It's the signature tournament of the summer for Rapid City Post 22 baseball, and the Hardhats are coming into it on fire.
The Camping World Firecracker Tournament begins Wednesday when the Hardhats take on Las Vegas, Nev. at Fitzgerald Stadium starting at 7 p.m.
Despite ending its week-long road-trip with a 15-4 loss to the Northwest Bandits Sunday in Pullman, Wash. during the Palouse Summer Series, Post 22 coach Mitch Messer said he was happy with the stretch.
"We're playing good baseball, we've been pitching well," he said. "It's one of those things where when you're playing well you want to keep going."
The Hardhats won six of the seven games on the road-trip that took them from South Dakota into Montana and on to Washington.
Post 22 outscored its opponents 71-28 on the trip and improved its record to 33-4.
Post 22 has played 12 games in 11 straight days but Messer said that doesn't concern him going into the tournament.
"Baseball is an everyday game," he said. "It doesn't matter if we're playing well or not, we're excited to get back into town and start on Wednesday."
This season Post 22 has had many blowouts. It has outscored its opponents 392-130.
Messer, however, is under no impression that this tournament will be easy.
The Firecracker features the state champions from Minnesota (Eden Prairie) and Colorado (Rocky Mountain). Last season the Hardhats lost to Eden Prairie in the third place game while Rocky Mountain defeated Millard South, Neb. in the championship game.
In addition Mountain West, Utah, Missoula, Mont. Premiere West, Colo. and Yakima, Wash. will be visiting Rapid City.
"I don't know if we're playing better or worse now than we were last year but right now we're playing good baseball," Messer said. "We saw good teams out west and we're excited to compete in the Firecracker Tournament."
Even though the Hardhats had a good road-trip, they also had their 12-game winning streak snapped by 11 runs at the hands of Northwest.
Still, Messer said there were some positives to be taken away from the last game. The Hardhats haven't been challenged often this season, but when they were Messer said he was impressed with how his team responded.
"We were in some different situations all trip," he said. "Sunday we were down 10-0 with their number one (starter) on the mound and the second time through the lineup I thought we handled it well, we didn't quit."
The second time through the lineup was the key for Post 22 throughout the road-trip, according to Messer.
"Overall I really liked our approach offensively," he said. "We had smart at bats where we gained information the first time through and made good adjustments."
They were also able to see some different kinds of pitching.
"We saw a couple of different types of lefties that wouldn't have seen for the rest of the season," he said. "We saw a good right-hander on Friday (against Toyota Baseball Club) who was able to paint both sides of the plate."
Offensive leaders for Post 22 coming into the tournament include Cooper Bowman, who is hitting .477 with six home runs and 49 RBI. Zach Solano and Erik Petry also have six homers while Petry is hitting .404 with 43 RBI and Solano is hitting .355 with 27 RBI.
In addition to strong offense Messer said he was also impressed with the pitching staff, especially the starters.
"We were able to throw strikes really well. Our starting pitching was really good," he said. "When you can get four games from your starting pitchers where they're in the zone and forcing contact. It keeps the defense is active, there's more energy. We did get a job of getting ahead of hitters early."
Pitching has been a strong point for the Hardhats for the entire season. Kyle Maguire is 6-0 with a 0.35 earned run average and 42 strikeouts.
The tournament extends from Wednesday to July 4. The Hardhats schedule is below:
Wednesday the tournament kicks off when Post 22 takes on Las vegas at 7 p.m. Thursday the Hardhats take on Mountain West at 8 p.m. Friday it will be a doubleheader against Missoula at 12:30 p.m. and Premiere West at 8 p.m. Saturday Post 22 takes on Yakima at 7 p.m., Sunday it will be Rocky Mountain at 7 p.m. and Monday it will be Eden Prairie at 7 p.m.
Tuesday the seventh place game will be at 9:30 a.m., the fifth place game will be at noon, the third place game will be at 2:30 p.m. and the championship game will be at 5 p.m.