimous All-EDC selections during the spring season. Both are solid hitters and good defenders, and both are leaders on and off the field.

Also an experienced piece of the puzzle is Alex Salquist, who has already played two seasons at the varsity level. The center-fielder got off to a hot start last week, knocking out seven hits in eight at-bats in a two-game sweep of Valley City.

Two 18-year-olds will return from their freshman year of college to play one more season with the Pats. Scott Olson, a strong infielder, will come back, as will catcher Nate Potter.

Two players who missed the spring season, Tyler Greshik and Adam Crist, will also return to the lineup. Greshik brings another good arm to a rotation that will include Salquist, Matt Renfrew and Gregory. Crist and Olson can also take the hill.

"We'll have a lot of arms to go to, and we'll need them," Peterson said.

The Pats got the season started on Tuesday night when they hosted Minot, a squad that will figure into the state championship race thanks to all-world catcher Zac Elgie.

Elgie crushed West Fargo in the two-game set, hitting two homeruns and driving in six runs in the opener, an 11-2 Minot win. The Magi won the second contest of the day, 14-5.

West Fargo was looking good in Game 1, actually holding a 2-1 lead after three innings complete. But Minot roughed up Crist and Curtis Hensley in the sixth and seventh innings, scoring eight of their 11 runs in those final two frames. Cole Horsager took the loss, after giving up two runs in the fifth and the game winning run in the sixth before being pulled.

"We'll see them two more times, which is good. This is a year we get to see the West teams a little bit more, so we know what could be coming at us for the State Tournament if we get there. That's different from years past," Peterson said.

Crist looked solid in his first game back at the plate, going 3-for-3 and scoring a run in the nightcap. But he Packer pitching staff was roughed up for 12 runs in the first inning, and never recovered. Justin Rheault got the loss.

On Wednesday, West Fargo rolled to a pair of wins over Valley City, thanks to Salquist's offensive outburst. Hensley and Matt Kulesa got the wins, as West Fargo pounded out 30 hits in two games. Salquist had six RBI in Game 2.

"We know that we can hit all summer long," Peterson said. "I think if we can get through games giving up one, two or three runs, we'll be all right."

In the conference, West Fargo will be chasing Grand Forks (Central won the spring state title) and Fargo, the defending summer champions, for regional honors. Peterson said the race will be tighter than it was last year, when the Royals and Post 2 were the clear-cut favorites.

"It was like them, and then everybody else," Peterson said. "I think we have the offense to stay with both teams this year, especially when they have to go deeper into their rotation. What we'll need to do is play solid, mistake-free baseball when we see those teams," he said.

The Pats concluded the week at the East-West Classic, held in Mandan last Thursday through Sunday. West Fargo struggled, going winless in three games, but Peterson said the early stretches will include some ups and downs as he tinkers with his lineup.

"It's a good tournament to find out a little bit about ourselves," he said.

They'll continue regional play versus Jamestown on Tuesday night as this edition of the Pioneer rolls off the press, before helping to host the annual God Bless America Tournament this Friday through Sunday. On Tuesday, June 20, they'll head to Wahpeton for a regional double-header.

"It's definitely a busy schedule to start the season, but we've been sitting on that (one-run) loss to South for two weeks," Peterson said. "We're ready to move on."