Rapid City Post 320 coach Rich Downs said that this is the time of the year his players play for.
Rapid City Post 22 coach Kelvin Torve said he believes his Hardhats are ready for the big stage, and Sturgis Post 33 coach Wade Huntington is ready to showcase Strong Field and the Sturgis baseball program.
It's time for postseason baseball.
The Region 3A Tournament kicks off today at 5 p.m. from Sturgis, with the top two teams advancing to the South Dakota American Legion State Tournament in Pierre next week.
The tournament is double elimination and begins with Post 320 facing Mitchell Post 18 at 5 and Post 22 taking on Post 33 at 7:30 p.m.
No. 1 seed Post 22 vs. No. 4 seed Post 33
If you ask Torve if he sees his No. 1 seeded Hardhats, 47-10, as the favorites in the tournament, his answer might surprise you.
"I don’t get the sense from the team that we feel we’re favorites," he said. "The attitude our team has had all year is that we’ve got to go out and earn everything we’ve got, and I see no difference now. As a team we’ve had to go out and earn everything this year. We lost a lot from last year, we weren’t supposed to be that good but here we are."
Huntington's Titans, 10-21, know they have a tall task taking on the established Hardhats in the first game of the tournament, but they hope that if Sturgis can't be giant-killers, they can learn from the experience of regional tournament play.
"The boys recognize what they're up against, they recognize the program that (Post) 22 is and what they have to do to be able to compete," he said. "We’re not wandering around here talking about winning and winning the next one; it's about competing, throw strikes, field the ball and let things fall where they may."
Post 22 has already faced the Titans this season, and Torve marks it as a turning point in his first season at the helm.
It came after a midweek matchup in the middle of May when Gillette beat Post 22 5-4 and starter Joseph Harris struck out 12 Hardhats. After that Post 22 took two of three games from Cheyenne Post 6, but in the final game the offense was no-hit.
The bats broke out against Sturgis on May 22 in a 12-1 win, and haven't cooled off since.
Torve said after being no-hit by Cheyenne the team had a meeting.
"After the game we just talked and said ‘there comes a time when you have to look within yourself and say enough is enough, this stops here,’ whether that was the turning point or not, I don’t know, but it stopped there," he said. "After that we really swang the bats well. It’s been fun because these guys get up there and battle. When they two strikes they are by no means done, then they really dig in deeper and get good at bats."
The season has already featured success for Post 22 in tournaments, with two second-place finishes in the Firecracker Tournament and the Gopher Classic in Minnesota.
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"To go 5-1 in the Firecracker, 7-1 at the Gopher, to beat Creighton Prep twice, we haven’t really rested on our laurels all year," he said. "We have a hardworking group that’s ready for the next challenge, I’ve loved coaching these guys and they just work hard. They got out there and earn everything they’ve had."
Huntington said the Sturgis baseball program is trying to compete with some of the top programs in the state, and hosting the regional tournament is a good step in building a good reputation.
"I recognize the importance of being able to showcase your venue and bring an experience to these ballplayers and this program that they haven’t been able to have in a couple of years," he said. "It's important. It's important for the program; from the Little League up through the Legion program to host a tournament. They'll see what other fans expect out of their teams and see how the other teams who have seen a considerable amount of success handle themselves."
He also hopes his players learn that games like these are why so much work is put in during the offseason.
"This is what you play for, to be quite honest. We haven’t had a lot of that in Sturgis in the last few years," he said. "I hope they recognize what we did in April, May, June and July culminates right here. While our record isn’t as glamorous as others we have played with a purpose. We've had a tougher schedule than normal to prepare ourselves for this challenge."
First pitch between Post 22 and Post 33 is set for 7:30 p.m.
No. 2 seed Post 320 vs. No. 3 seed Post 18
At this point in the season, Downs thinks the Stars, 31-16, are who they are. He's also comfortable with that.
"Pitchers aren’t going throw 90 miles per hour, they’re not going to all of a sudden have the best breaking pitch in the world. Our hitters aren’t going to come up and go 4-for-4 with four home runs, so we are who we are," he said. "Our hope is that at this point in the season we’ve prepared them to be as good as they can be with what we have to work with."
Post 320 has some recent unfortunate history in the regional tournament. Last year, coming in as the No. 1 seed, the Stars lost two games and were eliminated.
Last year's team had nine seniors who aren't on the team anymore, and it's Downs first season as coach. He said the subject of last season's regional hasn't come up.
"I’ve just tried to focus on now, this team. Not looking back and not looking too far ahead," he said. "We really have to adopt the mentality of one game at a time, one pitch at a time, one at bat at a time and one pitch at a time. If we can compartmentalize it that way, we’ll be prepared to play a seven inning ballgame."
Post 320 as seen Post 18 already this season, a wild 16-15 win for the Stars at Pete Lien Field on June 3. Downs said both teams have changed a lot since then, but he recognized that Mitchell, 25-22, has been picking up steam lately, going 11-6 in July.
"Mitchell has been playing really well as of late. They’re kind of a hot team coming in and that’s what you want at this point of the year. You want to be playing your best baseball. Hopefully both of us are at our top level, we have a great game and we move on," he said. "Coach (Luke) Norden does a fabulous job preparing his ballclub for the postseason. I know they’re going to be ready to play so we’re going to have to be ready to play also."
First pitch is at 5 p.m.