â�?�?Itâ�?�?s the best feeling in the worldâ�?�? Vermillion Post 1 claims State â�?�?Bâ�?�? Legion baseball crown By Parker Knox
Sportswriter Tyler Johnson saved his best pitching performance for the game that meant the most. Winning his second game in the state "B" Legion tournament, Johnson, later to be named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, kept Groton under control while his team built a lead and padded it toward the end as Vermillion Post 1 won the game, 9-3 on Sunday, July 26, and with it the second "B" title in Vermillion history. "It's the best feeling in the world," Johnson said in a radio interview afterward. "After coming up short in the high school season, this really means a lot." Post 1 swept through the tournament in Platte undefeated in its five games, and the 14 young men in red and white left an impression in ways other than with their potent bats, strong pitching arms and sharp defense. In a vote of umpires, media and tournament officials, Vermillion also was accorded the Porter Talcott Sportsmanship Award, a tribute not only to the players themselves and their coaches, Jason Gault and Nick Mayer, but also to their parents and their hometown. "I am so proud of our 14 kids and the way they handled themselves up there," Gault said. "I have never seen the sportsmanship award given to a winning team. They must have made quite an impression." Was Vermillion the best team in the tournament field? The final statistics give an idea – best team batting average of .354, lowest earned-run average of 3.80, lowest batting average for opponents of .272, and best fielding percentage of .947. Improving its record to 32-8, Post 1 had little time to celebrate or relax. As "B" champion, the team hit the road again Tuesday and had a date Wednesday afternoon against Mitchell in the second game of the state American Legion championship tournament in Rapid City's Fitzgerald Stadium. Seven of Post 1's eight defeats have been to "A" teams – four to Sioux Falls East, two to Sioux Falls West and one to Spearfish. The other loss was to Harrisburg early in the regional tournament. "This is all bonus baseball now, as far as I'm concerned," Gault said Monday. "Plus it's an opportunity for our kids to play in a great baseball facility." Game 2: Groton Having collected 15 hits in the 14-10 opening-day victory over Big Stone City, Post 1's batters did themselves one better the next night. A 16-hit offensive that included four innings of three hits or more in each lifted Vermillion to a 12-2 second-round win in eight innings over Groton Thursday. "Our hitters have been consistent in scoring runs all season," Coach Jason Gault said, "not necessarily extra-base hits but moving runners around." As he had done in the regional, JR Moore rose to the occasion, contributing a complete-game pitching effort. He struck out three and walked three, allowing only one earned run and confining Groton's eight hits to four innings. "JR would have gone in the ninth, too," Gault said. "He got out of crucial jams a couple of times. He was around the zone, wasn't necessarily overpowering but hit his spots well." Moore reached down deep on three troublesome occasions when he and his defense shut down Groton when it mattered most. In the second with two men on, he struck out the final batter. In the fifth with the first two batters hitting safely, he persuaded outfield fly balls from the next three batters. In the seventh Groton loaded the bases with one out, but Moore threw a called third strike against Groton's clean-up hitter and got a ground-ball force out to end the threat. Moore cruised through the eighth on three straight infield outs. RBI singles by Kyle Nemec in the first and third gave Vermillion a 2-1 lead it never relinquished. The decisive stanza was the fourth, which produced five runs. The first scored on an infield throwing error, but the rest came on clutch Post 1 hitting. Jason Rasmussen's single scored a pair, a Cory Taggart hit brought home another, and an infield grounder off Moore's bat accounted for the fifth run. Heavy metal in the fifth put the game out of reach. Back-to-back doubles by Grant Lueders and Sam McBride and singles by Taggart and Andrew Eidem made it 10-1. It was 10-2 when Vermillion came up in the eighth, needing two to end the game. Eidem led off with a double, and then with two out, Tyler Johnson walked. Lueders' single made it 11-2, and McBride's single ended the game abruptly. Taggart, Nemec and Eidem had three hits each. McBride, Rasmussen and Lueders each hit safely twice. Brian Hansen had the other Post 1 base knock. The top four men in the batting order – McBride, Rasmussen, Taggart and Nemec – each drove in two runs, and Eidem, Moore and Lueders had the other RBIs. "We finally put pitching, defense and hitting together at the same time," Gault observed. "Groton is a better team than the 12-2 score shows, but JR threw a great game." Gault said the team exuded confidence after the opening-day win. "Now we believe in ourselves. It's been fun and really positive. They really deserve getting this far." Game 3: Platte-Geddes Friday night's matchup between the two remaining unbeaten teams was a tense see-saw struggle through 7 1/2 innings, each team taking and giving up the lead, back and forth. What happened next defied imagination and explanation. "We needed the lead with their meat coming up in the ninth," said Gault. "We wanted to take some pressure off our pitcher by getting at least a few runs, but we never expected this." In fact, the Vermillion pitcher never had to take the field in the ninth! Post 1 scored an amazing 10 runs – five of them before there were any outs – to abruptly end the game by the 10-run rule, 16-6. Fourteen men went to the plate in the inning, eight of them hit safely, 10 of them scored, and there were still only two out when the game ended. Vermillion's runs total for three games swelled to 42 and its hits total to 48. For seven innings Post 1's clutch hitting, a trademark of this team all season, was in a slump. Ten men had been stranded – at least one in every inning. But Jason Rasmussen lit the fuse with a leadoff double, went to third on a passed ball and scored the lead run on another passed ball. Cory Taggart, though he struck out, reached first on a passed ball. A walk to Kyle Nemec and a shallow hit by Andrew Eidem loaded the bases. JR Moore broke it open with a two-run double. Brian Hansen with his fourth hit of the game drove in a run. Tyler Johnson reached on an infield error, scoring another run. A walk to Grant Lueders loaded the sacks again, and Sam McBride's sacrifice fly scored the sixth run of the inning. With two out, one run at a time, Cory Taggart, Nemec, Eiden and Moore got RBI singles and, bingo, the game suddenly was over. A two-run homer by P-G's Hayden Kuiper in the third gave his team a 2-1 lead, the first time in the tournament Vermillion had trailed in the score. But Post 1 went right back ahead with three in the third, two scoring on an error and one on a Hansen hit. Platte-Geddes made it 4-4. Post 1 went ahead 5-4 on a Rasmussen single following a Lueders double in the sixth. P-G went ahead 6-5 in the seventh on two unearned runs, but Vermillion tied it up at 6-6 in the seventh when Hansen singled, moved along on two walks and scored on a wild pitch. P-G got a runner to second base in the top of the eighth, but reliever Kyle Nemec, who got the pitching win, retired the side on a grounder to first and a pop-up to short. Could Vermillion score a run and take a lead into the ninth Would you believe, instead, 10 runs to end the game Besides Hansen's four hits, Rasmussen, Taggart, Nemec, Eidem, Moore and Lueders all had two hits each. Moore drove in three runs and Hansen two. Johnson was Post 1's starter and pitched six innings but had to leave the mound because he had reached the Legion baseball limit of 12 innings per three days. He had allowed four earned runs, nine hits, striking out one and walking one. Nemec pitched the seventh and eighth innings, giving up no earned runs and three hits, fanning three and walking two, one of them intentionally. Audie Kuipers, P-G's second pitcher who was on the mound when the wild bottom of the eighth began, took the loss. Game 4: Chamberlain It wouldn't be a Post 1 game without one of those innings when reaching base suddenly becomes contagious. It took awhile for it to happen Saturday night, but when it did, Post 1 scored enough runs to establish a comfortable lead that held up for an 8-3 victory over Chamberlain, leaving Vermillion one win away from a state championship. Chamberlain starter Josh Denke "kept our hitters off-balance," said Gault. "I thought for awhile we were going to have trouble scoring runs, but finally we had one of our innings when we put some hits together and took advantage of their errors." Trailing 2-0 till the top of the fifth, Vermillion got singles from Johnson, McBride and Rasmussen to load the bases with one out. Taggart hit into a fielder's choice with Johnson being forced at home plate for the second out, but Nemec came up with the hit that turned the game around. His single scored McBride and Rasmussen to tie the game. Eidem followed with a drive to right field which the Chamberlain right-fielder misplayed into a two-base two-run error. Moore's double drove in the fifth run of the inning. Post 1 added a run in the sixth without a hit. McBride reached on a fielder's choice, moved around to third and scored on a balk. Vermillion added two insurance runs in the ninth. With Rasmussen and Taggart on base with a fielder's choice and a double, respectively, Nemec's grounder to second base turned into a throwing error that allowed both men to score. A triple by Joe Tyrell led off the bottom of the ninth, and he scored on an infield grounder, but 8-3 was as close as Chamberlain could come. Taggart, pitching for the first time since he sustained a broken finger early in the regional tournament two weeks earlier, came up with a gutsy complete game, allowing only three earned runs, eight hits and five walks while striking out seven. Oddly enough, five of the eight Chamberlain hits were doubles, and another was a triple, but single runs in the first, second and ninth were all they could muster. Taggart struck out the side in the first, and three other times he ended innings with a close-the-door strikeout, each time with a runner on base. Chamberlain stranded 10, at least one in each inning. Hansen came up with a crucial double play in the seventh after Chamberlain's first two runners had reached base. He grabbed a sharp ground ball, stepped on third base for a force and doubled up the batter at first base. Another defensive gem was a diving inning-ending catch by Moore in left field that ended the fourth inning. Nemec and Eidem had two hits each among the team's 10. Even Fleury and Denke had two hits each for Chamberlain. It was the first time in 13 tournament games up to that point where the winning team did not reach double digits in runs scored. The contest took only 1 hour, 55 minutes to play. Championship: Groton Nearing the end of his final season of American Legion baseball eligibility, Johnson had six innings of pitching time left before reaching the three-day limit of 12 innings. All he did was strike out six, walk none, scatter five hits and allow no earned runs. Had it not been for three unearned runs all caused or set up by infield errors, he would have had six shutout innings. Kyle Nemec relieved in the seventh and saved the game and the championship. After Groton went up 1-0 on an unearned run in the first, Vermillion immediately answered with three of its own and would never trail. A walk and an error set the table for Cory Taggart, who doubled home the tying run. Nemec's ground-out scored a run, and another Groton error let in the third. A fourth Post 1 tally came in the fourth when Johnson was hit with a pitch, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Jason Rasmussen's single. Things got tight when Groton scored two unearned runs in the fifth, but Johnson himself caught a pop-up at the mound with runners at the corners to save the lead at 4-3. In Johnson's last inning on the mound, a leadoff single was erased in an unusual double play. Johnson caught a bunt that was popped up into the air and fired to first to double off the runner. He ended his pitching tenure with an exclamation point on a called third strike. Coincidentally in Nemec's first inning of work, the seventh, Vermillion had another double play just like the previous one. This time it was third-baseman Brian Hansen who caught the popped-up bunt and doubled off a runner at first. Nemec ended that inning with a strikeout as well. The bottom of the seventh was Vermillion's saving grace. Rasmussen started it with a hit that the shortstop threw away. A passed ball got him to third just in time for Taggart's infield grounder to send him home. A walk to Nemec and a single by Andrew Eidem set the table for clutch two-out RBI singles by Hansen and Johnson, and Vermillion had a 7-3 lead, six outs away from the championship. Groton wasted a one-out single in the eighth as Nemec retired the next two batters on a strikeout and an outfield fly. Three outs to go! Meanwhile Sam McBride and Rasmussen singled with one out in the bottom of the eighth, and Taggart doubled home both insurance runs, giving him four RBIs for the day. Nemec, with the adrenaline flowing, struck out the first Groton batter. The next flied to right, and the third grounded out to Rasmussen whose throw to first base not only ended the game but also guaranteed the championship trophy was coming home to Vermillion. All nine starters had hits, and five different batters had RBIs, a fact that is commonplace on this team. Rasmussen had three hits and three runs scored, and Taggart had two hits along with his four RBIs. In his three innings of mound duty to save the game, Nemec allowed only two hits, struck out three and walked one. Proof that "MVP" is a title that this team regularly passes up and down the dugout. Three men – Taggart, Nemec and McBride – had seven RBIs in the five tournament games. Two others, Moore and Rasmussen, had six each. Eidem drove in five, Hansen four, Johnson and Lueders three each. Of the nine regulars, five of them batted .400 or higher in the tournament – Lueders .429, Eidem .409, Nemec .409, Rasmussen .400 and Taggart .400. Hansen's average was .360, Moore's .320, McBride's .292 and Johnson's .133. Vermillion's other state "B" title came in 1994. That year in the championship tournament played at Pierre, Post 1 lost to Salem and Pierre. The challenge would be even stiffer this time around. Besides starting with Mitchell, the other teams in Vermillion's bracket are perennial powerhouse Rapid City Post 22 and favorite Sioux Falls West. Other members of the state champs not already mentioned in this story are Ryun Fischbach, Mike Szymonski, Denny Kainrath, Nick Anglin and Earl Kiertzner.