The season didn't start very pretty for the Rapid City Post 320 Shooters.
In its first seven games the Shooters won just two, but as the saying goes, teams want to be playing their best baseball when the postseason comes, and Post 320 is doing just that.
The Shooters go into the South Dakota Junior American Legion State Tournament in Mitchell Wednesday on a tear. It took home the Region 3A crown, which it got by topping the rival Rapid City Post 22 Expos twice in the same day.
"We’re feeling really good, we didn’t start off the best and in the last month of the season we’ve started to pick it up and play really well," Shooters coach Brian Humphries said. "We’ve played some good teams, won some good games, and it’s always a big confidence booster going into the state tournament having beat the Bullets twice and having beat the Expos twice in the same week."
The Expos will also be going to the state tournament after finishing second in the regional tournament.
After falling to the Expos 4-0 in its first loss of the regional, the Shooters needed to beat the Expos twice on championship Friday to win the tournament. The first game it won 6-5 and the second 5-4.
"I think a lot of people in the state had the Expos being favored to win state," Humphries said. "The last two games we did really well, pitched great, played good defense, had great hitting; it’s one of those things were having to beat presumably the hardest team in the state twice in the same day right before state starts, you can’t gain any more confidence after that."
Humphries will also have two members of the Rapid City Post 320 Stars on the roster after the Stars failed to advance out of its regional tournament, Mitch Sands and J.T. Kostenbauer.
Kostenbauer has spent time with both teams this season, and said the turnaround this season was part of a mindset change.
"At the beginning of the year we started really slow and didn’t have a lot of confidence, at the end of the year we started playing more as a team and I think that helped us find our stride, now we’re going into state playing the best baseball we can," he said. "I think it’s more of a mind thing. At the beginning of the year we didn’t have as much confidence and we didn’t believe we could do things. Now that we’ve beat many teams that are in the state tournament I think that’s helped us a lot."
The Shooters won the tournament they hosted at Pete Lien Field, The Jim Scull Tournament, in early June but Humphries said after that the team struggled for a little bit, which included a loss to the Expos.
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"It was a big confidence boost to be able to win your own tournament at home, win five games in a row but we kind of got a little bit overconfident," he said.
Now, with another big tournament win under their belt, Humphries said the team has to make sure it doesn't get too comfortable again.
"Make them stay focused throughout the week. Just be able to keep them level headed," he said. "We’re in the state tournament so every team we’re going to play is going to be good, and I think we’ve done good against some of the better teams. We’ve done well against some of the small-town varsity teams, players who are much older than we are. We’ve played good competition throughout the year so I think we’re well prepared."
The Shooters will open the tournament taking on Renner Post 307 Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Although the Expos failed to win the regional tournament, coach Paul Pool said he still believes his team can make some noise in Mitchell.
"As a coach you always try not to overlook anyone but our kids were so flat, and I take responsibility for that. We just did not come out and play like we’ve played all year, obviously it wasn’t a good time for that," he said. "Hopefully they respond well, I think they know that you can get beat any given day if you don’t go out and perform. Hopefully now its got us refocused and ready to go."
Monday Pool also said that the team had one of its best practices of the year, so he trusts the team can put the loss behind it and focus on the task at hand, competing for a state title.
The Expos certainly don't lack big game experience. Pool said the team has played a varsity-type schedule that has included stops in the Gopher Classic in Minneapolis, The Big Stick Tournament in Rapid City and the Firecracker Tournament, also at Fitzgerald Stadium.
"We play a varsity schedule for the most part all summer, we faced a lot of varsity teams," he said. "That’s one thing that’s kind of special about (Post) 22, we take our Junior Legion and compete against varsity competition all summer long. Overall it’s been a really good year, a really good group of kids, they’re pretty talented and they play hard, so it’s been fun.
"I think the biggest thing is it comes down to pitching, competing at that level is big for them. To be able to go through any tournament when you play five games or whatever you play in three days, it really comes down to pitching and our pitchers have been tested and they’ve done well."
The Expos open the state tournament Wednesday at 10 a.m. against Brandon Valley Post 131, who they have not faced yet this season.