Canyon Lake Little League

Canyon Lake's Benson Kieffer keeps his eyes locked in on an incoming pitch during a practice this week at Collins Field in Rapid City. Canyon Lake focused on fundamentals as it readies for the 2019 Little League Midwest Region tournament, which starts today in Indianapolis, Ind. Canyon Lake opens play at 2 p.m. Sunday against the winner of the tournament's opening game between teams from Minnesota and Nebraska. 

It’s the time of year when wins and losses are determined by doing the little things right, and that’s been Canyon Lake’s focus as it gets ready for the 2019 Little League Midwest Region baseball tournament.

A team’s fortunes boil down to pitchers throwing strikes, fielders converting routine plays into outs and batters making good at-bats and coming up with key hits in key moments of the game.

“Oh, it's crucial,” Canyon Lake coach Kyle Yamada said. “We keep on reminding the kids; you just have to play catch, you have to make plays, make pitches and have quality at-bats.

“We’re not asking the kids to do anything out of the ordinary. We're asking them to do what they do well and do the same things they've been doing all year.”

A stop by Collins Field earlier this week found Canyon Lake working on the very thing that led it to the 2019 Little League state championship — bunting.

Batter after batter stepped to the plate to take pitches of varying speed, then laying down bunt after bunt in front of home plate. But that was only part of what the team worked on during practice. Later, players were on the field, working on fielding bunts but also the rotations that are critical to stopping a rally led by that particular kind of small ball.

“A lot of people underestimate the weapon of bunting,” Yamada said. “We focus on both ends — getting a bunt down effectively as well as defending against the bunt. We want to make sure we're the best bunting team in the tournament and we have the best bunt defense in the tournament.”

Canyon Lake opens the double-elimination Midwest Region with a bye and face Coons Rapids, Minn., today at 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

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Coons Rapids defeated Kearney, Neb., 15-7 Saturday to open the tournament. Other first-round games Saturday saw Johnston, Iowa, edge Webb City, Mo,. 2-1 and Fargo, N.D., shut out Pittsburg, Kan., 8-0.

The bye gives Canyon Lake a chance to scout and also a chance to settle into the tournament atmosphere, which can be distracting or lead to a case of the nerves. It’s something local fans saw when Brandon Valley opened the state tournament with a nervous loss to Pierre in the first game of the tournament, but rebounded to make it state championship game.

It’s a lesson not lost on Canyon Lake’s coaches, and they’re working to keep the focus on baseball heading into this weekend’s tournament.

“We’re trying to get the team to buy into the concept that this is just baseball,” Yamada said. “This is what they know how to do, and the outside distractions, the environment shouldn't have an effect on the way we play. We just have to play Canyon Lake baseball. If we do that effectively, we're going to be in good shape.

“The bottom line is that every team we're going to be playing is a state champion. We have to focus on minimizing mistakes and just playing good, fundamental baseball.”

Canyon Lake is playing in its sixth Midwest Region tournament since 2010, and will look to advance to the Little League World Series for the third time since 2008.

The Midwest Region tournament runs through Saturday, Aug. 10, when the championship game is played, starting at 9 a.m. Games played Aug 3-7 will be broadcast on ESPN+. The region semifinals and championship game will be broadcast on ESPN.

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