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Baseball: Aces want boil, not simmer

Aces head coach Dustin Gregory (left) confers with assitsant coach Luke Steckler during practice Wednesday at the Lodoen Center in West Fargo. Tyler Shoberg / West Fargo Pioneer1 / 2
Aces teammates Adam Schroeder (left) and Taylor Herzog resort to batting practice after their Wednesday game was postponed due to rain. Tyler Shoberg / West Fargo Pioneer2 / 2

By Tyler Shoberg

Opening their season with four wins in six games, the Aces were looking pretty darn good.

But as of early last week, the West Fargo 17-and-under American Legion baseball team had won just twice in 10 showings.

"We started off hot and cooled off a little bit," Aces coach Dusting Gregory said.

Gregory, 23, is in his first year as head coach of the West Fargo team, but isn't new to coaching. He assisted the past two years under Mike Best, and also was an assistant with the Patriots; West Fargo's 19-and-under team.

A 2006 graduate from West Fargo High School and All-State baseball selection the same year, Gregory was excited when he learned earlier this year that he'd get the chance to lead the Aces.

"I was really looking forward to it," he said.

Now, Gregory and assistant coach Luke Steckler, a 2008 West Fargo graduate, are faced with turning his team around after the recent stagnation.

He isn't worried, though.

"We know they have potential, we can see it now, and we can see what they want to get to," Gregory said.

Last year, the Aces made it to the Junior State Tournament, but were bumped in two games after falling 12-7 to Grand Forks in the first round, and 22-11 to the Fargo Bombers in the semis.

This year, Gregory hopes to improve on that.

Young, but talented

Gregory said part of the Aces' inconsistency may stem from the team's overall inexperience.

"We have a pretty young team," he said. "They're pretty solid defensively, and the batting lineup is good."

However, there is one critical aspect that needs tweaking. "Our main weakness is at pitching right now," Gregory said.

So far, West Fargo's top pitching talent has come from Taylor Herzog and Adam Schroeder. Of the two, Herzog has the most time on the mound with 14 innings pitched. In that time, he's accumulated 13 strikeouts, 6 earned runs and a 3.00 earned run average. In 13 1/3 innings, Schroeder has just 6 strikeouts, but only has allowed 4 earned runs and carries a 2.10 ERA.

After Herzog and Schroeder, the Aces' pitching potency varies, but Gregory thinks it's just a matter of time until things level out.

One of West Fargo's stronger areas lies in offense. Luke Johnson is pacing the Aces with team highs in RBIs (17), hits (22) and runs (16). His batting average off of 41 plate appearances is 0.537, which also is a team-best, and he possesses his team's two lone home runs.

Close behind Johnson at the top of the leader board is Devin Wagonman, who in 40 at bats has 13 runs and 8 RBIs off of 21 hits for an average of 0.525.

After Johnson and Wagonman, other top sluggers include Ben Huber (0.413 BA, 2 triples), Camron Bonnema (0.333 BA, 2 stolen bases, 12 runs, 10 RBIs, 5 doubles), and Dillon Bashand (11runs, 10 hits, 9 RBIs).

Besides working on their weaknesses, the key to a strong season finish, Gregory said, is that everyone steps up to grab the bull by the horns.

"Luke Johnson and Camron Bonnema are our two obvious leaders, but we're kind of trying to get everyone to be a leader this year," he said. "We lost a few good guys from last year, but the group we have is a good core, and they come out and work hard every day."

The Aces are just coming off a road-trip weekend to Watertown, S.D., where they saw a vast improvement on the season. They won their first four games before finally falling 9-5 to host Watertown in Sunday's final.

In fact, West Fargo has seen a lot of blacktop lately, something that should change as the season wears on, Gregory said.

This week sees West Fargo hosting the Minot Metros tonight for a doubleheader beginning at 5:30 p.m. Then the Aces' host Lisbon for two games Thursday, also starting at 5:30 p.m. After a five-day break from competition, they'll head to Jack Williams stadium July 5 to take on the rival Fargo Bombers at 5 p.m.

The Aces hopefully can continue winning ways from Watertown during the next few weeks. The obvious goal would be to rectify last year's two-and-out showing at the state tournament. But Gregory said he's just hoping they can go out with a bang.

"It's kind of like every year; you want to be in that clutch game in the end," he said. "We'll shoot for that - it's always our goal."