For Rapid City Post 22, playing in a regional tournament is old hat.
The Hardhats, South Dakota state winners for the 41st time, the excitement of getting to the Central Plains Regional American Legion baseball tournament might be overshadowed by their desire to advance further.
Post 22 opens the regional tournament today in Bismarck, N.D. against the Minnesota state champion, Forest Lake. Action should begin at about noon, or 30 minutes after the tournament opening game, which begins at 9 a.m.
Last Sunday, Post 22, 49-12, won the South Dakota state tournament in Sioux Falls with a 12-2 win over Renner Post 307. The night before, Renner knocked off Post 22 12-7, but when the tournament was on the line, the Hardhats dominated.
“We’ve been there before,” Post 22 manager Mitch Messer said after the win.
The Hardhats came oh so close to achieving their goal of playing in the national tournament when they fell to Milard South, Neb. In the title games last season, 4-3 and 7-5. In both games, Post 22 had a shot in the end for the win or tie but came up one hit short.
“We want to be one of the final teams in North Carolina (national tournament),” Messer said. “We came up short last year. We’ve had, really, the last 12 months to think about it, playing and to work for it. We’re here, and we’re getting our opportunity.”
Post 22 has had a solid year offensively, on the mound and on defense, as their overall record reflects their play.
As a team, the Hardhats are hitting .350 with 35 home runs and 439 runs batted in. Right fielder Zach Solano leads the way with a .469 average with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs. First baseman Matt Vickers is hitting .454 with five home runs and 59 RBIs. Designated hitter Erik Petry is hitting .419 with five home runs and 55 runs batted in, while catcher Timmy Paris is hitting .392 with six home runs and 56 RBIs.
Five regular Hardhats are hitting over .300, including third baseman Justin Kraemer (.346), infielder/outfielder Riley McSherry (.340), center fielder Sam Haug (.324), left fielder Drake Messinger (,320) and second baseman Carter Deming (.308). Shortstop Cooper Bowman is at .290.
On the pitching mound, the Hardhats have a 2.95 earned run average. Cody Carlson leads the way at 6-0 (1.43 ERA), followed by Kolton Scherbenske (8-1, 2.28), Brandon Soucy (8-3, 3.00), McSherry (7-2, 1.54) and Vickers (5-1, 5.11).
“We’re going to have to pitch well and make plays. The higher up you go, the less room for error there is,” Messer said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time and Cody is up first.”
In the other games on Wednesday, Earnest Aselton Post 118 from Wayzata, Minn., takes on Creighton Prep from Omaha, Neb., at 9 a.m., Roof Tech Wildcats Post 378 from Omaha faces Fargo, N.D. Post 2 at 3 p.m. and host Bismarck Governors Post 1 takes on Dubuque County Post 137, Iowa, at about 6 p.m.
One possible advantage for the Hardhats is they have faced many of the team’s in this tournament this year.
“For us, we know we can play with anybody. It is just a matter of going in and playing good baseball,” he said.
The first game between Prep and Wayzata should be a good one, Messer added.
“Prep is going to be the team to beat here; it is their tournament to lose,” he said. “But Wayzata is the only team to beat them since June 26.”