The theme spoken by the Rapid City Post 22 coaches and players in the post-game huddle Sunday was, “We’re not done yet.”
Certainly that is true on paper as the Hardhats advanced to the Central Plains Regionals by beating Pierre 9-0 for their fifth state title in the last six years.
For the storied Post 22 program, which now has 42 state American Legion baseball titles, where it is at in August is expected.
They're not satisfied yet, center fielder Connor King said.
“We want to go onto Dickinson and compete for another title. We like to compete and we never give up," King said.
Post 22 will be in Dickinson, North Dakota for the regionals, which feature the best American Legion teams from North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. The winner advances to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, North Carolina.
The Hardhats will take on the Iowa state champion today at 1:30 p.m., Dubuque County.
First baseman Jack Sorensen said winning the state tournament was a first step in a long series of goals this season.
He said they are ready to see how good they have gotten this season.
"We’re excited to play a bunch of really good ballgames and come out of there with some wins,” Sorensen said.
Post 22, 55-10 on the season, has won 20 of its last 22 games and is 2-1 against tournament teams, with two wins against host Dickinson and a tough 8-7 loss to Omaha Millard West on a walk-off two-run home run in the championship game of the 96-team Gopher Classic in Minnesota.
Kelvin Torve, in his first season as the Post 22 manager, said that winning state is their goal every year, but it is something that they earn every year.
“When we win, they are earned because teams don’t roll over for us,” he said.
It’s been a memorable first year for the former Hardhat and Major Leaguer. He credits their success to not only talent, but to an unselfish team chemistry.
Torve quoted assistant coach Ryan Klapperich on that team chemistry.
Klapperich said that when they make an out and they come into the dugout mad, they are mad because they believe they let down their teammates.
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"When you are concerned more about your teammates than yourself, you are going to have a good ballclub," Torve said. "That’s what these guys do; they care about each other, and they want to do well for their teammates.”
Dubuque County is made up of players from six high schools — Beckman Catholic, Hempstead, Dubuque Senior, Western Dubuque, Wahler and Cascade.
Dubuque County beat Johnston 6-4 in its state title game in Cedar Rapids. The team has two players going on to play Division I college baseball — pitcher/infielder Sam Goodman (Wichita State) and shortstop/second baseman Sam Link (Iowa).
Two others will be also playing small college baseball.
The other first-round matchups will pit Millard West, Neb. vs. Wayzata, Minn. at 11 a.m., New Brighton, Minn. vs. West Fargo, N.D. at 4:30 p.m. and Omaha, Neb. Post 1 vs. Dickinson at 7 p.m.
Post 22 goes into the regional tournament hitting .348 as a team, averaging 9.2 runs per game. Shortstop Cooper Bowman leads the way, hitting .478 with 10 home runs and 80 RBI in 59 games. Jace Caldwell is hitting .394 with five home runs and 59 runs batted in, while Sorensen is at .363 with 63 RBI and catcher Ryan Schmidt at .336.
Also for the Hardhats, third baseman Matthew Hegre is hitting .324, outfielder Alex Weaver .320 and second baseman Mason Messenger .319. King, at leadoff, is hitting .293 with 59 walks and 72 runs scored.
The Hardhats have been spectacular at times on the mound, with their top five starters combining for a 32-3 overall record. Dylan Richey is 8-1 with a 2.82 earned run average, Zach Whitesell is 7-0 and 2.38, Zach Chiolis 7-1, 2.41, Drew Messer 5-0, 4.20 and Zach Sumption 5-1, 1.69.
“We’ve talked all year that our pitching is going to be what keeps us in ballgames,” Torve said. “Three weeks in after Cheyenne no-hit us, it was like we said, ‘Okay, the joke is over. We need to start swinging the bats,' and we have. But the pitching has been tremendous all year. Occasionally we have innings where we don’t throw strikes, but for the most part, I am really proud of the way we have pitched this year.”
King is a fan of the pitching staff from his center field position.
“Defensively, we always know what we are going to get from our pitchers. They throw strikes and they compete. We make plays behind them, which is a good one-two punch,” he said.
Post 22’s starting pitchers in the first three games last weekend were making their varsity debuts at a state tournament.
“They are all young, which is pretty amazing, because they haven’t been here before,” Bowman said on Sunday. “They did a great job.”
Last season turned into disappointment, to say the least, as the Hardhats were eliminated from the state tournament despite 51 wins on the season. The team also lost several starters on the field and on the mound.
Post 22 played with a bit of a chip on their shoulders this year, many of the players have said all season long. Now there are more goals they want to achieve.
“I don’t consider us done by any means and imagination,” Torve said. “I wouldn’t put anything past these guys, the way they compete and the way they care about each other.”