The Mandan Chiefs have had a wild start to their season; four straight losses, followed by eight wins in their last 12 games, including two over the Bismarck Governors already. With a state tournament birth clinched already, this season is more than just “happy to be there.”
A tough season in 2020 saw the Chiefs miss out on the state tournament. Falling in the play-in game, but with virtually the same players back, it’s a new attitude in 2021.
“We took our lumps as a younger team,” says head coach Jake Kincaid. “We’re hoping to use that, and they had a solid spring season. So we’re hoping that we can build on it and it all comes together for some success the rest of the summer.”
The skills have been refined, players saying they’ve put in a ton of work preparing for spring and summer.
“We’ve gained a lot of miles per hour on the mound,” says Catcher/Infield Isaac Huettl. “We’ve been hitting the ball harder. It’s been easier to hit, like last year for example, we would hit five hits a game. But this high school season we had 10-12 hits a game and that usually generates some more runs and more wins.”
One big difference, these players had a chance to play ball in the spring, arms locked and loaded and ready to deliver.
“Last summer, it was kind of fun to ramp up and build that a little bit,” says Kincaid. “But this summer, it’s 180 degrees difference where they’re ready to go and we don’t have to ease in so much.”
“Just got to get used to getting guys off balance and their timing screwed up,” says Pitcher/Infield Lucas Burgum. “Keep throwing them in and out. Don’t fall into a rhythm where guys are going to figure out what pitch they’re going to throw. Just try to get them off balance and beat the ball in the ground or pop it up and defense makes plays for you.”
For the Chiefs, they say now is the time to see results from these improvements, with a chance to win it all in late July.
“I think I’m most excited about the runway that’s still left for this team,” says Kincaid. “We have kids that put a lot of time in and the baseball-wise, they’re still young. So a lot of coaches will look at that as an excuse but for us, it’s exciting to see they have so much more development left.”