Baseball, particularly in the postseason, often comes down to which team can maintain its focus and mental acuity for the longest period of time.
That was Rapid City Post 22 in the opening game of the South Dakota American Legion Region 3A Tournament at Pete Lien Field on Wednesday as the Hardhats capitalized on a pair of late Mitchell Post 18 errors to escape with a 4-3 win despite being outhit 10-7.
“When you play 56 games in a season, you’re going to have games where things go that way, where you get up there and the ball’s not going to bounce your way and you’re going to hit it right at people,” Post 22 head coach Mitch Messer said. “That’s kind of what happened to us today. But we stuck with it, found a way to win and we’re moving on.”
The victory pushes Post 22 (43-13) into this afternoon’s winner-bracket game against Rapid City Post 320. Mitchell will take on Pierre at 1 p.m.
Post 18 held a 3-2 lead headed into the eighth inning behind the solid pitching of starter Matt Larson, but Post 22’s Zach Solano scored on a single to left-center by Erik Petry to tie the game headed into the ninth. Solano scored three times in the game despite not having a hit as he reached base twice on walks and once after being hit by a pitch. Matt Vickers knocked Solano in the other two times he scored.
That set up the top of the ninth as Post 22’s Hayden McGriff reached on a walk and Justin Kraemer was safe after a throwing error on a bunt. Rapid City lead-off hitter Walker Paz grounded out to second base when Mitchell first baseman Dylanger Pierson attempted to throw Kraemer out at second base. The throw hit Kraemer, allowing McGriff to trot home with the winning run from third.
“We went out there and competed really well,” Mitchell head coach Luke Norden said. “But we kind of just lost our competitive edge there at the end of the game. We played real well and calm the entire game until the end there.”
Larson gave the Hardhats fits for much of the night, but Rapid City made him pay for the mistakes he and his teammates did make as all four Post 22 runs came off either a walk or hit by pitch.
“I thought the Larson kid did a good job on the mound,” Messer said of the Post 18 pitcher, who went all nine innings and gave up three earned runs. “For the first five innings he had all three pitches in the zone and kept us off the barrel a bit. He just started to get a little tired there at the end and we took advantage of some things with some bunts.”
Post 22 starter Cody Carlson was solid, giving up three earned runs on 118 pitches in 7-1/3 innings as Mitchell managed to squeeze out a number of infield hits. He then gave way to John Zastrow, who struck out two and didn’t allow a hit in 1-2/3 to get the win.
“(Carlson) gave up some tough hits, some tough runs there,” Messer said. “I think half of their hits were in the infield, but what an effort. He really kind of just put us on his back and carried us.”
Pierson gave Mitchell the lead at 3-2 in the seventh on a two-run double to the fence in left-center field but it wasn’t quite enough. Norden feels that it will be tomorrow.
“We played pretty well,” Norden said. “If we can come out and play as well (Thursday) as we did today, we’re going to win. And that’s what we need to understand. The season’s not over. We’re not in a consolation bracket. We can still get to the state tournament.”
R.C. POST 320 8, PIERRE 7: At least one legion baseball team from Rapid City is heading to the state tournament.
The Rapid City Post 320 Stars defeated Pierre 8-7 in the first round of the Region 3A Legion Tournament following a win by the Rapid City Post 22 Hardhats earlier that day.
Down 7-4 going into the top of the ninth inning, the Stars made a four-run rally to come back and win despite getting only one hit in the frame. But it was that hit, which resulted in a critical bang-bang play at the plate, that put the Stars ahead for good.
The Stars had already closed the gap to 7-6 after two hit batsmen, one strikeout, a walk, an RBI fielder's choice and a run walked in. The bases were loaded when Seth Brewer came up to the plate. Down to his last strike, Brewer hit a bloop infield single, but the throw by the shortstop fell out of the first baseman's glove. The instant Curtis Stahlecker, who was on second base at the time, saw the ball fall out he decided to go for the game.
“As soon as I saw the ball hit his glove and as soon as I saw it get away, I went,” Stahlecker said. “I was already probably about 10 feet down the line, had my momentum and I just went for it.”
The play at the plate was extremely close, but Stahlecker managed to get his hand on the plate just before the tag was made.
Stars head coach Paul Pool, who was exuberant after the victory, said Stahlecker's 6-foot-8 frame came in handy during the slide.
“Curt was going and I was coming down the line thinking he wasn't gonna make it, but then he slid and he's so tall and long that his hands got right under there and touched the plate right under the tag,” Pool said.
The Stars had a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the sixth inning, but gave up four runs and were down 5-4. They went scoreless in the seventh and eighth innings, while Pierre tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the eighth to put the Stars in a dire situation going into the deciding frame.