The wheels came off early a little and late a lot for Rapid City Post 22 as the Hardhats dropped their first game of the Veterans Classic, falling to unbeaten Fremont, Neb., 11-5 Saturday night at Dave Ploof Field at Black Hills Surgical Hospital Ballpark.
Earlier in the evening, the Hardhats beat Gillette, Wyo., 9-2. Post 22 is 4-1 in the tournament and hosts Alliance, Neb., for third place Sunday at 3 p.m. on its home field. Fremont is the top seed from the Fitzgerald pool and faces Cheyenne, Wyo., in the championship contest at 12:30 p.m.
In the battle of unbeaten teams, the Hardhats went with 15-year-old Bryan Atkinson on the mound against the hard-hitting Knights, and the Post 22 youngster struggled with his control early. Fremont led 4-0 after two innings.
Another Hardhat 15-year-old, Wilson Kieffer, came on and pitched four scoreless innings and Post 22 cut the lead to 4-3 after six innings, before things got out of control again as Fremont scored seven runs in the top of the seventh.
"We get behind the 8-ball and can't throw a strike and hit three or four guys, and they are a good team. They had a couple of timely hits," Post 22 head coach Kelvin Torve said. "Then Wilson Kieffer comes in and keeps us in the game. He competed out there. But we had way too many non-competitive at-bats in high leverage situations. We had runners everywhere. We were looking for too much at the plate, and because of that, we didn't have success."
In the first inning Fremont loaded the bases with one out on two hit-by-pitches and a single, scoring the first run on a groundout by Camden McKenzie. The Knights made it 2-0 on a wild pitch by Atkinson.
Fremont added two more runs in the second in one hit, two hit-by-pitches and a wild pitch − all with two outs. Jax Sorensen had a two-run single to make it 4-0.
Kieffer came on in the third and kept the Hardhats in the game with four scoreless innings, but Post 22 fell apart in the top of the seventh as the Knights got some breathing room.
Fremont starting pitcher Carter Sintek held the Hardhats hitless until the fourth on a RBI single by Peyton Tipton. The run was set up on two straight infield errors by the Knights, who had seven in the game.
Post 22 made a run in the bottom of the sixth and cut the lead to 4-3 on a RBI single by Harrison Good and another run on a throwing error on the same play,
But the Hardhats fell apart again in the seventh inning.
Fremont loaded the bases with no outs on a hit-by-pitch and two errors. Hunter Mueller had a RBI single and the Knights added two runs on throwing errors.
With Jed Jenson now in to pitch, Fremont added a two-run single by Sorensen and Sintek hit a two-run triple — still with no outs. Jenson got his first out on a RBI groundout by Cal Janke and then got out of the inning, but the damage was done.
"We totally crapped the bed in the top of the seventh inning," Torve said. "I told them, we're going to play a lot of high leverage seventh innings, whether it is at the Firecracker, regionals or the state tournament. We have to do better than that. We have to keep our wits about us and make the play when it is there and we can't try to make a play when it is not. We have to do a lot better in late-inning situations."
Post 22 came back in the bottom of the seventh with RBI singles by Jake Goble and Blake Weaver to close the scoring.
Tipton led the Hardhats with three hits, while Sintek had three hits and Sorensen two hits and four RBI for Fremont.
"Tonight it didn't work out, but I expect us to learn from our mistakes tonight and get better," Torve said.
Against Gillette, Hunter Tillery got off to a slow start on the mound for Post 22, giving up a double to Kaden Race to lead off the game. Race moved to third on a sac bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by Brody Richardson just three hitters into the contest.
"That first at bat, the guy bangs a double off of the wall, and there is not much you can but keep rolling," Tillery said. "I couldn't find my breaking ball, so I worked with what I had. We limited them to one run and battled through."
After Gillette got the first run in the top of the first, Goble came back and hit a monster two-run home run well over the left-center fence to put the Hardhats up for good.
In the second inning Post 22 took a 4-1 led on a two-run double by Jed Sullivan, and the Hardhats took control with a four-run third. The Hardhats loaded the bases with no outs on three straight walks and scored a pair of runs on ground outs by Tipton and Weaver, while Goble scored on a Gillette error. Jacob Solano singled home Dalton Klosterman to make it an 8-1 game.
Tillery settled down and didn't give up another hit until the fourth inning and only one more run in the sixth.
"I came back in and kind of toyed with the ball a little bit, trying to get a feeling again. I found one and just rolled with it," Tillery said.
Gillette tried to rally in the top of the sixth, loading the bases against Tillery with no outs on a single and two walks. But he got out of the inning with minimal damage, just giving up one run on a sac fly.
"In that sixth inning they got the bases loaded with no outs and I just had to trust the team behind me to make the plays, and to limit that to one run, and that was huge," he said.
The Hardhats closed the scoring in the bottom of the sixth when Ryker Henne scored on error on Bransen Kuehl's grounder.
Tillery went the distance for the win, giving up four hits, two runs, walking three and striking out six.
Post 22 assistant coach Ryan Klapperich said it was a gutty effort by Tillery, which is what they expect.
"That is kind of the way that kid works," Klapperich said. "We're trying to get from the bullpen to the field to translate in that first inning. Sometimes we've had some balls barrel up in the first inning, but we're challenge guys to throw strikes. He just competes. We know what we are going to get when he is out there."
Harrison Good and Henne had two hits each to pace the Hardhats, while Goble and Sullivan had two hits each.
Race had three of the Riders four hits.