Every run counts when it comes to postseason baseball. The two runs that Rapid City Post 22 got last might have been the most important of them all despite leading for much of the game.
The Hardhats got two six-inning scores to build a 5-1 lead before holding off Omaha Millard West 5-4 in an elimination game Friday in the Central Plains Regional American Legion baseball tournament in Dickinson, North Dakota.
"This is playoff baseball," Post 22 manager Kelvin Torve said. "Every game is going to be tight and every pitcher you face is going to be good. This is what Post 22 plays for every year. We're right in the middle of it again."
The Hardhats, 57-11, fell to unbeaten Dubuque County, Iowa 8-2 in the opener of the tournament, but have battled back for two do-or-die victories.
Post 22 will try to do that all over again Saturday at 2 p.m. in a rematch against Dubuque County, which fell to West Fargo 5-4 on Friday.
The Hardhats never trailed, but broke a 1-1 tie with two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth. Millard West, which rallied past Post 22 8-7 in the title game of the Gopher Classic, nearly had one more winning rally in them before coming up short.
It was not an offensive juggernaut by either side, with just 10 combined hits between them. Instead, it was timely hitting for Post 22, which took advantage of eight Millard walks.
You could say the same thing about the Omaha team's offense, as Post 22 pitchers walked 10 batters and hit three. Millard West left the bases loaded three times in the game before scoring three times in the top of the seventh.
"We pitched our way into disaster and we pitched our way out of it for the most part," Torve said. "Thirteen free passes, normally that is a recipe for disaster. But we made big pitches when it counted and we got out of it."
As they have done in all three games in the tournament, the Hardhats scored first thanks to leadoff hitter Connor King, who opened the bottom of the first with a double and scored on a RBI single by Cooper Bowman.
King, who had three hits on Thursday, added two more doubles Friday, along with one walk. In the three games, King is 6-of-9 hitting with three walks, scoring seven runs.
"Connor had another great day," Torve said. "He hits two doubles and scores both times. He's at the top of the lineup setting the table for us."
Post 22 regained the lead in the fifth inning on four walks, including a bases-loaded free pass to Jack Sorensen. Jace Caldwell made it 3-1 with a sacrifice fly.
The two insurance runs came in the bottom of the sixth on a RBI single by Matthew Hegre and a run-scoring double by Bowman.
They were big runs as Omaha Millard came back and loaded the bases with no outs against reliever Tad Scherbenske on a double and two walks. Bowman came on in relief of Scherbenske and walked the first batter he faced to make it a 5-2 game. Millard cut the lead to one on a two-run error by the Hardhats.
But with two outs, Bowman induced a grounder up the middle that shortstop Mason Messinger caught and forced out the baserunner at second to end the game.
Torve said they didn't get a lot of hits, but they got the hits that counted.
"We scratched together just enough good at-bats to push a run together here and a run together there. Coop (Bowman) had a big hit, Hegre had a big hit, Jack Sorensen had a huge walk to drive in a run. Jace Caldwell had a great at-bat with a great sac fly. We needed all of them obviously."
Bowman also had two hits and two RBI, as Post 22 out-hit Omaha Millard 6-4.
Zach Chiolis started the game on the mound for the Hardhats and gave up just one run on one hit in 4 2/3 innings. But he walked six batters and left in a 1-1 game.
Scherbenske, who got out of a previous jams, got the win, giving up three hits and two runs in 1 1/3 innings. Bowman earned the save in his one inning of work.
Now 2-1 in the tournament, the Hardhats are one win away from earning a title berth.
But first things first, Torve said.
"Our rotation sets up well, but we have to win the one (Saturday). That's the one we're focusing on right now," he said. "Our guys are competing. You. We're playing competitive, hard-nosed baseball."
In a wild nightcap on Friday, West Fargo rallied for four runs in the bottom of the seventh to edge Dubuque County 5-4. West Fargo scored the walk-off win on a bases-loaded walk.
In the other game, Omaha Burke shut out and eliminated New Brighton, Minn. 6-0. Burke will face unbeaten West Fargo at 4:30 p.m.