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With the first three runs of the game scored via home run, it seemed the first game this season featuring Western Nebraska at Badlands would be a slugfest similar to that of the MLB All-Star Game the night before. First baseman Jake Thurber and designated hitter Gabe Knowles both hit solo shots in the Big Sticks 6-5 win over the Pioneers on Wednesday, July 18, at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark, but two-out hits proved to be the deciding factor. Down 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh, the Big Sticks were set up to tie the game.
Going into this past weekend, the Badlands Big Sticks were in position to advance to the Expedition League playoffs. After going 0-5 versus the Pierre Trappers, they dropped to third place in the Lewis Division, half a game behind where they need to be. The path to a postseason berth goes through two teams. Aside from two nights in late July, the Big Sticks will face the Souris Valley Sabre Dogs and the Western Nebraska Pioneers for the remainder of the season, which wraps up on August 5. However, they are the top two teams in the league.
PIERRE, S.D. — The Badlands Big Sticks dropped four in a row to Pierre ahead of Monday, including a doubleheader on Sunday. On Monday, June 16, things seemed to be looking up for the Big Sticks. Although the Trappers scored two runs in the first, Badlands center fielder Auggie Francis tied the game in the third with a two-run blast. Francis scored the go-ahead run in the sixth on a wild pitch during Aaron Fritts' at-bat. However, the Trappers scored 16 over the next two innings, going on to win 20-4 at Hyde Stadium.
PIERRE, S.D. — In the first outing of a five-game series between the two teams, Pierre scored in all but one inning to blowout the Badlands Big Sticks 17-3 on Friday, July 13, at Hyde Stadium. Big Sticks right fielder Aaron Fritts hit a solo home run in the top of the first, but the Trappers scored 12 unanswered runs to take a 12-1 lead after five innings. Badlands starting pitcher Connor Grytdal lasted 4.2 innings, giving up the 12 runs on 14 hits while striking out two. Benson Kramer came in as relief. He closed out the fifth, then gave up two runs in the sixth.
ARDEN HILLS, Minn. — After a slower-than-ideal start, the Dickinson Roughriders scored four runs against Watertown Post 17 (S.D.) over two innings to take a 4-3 lead in the fourth. However, Post 17 put up runs against every pitcher the Roughriders offered, tacking on six in the final two frames en route to a 9-5 victory on Friday, July 13, at Bethel University. The second game, against East Grand Forks (Minn.), was not as competitive, with the Green Wave pulling ahead early to win 18-4 in four and a half innings during the Gopher Classic Tournament.
MINOT — The Badlands and Souris Valley pitchers combined for 22 strikeouts on Wednesday night. Big Sticks starter Roman Oliu struck out 10 over six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits. Meanwhile, Sabre Dogs starter Jarret Whorff threw eight innings, fanning 11 and giving up one run on three hits en route to a 2-1 Sabre Dogs win from Corbett Field. The Big Sticks took the win 7-5 Thursday, July 12, though. The game remained scoreless through five and a half innings before a two-run blast from designated hitter Blake Ebo put Souris Valley on the board.
Through the Badlands Big Sticks' early summer winning streak and late-June slump, one thing has remained consistent: Jake Thurber. The Big Sticks first baseman has led the league nearly all summer with his batting average, recently topping out at .405 on July 4. As of the afternoon of July 11, his .378 average earned him fifth in the Expedition League. This success is no secret though, as Division I Gonzaga University picked up the 6-foot-4 Washington state native last spring.
SPEARFISH, S.D. — In a game resumed on Tuesday following lightning Monday night, Badlands Big Sticks shortstop Wyatt Setian finished a double shy of hitting for the cycle, pushing the Big Sticks over Spearfish 6-4 in game one. He singled in the second and following a Kaleb Binstock RBI double in the third, Setian sent one over the fence for a three-run home run. The Spearfish Sasquatch answered with four runs in the bottom the inning. Upon the postponement, Badlands led 5-4.
BELFIELD — Aside from relinquishing eight runs in the sixth inning, the Belfield-South Heart Post 144 Legion baseball team competed with Hettinger. However, the eight runs put the Bears up 17-6, earning them the win after six innings on Tuesday, June 10, at John J. Steiner American Legion Ballpark.
Once again, Matt Graser did his thing. The Badlands Big Sticks pitcher relied heavily on his knuckleball, striking out five while his team downed Hub City 6-5 on Saturday, June 7, at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark. In his seventh start of the summer, Graser picked up his sixth win. The junior from the University of Missouri - St. Louis tossed 6 ⅓ innings, giving up three runs on five hits. "Graser was unreal. He trusted that knuckleball," Badlands head coach Hayden Pewitt said. "He kept throwing it and throwing it and they kept swinging and missing."