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Thin Aces squad turning the corner

West Fargo Aces coach Shannon Miller finds himself in a pretty atypical situation for a baseball team manager this season.

When Miller sees a starting pitcher beginning to struggle, he can't just look down to the bullpen and get somebody warmed up. Instead, he has to go to his lineup card, see who's out in the field, and select the next pitcher from there.

"You'd like to do it the old-fashioned way, instead of bringing in your third baseman to pitch, but we don't really have that luxury right now," he said.

Not that it matters. The West Fargo Aces, the local summer baseball program's 'junior varsity' squad, have been playing .500 ball on the season, and have turned the corner as of late, sweeping first-place Enderlin last week and rolling to the top of the region in Class B play. This is despite having just 12 players on the roster, only about 10 of which are fully healthy.

"We were really scrambling the first couple of weeks of the year, so we might be better than our record shows," Miller said. "We had 22 kids out for junior varsity ball in the spring, and 10 of those kids decided not to play summer baseball for whatever reason. Some of the guys might have been discouraged because of the way we ended the spring season. Some have other things they want to do during the summer. Whatever. But we have 12 guys now that are here because they want to play."

It was a rough couple of days to start the season, and the Aces didn't have time to work out the kinks through practice. West Fargo played seven games in the first four days of the summer, including four at the Fargo Bombers Tournament. One of those games was played at the friendly confines of Newman Outdoor Field.

"We've had our growing pains, for sure," Miller said. We've learned a lot through our mistakes. We've had 11 of our 12 guys pitch, and the 12th guy could pitch if we really wanted him to. But I think we're turning the corner. We're finding out that we're a pretty solid group."

The Aces, despite the rocky start, were 3-3 in league play heading into last week's action. July will be another busy month for the Aces, who will play more games from July 3-20 than most professional teams do, almost entirely against regional foes.

"I think that will only help us," Miller said. "Every day, at this level, the goal is to just get better. The best way you can improve is by actually getting out and playing, putting yourself in those game situations."

Leading the way for the Aces have been two brothers, Aaron and Bryant Sanderson. Aaron, the team's catcher, has been batting cleanup and is averaging a hit in every two at-bats. Bryant, who pitches, plays outfield and can also man first base, is hitting around .400.

Luke Steckler has been the team's main ace, and is a solid leadoff hitter for Miller's club. And Phil Jahnke has shown some power, hitting a key two-run homerun in a win at Wyndmere back on June 13.

Thursday, West Fargo will host Lidgerwood for a seven-inning battle at Veterans Field. That game will start at 6 p.m. On Monday, July 10, the squad will travel to Enderlin for a double-header, with the first game counting in the Region 1 standings. And on Tuesday, the Aces will return home for a seven-inning battle with Wyndmere. That game will start at 7 p.m.

"This is a stretch where we can really do ourselves some favors before the region tournament," Miller said. "We think we have the talent to keep winning."